Home 7 Line Extension Scenes from the 7 line: Six months later

Scenes from the 7 line: Six months later

by Benjamin Kabak

It’s been a sliver over six months to the day since the MTA opened the 7 train’s new 34th St.-Hudson Yards subway station. After nearly 21 months of delays and bickering between the city and MTA that led to the project’s being cut in half mid-planning, the 34th St. stop was the first new subway station, other than the replacement South Ferry terminal, since the 63rd St. line opened in 1989. The new station, a deep-bore tunnel 125 feet below ground with a full-length mezzanine and new-to-the-MTA incline elevators, is supposed to be the model for future new stations along the Upper East Side. When I first saw it, it seemed big and somewhat sterile, but sterile isn’t a bad thing considering the state of many other New York City subway stations.

Eventually, the Hudson Yards stop will serve as a gateway to a new neighborhood in Manhattan, and the signs of that emerging neighborhood are easily visible at street level. Construction dominates the landscape, and the growth of the Far West Side is a fait accompli at this point. It’s not a matter of if, but when, and despite a paucity of riders in the early going, the 7 line will bring a whole heckuva lot of people to this supposed last frontier of Manhattan.

This past Saturday, I found myself near the Hudson Yards stop for the first time since its opening in September. There were no politicians, no one lined up to storm the station and no 7 train cookies this time around. Rather, there was a particularly speedy ride to Times Square and a station struggling to get by. On one hand, it doesn’t feel like a New York City subway stop; it’s too new and clean and bright and airy. But on the other hand, it feels very much like a New York City subway stop. The bathrooms, for instance, seem permanently in a state of never opening, and scenes from the station betray some of the reasons why subways arrived first in September of 2015 rather than December of 2013.

I’ll let these pictures, with a little bit of commentary, tell the full story.

Testing problems with these escalators were one of the reasons the station's opening was delayed. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Testing problems with these escalators were one of the reasons the station’s opening was delayed. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

One of the quirks/flaws of the Hudson Yards station is its lack of staircases. Since the platforms are so deep, the only ways to get from the fare payment level to the mezzanine above the platform involve either five escalators or two inclined elevators. On Saturday (and for some time now), these have been reduced to one down escalator, two up escalators and the inclined elevators because some of the escalators — a sticking point in getting the station open in the first — have been out of service. And when are these expected back in service? Well, take a look at the next photo.

Some of the escalators at Hudson Yards seem out of service indefinitely. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Some of the escalators at Hudson Yards seem out of service indefinitely. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

According to the MTA’s website, one of these escalators has been out of service since February 7 and the other since February 24. It’s not clear when either or both will be back in service, and that sign doesn’t give me much hope for a speedy repair. It’s somewhat mind-boggling that the MTA is struggling with a technology as commonplace as an escalator, and the lack of stairs to the mezzanine level now feels like a glaring omission.

An industrial fan attempts to dry a puddle not far from the inclined elevators. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

An industrial fan attempts to dry a puddle not far from the inclined elevators. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Meanwhile, on that mezzanine level, an industrial fan sitting in front of a wall panel that simply says “water” and hides a bunch of water pipes is hard at work attempting to dry a leak from said water pipes. The water intrusion as this station isn’t nearly as bad as it was at the new South Ferry stop, but water from the cooling system dripped through earlier this winter in enough places to cause indoor icicles. Here, a temporary leak seemed to be plaguing the station, but a leak six months in is worrying enough.

In the grand scheme of the Hudson Yards station, these aren’t major problems that affect, say, the structural integrity of the station, but they are issues indicative of the MTA’s struggles with megaprojects. They are why Brooklyn residents don’t trust the MTA on its ducking and dodging on the L train repairs, and they are why Upper East Siders, while anticipating the Second Ave. Subway, are worried the same problems that delayed the 7 line will plague those three and a half new stops in a few months as opening day ticks nearer. Either way, it’s not a good look for the MTA.

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Qurik March 14, 2016 - 1:40 am

You don’t have to like Hudson Yards, it’s not sunshine and rainbows over there.

And yeah, Hudson Yards is still a terrible place for tenants. There are like 5 office buildings in the pipeline but none of them have found tenants. These are 1.5 million+ sq ft office towers that can accommodate any type of tenant but no is interested. If anything, this is saying a lot about the place.

Also, this station was vastly overbuilt and will never handle the 34,000 passengers it claims it attract. (Not by 2030 as they claim, we’re in 2016 BTW) Just walk over to Eighth avenue and take a real subway that actually goes somewhere.

Larry Littlefield March 14, 2016 - 6:39 am

They’ve all got anchor tenants. Very few buildings have been built on spec since the 1980s real estate bust.

