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Designing an Effective Mitigation Plan for Extended Rail Closures


Problem Statement

As aging rail systems across the country face growing maintenance challenges and climate change-related repairs, extended closures cause massive disruptions. In 2019, New York City's L Train into Manhattan will close for 15 months for repairs due to Superstorm Sandy. The L Train carries roughly 400,000 trips each day and few subway alternatives exist for many of these riders. Thus, the length and scale of this closure is unprecedented. In order to mitigate this tremendous displacement of L Train riders, New York City DOT is planning major changes to the design of some of its streets to prioritize buses. Smaller-scale closures have taken place in other cities but without accompanying changes to the streets. However, similar longer-term, large-scale closures are needed for the Washington DC Metro. Similarly, Los Angeles Metro plans to close its Blue Line for eight months (ridership of 70,000 daily). Mitigation efforts appear to include buses without accompanying changes to the streets.

As rail line closures are likely to grow in frequency, transit agencies strive to provide temporary alternative transportation options for the hundreds of thousands of daily rail users. In most, if not all, of these cases, buses play a major role in the mitigation. Further, cities like New York, are taking the important steps to avoid significant mode shift to private automobiles. This project examines rail closure mitigation plans that go beyond simple bus service, which have already been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, with a focus on the most major one to date, New York City’s L Train.


The purpose of this research is to inform cities and transit properties, increasingly impacted by the need for extended rail closures, on best practices for mitigating the closure and ensuring that rail commuters are minimally affected.


The research should consist of two main phases. In the first phase, researchers should scan the US and international cities for rail line closures and any mitigation efforts made. In the second phase, Researchers should document the before-and-after effects of an extended rail shutdown and specifically the effectiveness of the mitigation efforts.

Phase I

In a survey of the academic literature and of practice, the following questions should be answered by this research:

  1. What has been the response to rail line closures that have happened already, both domestically and internationally?

  2. What kinds of rail closures have triggered mitigation plans beyond simple shuttle bus replacement services?

  3. What will be the impacts of New York's L Train closure and mitigation measures (a before-and-after case study is needed)?

  4. How have such mitigation plans differed between dense urban areas and less dense suburban areas?

  5. What have been the costs of rail line closure mitigation plans?

  6. Are there any mitigation measures that have the potential to remain even after the rail line re-opens?

Phase II

A ridership analysis and survey of an extended rail line closure should be conducted by the researchers. The change in ridership before, during, and after the closure should be analyzed. Origin-destination pairs and existing travel times should be collected for a sample of 500 riders. This should be corroborated against any data available from fare payment systems or Automatic Passenger Counters. Once the rail line closes, the same riders should be surveyed, if possible, to determine new travel modes and travel times. The costs of the mitigation efforts in terms of bus procurement, new bus operating costs, capital street infrastructure, and new costs related to fare collection, ferry services, bus lane enforcement, etc, should be documented. Researchers should also document the community involvement process to design and implement a mitigation plan.


Urgency and Payoff Potential

This research is urgent as it relates to a timeline outside of the researcher’s control. The L Train is scheduled to shut down in April 2019 and three months are needed prior to the shutdown to complete the “before” analysis. Other lines are expected to close in the future year, due to federally enforced asset management regulations through MAP-21.

Relationship to FTA Strategic Research Goals, TCRP Strategic Priorities, and/or TRB Strategic, Critical, and Emerging Issues

This proposed TCRP topic is in line with the goals and priorities of the FTA and TRB. This TCRP topic will fulfill the FTA’s strategic research goals to improve capital and operating efficiencies and improve safety and emergency preparedness. In particular, this research will identify practices and technologies to control capital costs, improve transit infrastructure maintenance, and emergency preparedness. In addition, this research promotes the TCRP strategic priorities of enabling transit to place the customer first and improving the performance of transit operations.

Sponsoring Committee:AP050, Bus Transit Systems
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:committee AP050 – Bus Transit Systems. Annie Weinstock was the main author of this problem statement. The statement was edited by other committee members including Guillermo Calves, Lora Byala, and Frank Speilberg. The Committee Research Coordinator, Dr. Simon Berrebi, submitted the Statement.
Date Posted:01/19/2019
Date Modified:05/01/2019
Index Terms:Maintenance management, Maintenance of way, Line closure, Modal shift, Rail transit, Bus transit,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Public Transportation
Maintenance and Preservation

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