Home Asides A messy Thursday commute with warnings for Friday

A messy Thursday commute with warnings for Friday

by Benjamin Kabak

Here’s some news Gov. Cuomo isn’t rushing to announce: After a disastrous evening commute on Thursday, the MTA is warning some customers to expect more of the same on Friday morning. Following a manhole fire south of West 4th St. that damaged signal power cables on Thursday evening, Transit expected that a.m. service on the 8th Ave. A, C and E lines will “be impacted” in the morning. They’ve offered no other details, but if tonight was any indication, the chaos could spread to the 6th Ave. line too.

I sometimes hate to draw widespread conclusions from isolated incidents, but Thursday was tough. In the early evening, the MTA reported delays on all numbered lines, and at one point, the track-facing doors on the Shuttled opened at Times Square, as Eric Bienenfeld noted to me. In a way, Thursday was a prime example of what could happen if the next five-year capital plan is cut back or left unfunded.

And so while we can’t always draw an argument from bad days, we can view it as a warning and one that legislators should heed: Fund the five-year plan or this will become the norm. For anyone trying to get home tonight, it’s a scary thought indeed.

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Alex December 11, 2014 - 11:58 pm

Here’s what I experienced tonight:
– Downtown 1 train platform at Columbus Circle packed with people from platform edge back to the wall and extending down the corridor toward the 57th St entrances. In 11 years in this town I’ve never seen anything like it. Signs said train arriving in 1 minute but that was a lie.
– A and C trains sitting idle on the lower level.
– It was at this point that I bailed for the 57th St NQR which the MTA site said was running without delay, also a lie.
– Q train quickly became completely full with many passengers at 42nd and 34th unable to board. Platform at 14th so packed people couldn’t exit the train. Q ran very slow until after 14th.
– Waited 15 minutes at DeKalb before they announced that R trains were not running but that an N was running on the R from Manhattan. I was one of a small handful to fit myself on the packed N. Still no notice of NQR troubles when I got off at Prospect and checked the MTA site.

My normally 50 minute commute took about 1:10 today, so I did better than some. But wow.

JDH December 12, 2014 - 12:12 am

Does anyone know what the signal issue affecting numbered lines was?

Al December 12, 2014 - 12:23 am

From what was explained to me (courtesy of the conductor on the 6 train I was stuck on for 30 minutes) the entire signal system more less went out.

JDH December 12, 2014 - 1:56 pm

Got it. Good to know. Thanks.

Jonathan R December 12, 2014 - 5:37 am

MTA.info says “Good Service” on all lines except Nassau St BMT, at 5:30 am Friday. Phew.

Ned December 12, 2014 - 7:58 am

Sounds like there was also a manhole fire south of W 4th which caused a number of problems — A/C/E and B/D/F/M were all a mess, with a lot of contradictory information over the PA system. I was at Fulton/Bway/Nassau around 7, and same old thing where you wait, and wait, platform is more and more crowded, and finally some (not very helpful) announcement comes over the PA that “Downtown/Brooklyn-bound A, C, and E trains are not running.” People were pissed.

Of course we should probably prioritize deferred maintenance and equipment upgrades and station overhauls over other, less pressing things, but it does make me think about the MTA’s channels for conveying information when there are problems. The twitter account is all fine and well, but it doesn’t do much good underground if there’s no wifi, and even then, good luck if you don’t own a smart phone or aren’t savvy enough to check mta.info or social media. And you can wait forever for a station announcement that actually helps you make an informed decision, particularly after you’ve invested some time waiting already. It’s hard to swallow the MTA’s claim on the cost, schedule, and feasibility of countdown clocks for the B division.

I know this isn’t fair to say, but these experiences are the kind of thing people will never tolerate in the private sector — (think of the contrition of an airline after canceling a bunch of flights in a snowstorm). But it’s generally what we have come to expect from public agencies and transportation authorities. It makes cynics of us all, and then no one wants to properly fund anything.

