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Overcrowding Is Top Cause of Weekday Subway Delays, MTA Stats Show

 The number of weekday trains that were delayed was up 21 percent in August, the most recent data show.
The number of weekday trains that were delayed was up 21 percent in August, the most recent data show.
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DNAinfo/Paul Lomax

FINANCIAL DISTRICT — Weekday subway delays were up 21 percent this August compared to the same month last year, according to the most recent MTA data, and the main cause was overcrowded trains.

Out of a total of 55,694 delayed trains, 22,407 were due to overcrowding, the data showed.

Overcrowding is commonly the top cause of weekday delays, and transit advocates say it's a tricky issue.

"The problem is there's no easy fix," said Jon Orcutt of the Transit Center.

"What you need in order to run trains closer is that modern signaling system," agreed Transit Center Director Tabitha Decker.

The MTA is working on that, "but it's an incredibly long-range thing," Orcutt said.

"Only the L train has it now," Orcutt said, adding that "it's just dumb luck" that the L happens to be one of the most-used train lines.

And the modern signal system is "costly and complicated," Orcutt said.

"The L train is a relatively simply subway because it's just two tracks the whole way," he said.

Most other lines switch between multiple tracks.

That signal system is known as Communication-Based Train Control, or CBTC, MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said.

"The CBTC system is state-of-the-art technology that will allow us to achieve enhanced train control, shorter headways between trains, along with improved and more reliable service," Ortiz said, adding that it's expected to be completed on the 7 line in 2017, and installation work has begun on the Queens Boulevard line, Eighth Avenue line and the F line in Brooklyn.

The transit agency has been working on implementing CBTC for at least 20 years.

Decker added that open gangway cars — something Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently made a priority — could also help resolve the overcrowding issue.

"This estimate is that it allows for 10 percent greater capacity on the train, which is significant," Decker said.

But Orcutt noted that the MTA has to buy those new cars, "so that's a ways off."

According to Ortiz, the agency anticipates that out of 1,025 cars in their recent request for proposals for a new car order, up to 750 will be "open-end" car design, where the doors between cars are replaced by an accordion-like connector that creates longer cars and more open space, thereby increasing capacity.

The doors of the new cars will also be expanded by an additional eight inches, from their current 50-inch widths, to reduce delays caused by straphangers blocking the door.

It's estimated that the wider doors could reduce the train's time in the station by 32 percent, Ortiz said.

"There will also be a wider space on either side of the car doors — 12 inches," Ortiz said. "That will enable some customers to be close to the door, but still step aside so other customers enter and exit that car."