Archive for Asides
In the first major accident in 25 years, two Metro-North trains collided on the tracks in Connecticut. The two trains crashed at around 6 p.m. on Friday evening, and although 60 people were injured, no deaths have been reported yet. Service on Metro-North has been suspended between South Norwalk and New Haven, and Amtrak trains are not running between New York and Boston.
According to a statement just released by the MTA, the 4:41 p.m. from Grand Central New Haven derailed near the I-95 overpass in Bridgeport, and the 5:30 from New Haven struck the derailed train. As yet, no official cause of the derailment has been ascertained, and investigations are ongoing. A few minutes ago, the National Transportation Safety Board announced via Twitter a Go-Team to head up its investigation, and MTA Police, local police, Connecticut Office of Emergency Management, the Federal Railroad Administration and the FBI are on the scene as well.
To make matters worse, although this is an area with four tracks, two of the tracks are out of service for catenary work, and the remaining two tracks were badly damaged by the collisions. The trains cannot be moved until the on-scene investigation is over, and normal service will not resume until the infrastructure has been repaired. It may yet be a while, and I’ll have more as the story unfolds.
N.B. If you’re looking for the weekend service advisories, scroll down or click here.
In my review of WNYC’s reporting on NJ Transit’s response to Sandy, I noted how the transit agency had offered up four redacted pages as an overview of their storm preparedness efforts but neglected to mention the ramifications of the document. The WNYC report was but one half of a two-headed effort with The Record of Bergen County to tackle the story, and Karen Rouse has details on the dispute over the document in her piece in the paper.
According to her reporting, New Jersey Transit refuses to share the four-page document and hundreds of emails due to safety concerns. “Recent events including the uncovering of an al-Qaida-led terrorist plot targeting rail service reinforces why NJ Transit will not disclose sensitive information |that could potentially undermine the security of our transit infrastructure, our customers or our employees,” John Durso Jr., a spokesman for NJ Transit, said to The Record.
The Record has filed suit over the redacted and omitted documents, and they are essentially requesting what I said should be requested of NJ Transit. As Rouse writes, they asked for “details about whether NJ Transit had identified locations in its statewide rail network that were at risk for flooding prior to Sandy; whether rail crews were on duty and prepared for Sandy prior to its surge making landfall; and if NJ Transit police officers assigned to its Office of Emergency Management were trained in reading weather forecast data.” The MTA, also vulnerable to terrorist threats, could provide this information readily; New Jersey Transit opted not to. What are they hiding?
As part of its ongoing look at anxiety and the way we live, The New York Times has published a piece by Kimberly Matus about being a subway groping victim, and it is a must-read for New Yorkers. While the focus on underground crime tends to coalesce around reported thefts of electronics and handheld devices, groping is a far bigger concern for many law enforcement officials as these crimes are rampant and often go unreported.
Matus, in her piece, discusses her experiences on a very crowded train, how undercover officers spotted the groping and were able to arrest the perp and how the incident left her fearful of future subway rides. It’s not always as clean and simple as that. From those who flash women in the subways to lewd comments to inappropriate touching, this behavior is rampant and unacceptable. It can lead to concerns over personal safety and fears over riding the subway. Absent an aggressive targeted campaign of enforcement efforts, the subways remain a hotbed for these types of sexual assaults. [The New York Times]
As the MTA attempts to limit the subway’s rat population through birth control, the agency is also working on some decidedly less scientific efforts to control rodents. As officials explained to City Council members yesterday, crews will begin sealing off garbage rooms later this summer. The work will include, according to the Daily News’ report, replacing doors, blocking gaps and plugging “other avenues of entry.”
City Council members — who have a seeming inability to focus on big-picture transit issues while dwelling for months on minor issues — were happy to hear it. “I’m pleased,” Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca said. “I have seen rats dancing on the subway platform. There’s nothing more disgusting.”
I’m much less optimistic. Unless these rooms are hermetically sealed, rats will find away to food, and while sealing off some points of entry will push the rats to use common routes, it won’t eliminate the problem. Banning eating while underground would help, but otherwise, rats are here to stay no matter how many times Vacca and his brethren try to wish them away.
Even as the city announced a significant decline in the number of homeless New Yorkers living on the street this year, the total living in the subways jumped by 13 percent, NYC’s Department of Homeless Services announced today. According to their annual HOPE survey results, the number of homeless who take up residence in the subway has hit 1841 this year, up 207 over 2012 and more than double the total found in 2005.
As part of the report, the MTA and City announced a new approach toward combating homelessness in the subways. DHS will now be in charge of outreach on all trains, stations and terminals while the MTA will focus on commuter rail properties, including Penn Station and Grand Central. The two agencies hope this approach will lead to better data sharing and more comprehensive outreach.
“The MTA and the Department of Homeless Services’ effective partnership will deliver enhanced outreach services to individuals in every area of the subways,” said Cynthia Wilson, manager of MTA Homeless Outreach Services. “By vastly increasing resources for homeless persons in the subways, we will bring greater services and develop more relationships to advance our goal of placing homeless individuals into housing and improving their lives.”
The executive shuffle at New York City Transit continues in the wake of Tom Prendergast inheriting the MTA’s top job. Joseph Leader, a 27-year Transit vet, will assume the role of head of Department of Subways, taking over for Carmen Bianco who was recently named Acting President of Transit, the MTA announced yesterday. Leader will report to Bianco as Transit officials remain focused on repairing the damage Sandy inflicted on the subway system.