Alex December 12, 2014 - 9:51 am

The lack of countdown clocks on the B division is absurd. And that they’ve been “3 to 5 years away” for like 7 years adds insult to injury. And what happened to the test pilot on the Broadway line? Those worked, but then they went away. Not unlike the tap and go payment on the Lex from way back in 2006. Lots of wheel spinning, little to no progress and in some cases, regression.

BrooklynBus December 12, 2014 - 1:08 pm

I was at Union Square last night waiting for the Q after I couldn’t get an A train and was afraid there might be problems on the B as well. I was correct. Anyway, at Union Square, they have one of those new kiosks and I noticed some countdown times which quickly switched to ads which seemed to remain on unless you touched the screen. The only thing that seemed to work was the directions which I didn’t want.

Me and someone else tried unsuccessfully to see some service updates or the countdown screen again, but were unsuccessful. When you hit the service alert part, all you got were scheduled service changes, nothing about the current service status. I tried the directions, hoping it would trigger the countdown clock again. Later, I realized it was on a timer and could not be controlled. It is like six seconds for the countdown clock and three minutes for the advertisements unless you press service alerts or directions which stops the ads.

Finally the countdown clock came on again. Only three seconds for each of the two screens. The second screen said Brooklyn bound Q in 6 minutes, just as the Q was pulling into the station. Is this what we will be getting for our money? Except for the directions, it seems to be a total waste.

Boris December 12, 2014 - 4:44 pm

Countdown clocks in the kiosks are only accurate for lines with actual countdown clocks (1-6 and L). The rest of them show scheduled times, which are, of course, incorrect during incidents and track work times.

BrooklynBus December 12, 2014 - 8:16 pm

Then it is just misleading to show them as arrival times if the technology isn’t ready yet. They should say “scheduled arrival times.

Lance December 12, 2014 - 3:14 pm

Those signs on the Broadway line worked occasionally at best. Besides, I think they were triggered manually because they were always a good 30 seconds behind a train actually arriving into a station.

alek December 12, 2014 - 8:50 am

The (7) was a mess last night. After getting off from the bus at Woodside I noticed the 7 train was pulling in the middle track from Flushing bound (it occurred at 5pm) and dumped the passengers off. Then it did the turnaround becoming express toward Flushing. That was odd.

It seems everybody suffered problems yesterday. MTA is crumbling now

MichaelB December 12, 2014 - 9:24 am

Someone also pulled the emergency brake on a Flushing bound 7 under the East river sometime around 7:30. And according to the announcements there was a stalled train somewhere too.

Douglas John Bowen December 12, 2014 - 2:13 pm

Still not the 1970s level yet.

I hear Mr. Kabak’s concern, but wish he (and all) wouldn’t deal in superlatives. It’d be more rational, and more honest, if we said Thursday night could be the future and not will be the future.

Larry Littlefield December 12, 2014 - 9:24 am

Good thing I was on a bike.

Burning signal cables taking out the B division at the very same time that an ATS failure takes out the A division? Funny coincidence, eh.

Alex December 12, 2014 - 9:44 am

Hi-larious! I was laughing the whole way home (which was a very long period of time).

Larry Littlefield December 12, 2014 - 1:00 pm

If I had a plan to knock out the system, that’s just how I’d do it. Is there any better place? Lots of lines at Herald Square, but they don’t interchange, so a signal failure would only affect one half of the lines.

I hope they are looking into this.

Tower18 December 12, 2014 - 4:55 pm

The fire at DeKalb a year or so ago was pretty similar. There run the B,D,N,Q,R, and so ancillary impacts would run through A,B,C,D,E,F,M,N,Q,R. And the resulting crowding on downtown IRT lines would cripple them as well.

Eric Brasure December 12, 2014 - 9:41 am

I was on an uptown A train that must have just pulled into W. 4th when the problem started. I stayed around for about 5 minutes, but as soon I smelled smoke I decided to get out of there and walk up to the L.

