NYC Transit Chief Engineer Mysore L. Nagaraja
With 722 miles of track and 468 stations, masterminding the New York City subway system is no small job. But Chief Engineer Mysore L. Nagaraja, P.E. has managed to help make it the No. 1 public transit system in the world, transporting more than 7.6 million people every day. On a warm afternoon in late August, Mr. Nagaraja sat down with LowerManhattan.info to discuss the ups, downs and cross-towns of his life's work.
LowerManhattan.info: In less than a year since the twin towers collapsed, the 1,9 subway route, Rector Street station, and N,R Cortlandt Street station were restored. How did your team manage to reconstruct these lines so promptly?
Mysore L. Nagaraja: We spent the first weeks after 9/11 figuring out all the things we needed to do to make all of the affected lines fully operational. The 1,9 tunnel had collapsed to 400 feet, and our designers and engineers thought the reconstruction would take three to four years. But we went back to them and said 'that's not good enough,' and basically locked them in a room for three weeks and told them to make a plan that would take less time.
In February 2002, the plan was finalized, we hired the contractors, and began the rebuilding. So really, it took less than seven months to restore service.
LM: How did you and your team arrive at the plans for the new stations?
MN: First, we went back to the original 1918 plans for the lines and the stations, and thought we would re-create them while correcting the operational deficiencies. But then we figured out that the 1 and 9 lines functioned best in the state they were in right before the collapse--so we worked from their more recent plans.
LM: What was the atmosphere among the workers during the reconstruction?
MN: We had 350 workers going round-the-clock on 12-hour shifts to get this job done, even during the hottest days of summer. These crews were emotionally driven to complete this project. That's the only way to explain the extraordinary dedication and commitment that resulted in this rapid progress.
LM: What's the biggest system-wide project going on now?
MN: We're in the process of updating the Computer Based Train Control (CBTC) system, and then training maintainers and operators to use it. We're also instituting the Automated Train System, a train-tracking device. Both of these will help trains run more efficiently and on-schedule.
LM: What other major subway projects are in the works in Lower Manhattan?
MN: We're in the planning stages to redesign the South Ferry terminal. Right now the station has only one track, and doesn't accommodate a large volume of riders. The idea is to expand the terminal to connect with both the ferry terminal and the N,R trains' Whitehall Station. This will make it much more passenger-friendly, and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
We are also planning the Fulton Street Transit Center to replace the web of platforms and tunnels that currently connect the A, C, 1, 2, 4, 5, J, M and Z trains.
LM: When are these improvements going to happen?
MN: Providing the funding is approved, the South Ferry terminal will probably be developed from 2003 to 2005. The transit center will probably begin in the next two years with environmental assessments and pre-construction engineering, but could take as many as five years to complete since it's a much more elaborate project.
LM: What cities' subway systems do you most admire?
MN: The Paris Metro is very efficient. We're actually basing our CBTC system on their model. Berlin's communication system is excellent, and Hong Kong has created a very organized operation for its subway.
LM: On to a more personal question: How did you get started with New York City Transit (NYCT)?
MN: I came to NYCT as a project manager in 1985, and began working on the Lexington Avenue line as my first assignment. After a year and a half, they promoted me to assistant vice president, and I continued through the ranks to where I'm at now.
LM: What's changed since you began working with NYCT?
MN: Things get done much faster and on time now. It used to be that project delays averaged as much as 20 months. Now--if they're late at all--the average delay is just three months. We also have remarkable cost control, with the majority of projects finishing on budget. There's a very good team in place here, and it shows.
LM: What's your favorite subway station?
MN: That's a tough one. Out of 468 stations, it's hard to single any out. I think Union Square is very nice. Also Times Square, which is being renovated, but it's coming along very nicely. I also like the 72nd Street station.
LM: Do you take your job with you wherever you go?
MN: No, not at all. I go home every day and don't think about work. My wife doesn't even believe that I have a job.
LM: Just one more question: When are we going to be able to understand what the station announcers are saying?
MN: [Laughs] In most of the stations around the city, the communications systems are still operating with the original copper cables from the early 1900s. We're gradually replacing all of them with fiber optics that will make announcements much clearer. The 176 original Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) stations are now being addressed for completion in 2005, and the rest will be updated by 2008 or 2009. So hopefully you'll notice the sound quality getting better from now on!