Regional Plan Association Provides Roadmap to Advance NYCT’s Fast Forward Plan

Regional Plan Association Provides Roadmap to Advance NYCT’s Fast Forward Plan


RPA’s report builds on its Fourth Regional Plan and MTA’s recent Fast Forward plan providing ten detailed investment priorities to modernize our subways

RPA’s new publication and companion website also outlines innovative new ideas to keep stations cooler in the summer, improve air quality in stations year-round and leverage new transit technologies to improve the experience for riders and workers alike


NEW YORK, NY – Regional Plan Association today released a comprehensive new report and companion website “Save Our Subways: A Plan to Transform New York City’s Rapid Transit System.” The report draws on the body of research RPA conducted as part of its Fourth Regional Plan and aims to support the subway components of the MTA NYC Transit’s (NYCT) recent Fast Forward plan.  

Both call for modernizing the subway’s signal system over the course of a 10 years instead of over 40 years, restoring preventative maintenance, upgrading stations and improving accessibility. And both plans recognize that improvements at this scale can only be achieved if service is suspended for extended periods of time on lines where the work is being performed. RPA’s report offers more details on how to implement some of the ideas in the NYCT’s plan and suggests some additional investments to address station circulation and track geometry bottlenecks. RPA’s report also goes further by specifying how the system should be expanded to meet future ridership demand and serve more parts of the city.

"Subways are the beating heart of our region,” said Tom Wright, President Regional Plan Association. “We deserve a 21st Century subway system, and with the ideas outlined in our report and the leadership shown by NYCT President Andy Byford and his team, we finally have a gameplan to get there. Now we need the political courage to get it done.”

“We’ve known for years that a modern subway starts with replacing our outmoded signals with modern train control/CBTC,” said Richard Barone, Vice President for Transportation, Regional Plan Association. “But we need more than that, we need to create healthier stations, make the most of new technologies to create a more truly integrated multi-modal transit system, and we must find ways to get all of this done more quickly and cost-effectively.”  

RPAs ten priorities for investments to modernizing the subway largely mirror the MTA’s Fast Forward plan, adding some additional detail. They are as follows:

  1. Aggressively address the “high-risk” critical infrastructure backlog. While much of the system, especially cars and tracks, have been returned to a state-of-good-repair, repair backlog is still at the root of many performance problems. Backlogs range from 11% for pumps and wells to 54% for subway shops. Repairs are a major part of the MTA’s capital plans, but at the current rate it would take decades to return the system to good repair. Repairs for the most critical elements—structures, signals, power, ventilation and communications—should be accelerated in the next capital plan.

  2. Implement and maintain preventive maintenance measures: MTA began a regime of preventative maintenance in 1999 and the approach helped to nearly double the average distance that that subway cars would run before failing—from 80,000 miles to 153,000 miles—in 10 years. The practice was discontinued in 2010 due to budget constraints and reinstated in 2017 for rolling stock, tracks and signals, and it should remain a standard operating feature in all future capital plans.

  3. Accelerate modernization of subway signals: Modern train control will transform subway service, making it safer, increasing its capacity and providing greater flexibility and resiliency. Completing installation of the 11 lines targeted in NYCT’s Fast Forward plan would put the signals on track to be substantially modernized over the next decade. To accomplish this, RPA recommends the elimination of duplicative or legacy equipment, reducing customization, guaranteeing track access during longer work windows, and accelerating purchase of CBTC-equipped cars.

  4. Right-size and improve accessibility of congested stations: A large portion of the 472 subway stations are too small for the current number of customers, much less the continued growth that should be expected. Besides making subway rides unappealing, this causes delays that ripple throughout the system as trains take longer to load and unload. RPA has identified the 30 most congested stations in the system, most of which are not fully accessible, that should be evaluated and targeted for new and larger entrances and exits, larger and less circuitous corridors and mezzanines, and wider and less cluttered platforms.

  5. Untangle and simplify services: Today, subway tracks criss-cross and multiple lines run on one track for long stretches. While this provides flexibility to the MTA, it also results in bottlenecks and delays where services cross or merge and confuses passengers when the MTA changes service on the fly. Several routing changes, many of which could be implemented with little capital expenditure, would make service faster and more efficient. These include doubling the frequency of the A and Q services, making the F service express in Brooklyn, and untangling the 2, 3, 4, 5 services at the Nostrand Junction.

  6. Standardize and assign fleet to services: Subway cars are designed to be transferable between lines within the two subway divisions—the “A” division for numbered lines and the “B” division for lettered lines. While this gives the system greater flexibility, signal modernization would be faster if new CBTC-equipped trains were assigned to specific lines. All new train procurements should also include open-gangways, which can increase train capacity by 5-10%.

  7. Add service to meet more humane train loading guidelines: MTA guidelines require a minimum of three feet of standing space per person. Expanding this to five feet per passenger would improve the subway experience dramatically, particularly for passengers with luggage, families with strollers and passengers using a wheelchair or walker.

  8. Expand deficient terminals: The physical layout of a terminal can significantly limit the number of trains that can enter and turn around, and a dozen subway terminals have stub end tracks that restrict the speed of trains and provide no space to position trains for peak service. Four terminals, Parsons/Archer Avenue on the J, Z and E lines, 8th Avenue on the L line, Flushing Main Street on the 7 line and Astoria/Ditmars on the Q/W line, service a large number of trains and have configurations that would inhibit throughput even after modern train control is installed.

  9. Correct extreme track geometry issues and poorly designed junctions: New York’s subway lines are interconnected with 40 junctions that allow for the merging and diverging of services. The subway also has 174 curves, with roughly half of them limiting the number and speed of trains. While correcting these deficiencies would be expensive, the capacity and cost benefits for the most problematic of these could be worth the effort. RPA has identified 27 bottlenecks that should be the highest priority for deeper engineering and cost-benefit analysis.

  10. Ensure sufficient yard and power capacity: As ridership continues to grow, land needs to be identified and preserved to provide sufficient train storage space and substation capacity, often in locations that are in high demand for development. To minimize the need for additional substations, priority should be given to conserving and recycling power by investing in battery technology, reducing the weight of subway trains and using coasting and other power saving techniques wherever possible.

See the website:

The full report is available here:  



About Regional Plan Association

Regional Plan Association is an independent, not-for-profit civic organization that develops and promotes ideas to improve the economic health, environmental resiliency and quality of life of the New York metropolitan area. We conduct research on transportation, land use, housing, good governance and the environment. We advise cities, communities and public agencies. And we advocate for change that will contribute to the prosperity of all residents of the region. Since the 1920s, RPA has produced four landmark plans for the region, the most recent was released in November 2017. For more information, please visit or