Interactive animation of why NYC's subway is so slow

Originally published at:


One rule: The spacing between trains had to be increased, because screwups in the signaling system made it hard to know precisely where the trains are. The second rule: If workers are at work on a line, the parallel lines running next to them have to slow down so they don’t endanger those workers.

The hard truth the MTA has to face is that it has to address problem 1 (some of the signals still in operation were installed in the 1930s) which implies a lot more of problem 2 over the next decade. The new general manager’s main job is to tell New Yorkers that it’s time to bite the bullet like other cities with older signalling systems have, since continuing to kick the can down the road will only result in more delays and higher costs. If articles and animations like this help him out so much the better.


The DC area Metro is doing this now and is causing major headaches for commuters. They are shutting down major sections this Summer and many do not know how they will be getting to work. Buses? Haha, they’ll be stuck in traffic.


It sucks anywhere. In NYC people who take the L train are about to be screwed in the same way. There really isn’t much choice, though, and there are no good stopgap solutions. For decades city governments and transit authorities underfunded public transit and let things deteriorate. Now it’s time to pay the piper.


Can you make the simulation go like 200 mph? And then run over Giuliani?


Yes. Busses don’t count as public transportation. They suck.

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Kudos to the NYTimes staff. They do great work.

Visualization is key. It’s hard. When it works, it’s magic.


Honestly, the Red line seems a bit better already. To be fair, I think that I don’t use the part where the most of the work is happening.

If they wanted to bite that bullet HARD, they could put humans in to do the signalling on the tracks where signals are being replaced. Unfortunately, both scenarios involve today people sacrificing either time or money for the sake of future people. something we suuuuuuuck at.

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That’s one half. The other half is that every single attempt so far to update the NYC transit system’s Edwardian era signalling system has run aground on massive bureaucratic incompetence:


Whilel it lacks the awesome graphics, this is sort of related to the topic

In other words, London-centric reporting putting more weight on Thameslink timetabling issues than far more serious failures in the north isn’t just a case of mildly irritating capital-centric chauvinism, but a small facet of a deep ignorance about the state of the nation outside the M25 that is so pervasive it’s actually dragging down the GDP of the whole country.


Check out some of the stuff that’s been done globally, and not just in the context of news. Data viz and explainers are getting really sophisticated.

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