This doesn’t seem like it was a dangerous problem, but there was very little communication to passengers about what was going on, and as the platform continued to get smokier, people were still streaming into the station. I shudder to think what would happen if there was a dangerous fire in a station. The MTA has a serious communications problem.

Larry Littlefield December 12, 2014 - 9:43 am

Also, the state legislature wants to get rid of design-build because New Yorkers aren’t paying enough for bad infrastructure projects. Maybe the contractors pulled this one, for all we know.

Alon Levy December 12, 2014 - 9:06 pm

The former Madrid Metro CEO claims that separation of design and construction contributes to low construction costs, because when small changes are needed due to unforeseen issues during construction, contractors who were not involved in the design will be less wedded to the original plan and more willing to make the required changes.

Larry Littlefield December 12, 2014 - 9:10 pm

That doesn’t match NY’s experience. They kill us on change orders, and blame the design.

Bolwerk December 13, 2014 - 11:12 am

In other words, we end up paying more for a simpler design!

Alon Levy December 13, 2014 - 2:23 pm

Another thing Madrid does is agree on costing each item in advance, instead of doing lump-sum contracts, so that change orders are not a budget buster.

Tommy P December 12, 2014 - 10:12 am

These once-in-a-great while problems are understandable for a 24-hour system that serves millions of people every day. But, if the system suffers from one of these once-in-a-great-while issues, don’t use the same “There are delays…” messages that I hear everyday! A lot of people would be more understanding if they were given more information about what was going on.

Not telling your customers that the entire system has melted down and only giving them the same canned messages heard on a daily basis is only going to make people more angry.

As someone mentioned above, the MTA needs to improve its communication skills.

Tower18 December 12, 2014 - 10:51 am

When was all this? I was going home around 5:15-5:25 and waited at 14th St for an A/C for about 15 minutes, and then 4 came back to back, which then crawled back to Brooklyn…but sadly jammed up A/C trains between Spring and Fulton is “every day” at this point. W4 was fine, so the fire must have been later, I guess.

Peter December 12, 2014 - 11:09 am

Why the MTA cannot get its act together to improve communication during major disruptions like this continually amazes me. At minimum, clear and frequent audio announcements should be broadcast in the stations.

But additionally, why isn’t every station equipped with some type of alert system OUTSIDE of fare control? This doesn’t need to wait to be tied into a systemwide countdown clock network. It could be a relatively low-tech thing controlled by the agent at that station, if it’s too technically difficult to control them all centrally.

When these shutdowns occur, they make almost no effort to stop riders from entering stations. Instead they take your fare and let you get down to the platform level before you’re informed your train isn’t running. Besides being a swindle, this wastes everyone’s time and contributes to potentially dangerous crowding on the platforms.

Roy December 12, 2014 - 12:04 pm

I was at Grand Central and about to walk to the M when I spotted an announcement about disrupted service. Took the L to the G instead, and found that because the BDFM was screwed up, F trains were running along the G route, and then continuing to Brighton after Church. The extra trains were causing extreme congestion, and the regular G to Myrtle took easily 15 minutes longer than usual, and it was rather odd being let off at the far end of the platform by the abandoned exit, at a station that never sees full length trains.

Alex December 12, 2014 - 1:18 pm

Pretty disingenuous of the MTA to not put up service advisories for ALL lines last night. Every line was affected. The lines without signal or track problems were getting inundated with people and having to share track with rerouted trains. Maybe it’s a minor quibble, but that why we have the service advisories. It’s a constant pet peeve of mine that they frequently do not bother to post about delays when they’re happening. Not sure if that’s to keep their stats looking good or what, but it’s annoying.

Anonymous December 12, 2014 - 4:50 pm

You know what was burning in that manhole? Undistributed AMNewYork papers that the creative newspaper person dumped there at the end of each morning rush.

Nothing is free in this world, folks.

sonicboy678 December 12, 2014 - 9:05 pm

Please tell me you’re not serious about that statement.

Alon Levy December 12, 2014 - 9:07 pm

Thirty years’ worth of state of good repair budget is money well-spent.


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