Home New York City Transit MTA launches blitz to clean up subway tracks

MTA launches blitz to clean up subway tracks

by Benjamin Kabak

In the annals of MTA press releases, the one the MTA sent out late last week is certainly one of the stranger ones. The MTA, the press release noted, is going to clean subway tracks. You might think this would come with the territory, but track cleanliness — and resulting fires — has beguiled the MTA for decades. These fires aren’t the problems they once were in the 1970s and early 1980s, but we’ve all seen piles of garbage growing in the tracks.

The MTA is calling this effort MTA Track Sweep, and the video above gives an introduction to the program. It is, MTA head Tom Prendergast said, part of a renewed focus on the station environment. “Operation Track Sweep is a critically important part of our overall effort to create a transit system that’s faster, more efficient, and more customer-friendly,” he said. “There’s no question that a concerted and sustained effort to limit trash on subway tracks will have a significant impact on the efficiency of subway service…Just as importantly, this initiative will also have a positive effect on how people feel about their daily commute. When there’s less debris, the entire station looks and feels cleaner, and the ride is more enjoyable.”

So what are they doing? First, the agency expanding its cleaning schedule. The number of station tracks that are cleaned every two weeks jumped from 34 to 94. Second, in mid-September, the MTA will being a two-week system-wide blitz involving 500 workers who will remove trash from tracks at every station. This is an effort that involves cleaning more than 10 miles of track, and the work will take place largely at night. The crews will post signs at each station noting when the clean-up efforts were completed. It’s not clear though when the MTA will again engage in such a concerted clean-up effort.

On a long-term basis, the agency is working to procure two more portable vacuum systems that can quickly scoop up garbage along the tracks near stations. These systems are expected to arrive before the year is over. Finally, the MTA will procure three new vacuum trains that will arrive in 2017 and early 2018. These trains can hold up to 14 cubic yards of trash — a mole hill compared with the volume of trash the MTA has to remove from its system.

It’s not entirely clear what’s pushing this effort. A few politicians have called upon the MTA to improve its trash-collection practices over the past few years as concerns about rodents and general cleanliness have taken center stage, and a Comptroller’s report last year highlighted the MTA’s trash collection failures. The MTA, Scott Stringer’s report found, simply could not keep up with the volume of trash that built up on subway tracks or its aggressive collection schedule.

So this new effort is a response to constant criticism, and it’s supposed to improve the passenger experience. It is notably not an effort to clear or beautify stations but rather is focused on tracks which should improve train service. We’ll see in a few months how it plays out, but as one MTA official noted, riders bear some responsibility too. “We’re approaching this as a sustained effort to get the tracks clean, and keep them as clean as possible over the long haul,” NYC Transit President Ronnie Hakim said. “Even as we redouble our efforts, it’s important for everyone to realize that riders have a critically important role to play as well – keeping the tracks clean means that everyone has to pitch in by disposing of trash properly.”

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subway-buff August 11, 2016 - 12:51 am

I have worked in stations and have seen them cleaning the tracks and seen the tracks spotless.

The next day the same station looks like it has never been cleaned. The problem is customers throwing their trash or food onto the tracks.
I am a retired Station Agent (S/A)

Spendmor Wastemor August 14, 2016 - 2:20 pm


Amen. This amounts to the MTA performing maid service with expensive staff who could otherwise be doing real work. It’s a largely a waste of $$ for the public degrading for the staff.

A few hundred $50 tickets for throwing food trash or combustibles on the tracks would save a few hundred thousand in cleaning costs over the next few years.

I think it would be good to have trash bins tho, if they sell food stuff in the stations they need to provide garbage bins.

vinny ohare August 11, 2016 - 12:51 am

1-They get rid of the cans on the stations.
2-People throw garbage on tracks
3-Rats eat and breed
4-Rat videos on youtube going viral.

People at MTA and NYC Tourism don’t like that.

kevd August 15, 2016 - 10:00 am

Well, people were throwing garbage on the tracks long before they removed trash cans from some stations.
As much as I disagree with “broken windows” policing – this town could really start giving out hundreds of littering tickets a day.

