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‘Robotrain’ does not compute for some

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A bill authored by a Brooklyn lawmaker mandating that subway trains that pass underwater be staffed by a train conductor recently passed the state Assembly. But it is uncertain whether the bill will come for vote in the Senate, where it has died in recent years before a vote had even been taken.

The bill was written by Assemblymember Joseph Lentol (D−Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Fort Greene), whose district includes the L train. In February, the L became the first line to use an automated braking and accelerating system. Commonly known as “robotrain,” the automated system takes driving out of the hands of motormen, though all L trains still have both a motorman and a conductor on board.

But the roll−out of “robotrain” has worried many who fear a day will come when trains will go unmanned. In addition to the robotrain technology that takes the place of motormen, technology that does the job of conductors – opening and closing doors, making announcements – has existed for some time. However, all trains except for the G line during off−peak hours, as well as some shuttle lines, use conductors all the time.

“The robotrains are a great advancement because they allow for more trains to run during rush hour, less breakdowns and less delays. However, they should not be used at the expense of rider safety,” said Lentol.

“The MTA’s motto is, ‘If you see something, say something.’ But what if there is no one to say something to? My bill ensures that there is someone there at all times on the trains that are traveling underwater, which are the most hazardous and also most difficult with regard to communicat­ion,” he said.

In addition to the L line, numerous lines that serve Brooklyn pass underwater: The 45, 23, R, A⁄C, and F lines all go underwater from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

The bill had failed to make progress in the Republican­−control­led Senate. But Lentol was optimistic that Democratic control of the Senate for the first time would enable the bill to pass.

Currently, the bill is before the Senate Transportation Committee, which is chaired by Martin Malave Dilan, whose Williamsburg and Bushwick district also includes the L line. Dilan declined comment for this article.

The question of whether trains can be operated with only one worker on them – termed One Person Train Operating Program, or OPTO – is currently before an arbitrator. The MTA wants to institute OPTO on a handful of lines as a cost−cutting measure, but the Transit Workers’ Union has strenuously objected.

NYC Transit spokesperson Paul Fleuranges issued the following statement in response to Lentol’s bill:

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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