“The subway system faces enormous challenges in order to continue to meet the primary objective of providing safe and reliable service to 5.4 million customers each day,” Leader said in a statement. “This must be done even while we continue to invest in critical system maintenance and conduct a massive rebuilding effort in the wake of Superstorm Sandy…Having witnessed up close, the damage caused by Sandy, I am well aware of the work that remains.”
Leader comes to the Senior Vice President spot after serving as the Chief Maintenance Officer for Transit with oversight of track, infrastructure, elevators & escalators, electrical systems, and engineering and electronics maintenance. Now, with Maintenance of Way under his purview, he should make sure those deficient structural inspections are improved.
The ongoing saga of the Grand Central Shake Shack has reached an end as Zocalo, the overpriced and decidedly mediocre restaurant, closed at end of April paving the way for Shake Shack to open, Crain’s New York reports today. After numerous legal challenges that failed and a bankruptcy declaration last fall, Zocalo and its owners decided to comply with a vacate order set to come due on April 30, and now Danny Meyer’s burger chain will move in.
For the MTA, this move is a boost to the money it draws in from Grand Central’s lower level food market spaces. Zocalo had been paying a minimum rent of $336,698 per year while Shake Shack’s lease starts at $435,000 a year with escalators to $567,000 by year ten. Meyer’s group will also pay a percentage of gross sales to the agency. “We are pleased to be able to move forward at last with our ongoing effort to re-bid the retail spaces in Grand Central,” an MTA spokesman said to Crain’s. “Doing so in a regularized, periodic way ensures that the public receives the maximum benefit for this valuable retail space.”
Say what you will about Shake Shack’s food — and plenty of people have plenty of opinions on those burgers and fries — but this place will mint money in the food court at Grand Central.
As the MTA tries to fulfill its promise of restoring A train service over Broad Channel and to the Rockaways by the end of June, a few bits of news have trickled out regarding the status of these efforts. First, the MTA announced late last week that indicator board in the signal tower at Rockaway Park – Beach 116th St. is up and running once again. In other words, the signal system — which had been utterly destroyed by Sandy — is up and running again.
According to the MTA, this is no small feat. The signal system in place in the Rockaways is decades old, and the MTA burned through its supply of spare parts. Crews had to refurbish old parts that were inundated with salt water or find replacements. These efforts will be magnified as other signals knocked out by Sandy and its floodwaters continue to degrade. Still, work remains, as Joe LaPorta, a signal engineer said. “The TA signal shop rebuilds these. They can’t even get them from a manufacturer anymore,” he explained. “By the end of the day, we might have all this cleared up here. But the yard part we can’t clear up, because we’re still waiting for parts.”
With the signal system on the mend, Transit will soon begin testing trains, The Wave, Rockaway’s local paper, reported on Friday. According to Transit officials, test trains will likely run across Broad Channel during the week of May 17th, and if all goes well, service will resume in June. As of yet, there is no set June date for restoration of the A train, but for Rockaway residents who have faced more than six months without a subway connection, it cannot come soon enough.
Let’s take a familiar conceit from The French Connection and revise it for the 21st Century: What if Jimmy Doyle’s foil had a stolen iPhone? That is the premise of this New York Times Crime Scene article in which one Queens woman goes from unlucky to lucky thanks to Apple’s “Find My iPhone” app.
As Michael Wilson relates, a woman, like so many New Yorkers these days, found her phone unceremoniously snatched from her hands while walking in Queens. When she flagged down a cop and called up her phone’s location, the blue dot revealed a perp on 7 train crossing the borough above. Officers tried to spot the thief but finally had to ask Transit to halt the train. A well-timed phone call revealed the stolen phone, and victim and technology were soon reunited.
This tale at least has a happy ending, but most of these stories do not. Thefts of devices, especially from subway cars, has pushed crime totals up over the last few years, and most pick-pockets aren’t quite so foolish as to leave that phone turned on. So just think of this as a modern-day chase beneath the city’s looming elevated trains but without so much of the dramatic tension.
Considering Staten Island’s lukewarm embrace of Select Bus Services and the fits SI politicians threw over flashing blue lights, the news that camera enforcement is coming to SBS bus lanes should raise an eyebrow or two. As the Staten Island Advance reported yesterday, DOT crews are installing cameras along the bus lane on Hylan Boulevard and expect to activate them by month’s end. Those drivers found cruising down the SBS lanes during certain hours will receive a $115 summons in the mail.
According to the Advance, drivers can make only an immediate right-hand turn or pick up and drop off passengers, but continued travel in the dedicated lane will result in a fine. Already, Staten Islanders are concerned that “drivers unfamiliar wth the area could be at a disadvantage,” but these residents recognize the benefits. “I think overall, for the intention that they are trying to do in keeping motorists out of the lanes, it will work,” Michael Reilly said to the paper.
Lane enforcement is the next step in improving the bus system. Without it, SBS lanes are nothing but painted strips of asphalt, and the cameras will help clear the lanes of cars while keeping the buses moving. DOT plans to add signal prioritization to Staten Island later this year, and by then, we’ll know how accepting the prickly borough has been of camera lane enforcement efforts.