Elvis Delgado August 11, 2016 - 8:11 am

I’m not sure those track fires are as beguiling as the MTA thinks. 🙂

John A. Noble August 11, 2016 - 9:10 am

I hope this is a signal that the MTA is now pursuing more effective and sane methods of garbage management than getting rid of garbage cans.

John Doe August 11, 2016 - 12:25 pm

Ban food and drink, problem solved!

bill11520 August 12, 2016 - 8:30 am

I just rode the Washington Metro for the first time. Food and drink is prohibited and the system is much cleaner than New York. And I didn’t see any debris on the track.

smotri August 11, 2016 - 2:18 pm

People in general in NYC seem to think they can dispose of unwanted things pretty much any how, any time and any place that strikes their fancy – in flower beds, on window ledges, on stoops, in between parked cars…the list is endless. Why, I was once on a 7th Avenue subway train and the man sitting across from me casually shelled peanuts and flicked the shells blithely onto the train floor. Boy did I chew him out!

It’s no wonder the subway tracks are filled with garbage all the time!

Phillip Roncoroni August 11, 2016 - 9:29 pm

The problem with chewing somebody out is that they could easily be unhinged, and stab you.

Phantom August 12, 2016 - 8:23 am

In Brooklyn, I confronted a young maile who had thrown a banana peel in the street.

I picked it up and said ” you dropped something “. He looked at me like I had two heads, but carried it away. Perhaps he learned something.

If the Sanitation / NYPD / MTA shows no leadership at all on this issue, perhaps citizens can.

Cleaning huge piles of litter after you allow it to happen does not address the problem in any effective way.

AMH August 12, 2016 - 9:26 am

I think that kind of subtle shaming is safer and more effective.

But how to really get people to act more civilized?

kevd August 12, 2016 - 7:29 pm


Phantom August 12, 2016 - 8:15 am

In the course of a lifetime in this city, I have never seen anyone get a ticket for littering. And I’ve seen many in the act of littering.

I haven’t seen an anti littering PSA since maybe the seventies.

Half the people that live here are slobs, born to parents that are slobs. They don’t know any better.

There is any effort to teach them in the schools or anywhere else.

I don’t have any problem with people eating or drinking on the trains or stations. In the summer, people should carry water bottles, and use them.

To paraphrase the great Jack Maple, littering is caused by litterers. Change their behavior.

( The late, great Maple was the NYPD cop, who proclaimed that ” the cause of crime is criminals ” ( not ” root causes ” ) and who then created systems to greatly reduce it.

How about a Compstat for litter in train stations? A fair, certain, stream of fines for littering might pay for the enforcement, that, once publicized, could put a big dent in this out of control problem.

smotri August 12, 2016 - 11:02 am

I lived for a while in New Orleans, Louisiana, to go to school. I was surprised that a city whose population has such laissez-faire attitudes about a lot of things nonetheless had clean streets, sidewalks, etc. If people there can put litter in its proper place, why can’t New Yorkers?

Guest August 12, 2016 - 2:05 pm

A lot of street trash is created when garbage bags sitting on the curb are torn open. A solution to this problem would be to install dumpsters on every street like in most cities with predominantly attached housing.

But parking…

Spendmor Wastemor August 14, 2016 - 2:24 pm

Metal garbage cans with latching tops, which were around 50 years ago. Rats don’t like chewing on galvanized steel, the cans don’t rip and they are watertight.

AMH August 15, 2016 - 10:35 am

This would make collection so much quicker and cleaner as well. As it is now, people throw crap on top of the piles of bags which then spreads everywhere when the bags are picked up.

SEAN August 12, 2016 - 1:47 pm

This whole thing regarding trash removal in the subway is a load of garbage – make of it what you will.

JJJ August 12, 2016 - 2:14 pm

Off topic:

I didnt realize this was so close to opening

More stairs will decrease crowding, increase safety, and allow trains to turn faster, raising capacity.


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