One reason Hudson Yards is draining the city budget is that no one broke ground on anything until the subway was mostly built. They are building now.

I guess they learned from the experience of all those developers who built residential towers on the far East Side in the 1950s and 1960s in anticipation of the Second Avenue Subway.

AG March 16, 2016 - 10:28 pm

You completely made that up… Huge corporate tentants have signed on to move there. SAP – Coach – Time Warner – Wells Fargo – on and on… Thousands of employees…

AG March 16, 2016 - 10:29 pm

oops – meant “tenants”

Streater March 14, 2016 - 3:19 am

All hope is lost for the MTA… why can’t they privatize it like Tokyo or Hong Kong… very successful systems.

The system used to be privatized but a foolish mayor thought it was a cash cow and the city stupidly took it over.

Imagine how much property tax the city could get if it was on the rolls… plus a company or two would be running it and investing in it. It’s a WIN-WIN!

TimK March 14, 2016 - 9:58 am

There’s no longer any money to be made in passenger transportation. Even the airlines only make money because they charge checked baggage fees. The market won’t bear fares that are high enough to result in profits for them. And that’s even more true in urban transport, which people have to use every day: They won’t pay fares anywhere near the break-even level, never mind profits.

Roger March 17, 2016 - 11:08 pm

Explain like I am 5, but why there is no money to be made in passenger transportation anymore?

zhuang March 14, 2016 - 11:52 am

The MTR in Hong Kong is also a property developer. That combined with distance/zone based fares allow profits for running the subway there.

Dexter March 15, 2016 - 2:18 pm

The subways (not including the IND) started out as private. It didn’t end too well.

Chris March 19, 2016 - 8:12 am

It didn’t end too well because the contracts between the IRT/BMT and the City didn’t take into account the post-WWI inflation – and then the IND came along with lines specifically designed to screw with the finances of both companies.

Otherwise it wouldn’t have been a problem at all.

WestSideRider March 14, 2016 - 3:55 am

That’s the MTA for you. I’ve been using this station regularly for the past month, and that’s about how long those escalators have been out of service. At first, they actually had workmen, and signs saying they’d be back up in a day or two. Now they’ve given up and gone the “until further notice” route.
Not sure how well privatization would work – in the days of privately run subways/elevated lines, the city forced the companies to keep the fare at a nickel for about 30+ years. which led to deferred maintenance. It would be nice to wrest the MTA out of the state’s hands, though.

Jerrold March 14, 2016 - 10:31 am

Yup, 44 years, 1904-1948.

TimK March 14, 2016 - 11:21 am

Although for the last eight years of that, it was the city running the subway with a nickel fare, not the city forcing private companies to do it.

Fool March 15, 2016 - 8:34 am

Well half, BMT was still private and profitable until 1948.

Fool March 15, 2016 - 8:36 am

Scratch that, I am wrong.

John-2 March 14, 2016 - 5:56 am

The MTA’s falling for the same over-reliance on technology — even low-level technology like escalators — that WMATA got caught in when they built most of their system in the 1970s and 80s. They never planned ahead for increasing breakdowns as the system aged and what looked ultra-modern in 1976 had turned into a logistical nightmare by 2006.

Completely eliminating stairways means any sort of down time for the escalators creates a huge bottleneck for passengers, who may not want to climb 100 or so feet of stairs, but are willing to go down 100 feet of stairs, thereby allowing the remaining escalators to be switched to where they can do the most good (and at least the MTA is smart enough at the moment to do a two-up, one-down arraignment with the remaining working escalators at Hudson Yards. In Washington, if the normal ‘up’ escalators break while the ‘down’ one is still working in their three-escalator banks, WMATA usually isn’t smart enough to reverse the down escalator to the up position, and make riders have to climb out of deep holes like Dupont Circle while boarding passengers are still able to ride down).

Larry Littlefield March 14, 2016 - 6:41 am

I’ll say it again: Parsons was right. The up-front cost and disruption of shallow cut and cover construction is offset in the long run by faster and easier customer access.

Will March 14, 2016 - 9:13 am

Parson was always right. He built most of early subway systems that exist today and his engineering firm that bear his name still exist

Will March 14, 2016 - 9:14 am

4 track trunk subway to increase and speed capacity, genius

John-2 March 14, 2016 - 11:18 am

I will grant the MTA a bit of leeway here, because of the problem of getting past the three tubes of the Lincoln tunnel and the Hudson River tubes coming out of Penn Station. Deep tunnel might have been the only option, though by 11th Avenue, there might have been enough room above the Lincoln Tunnel and Amtrak’s tubes to do a cut-and-cover tunnel just below the surface for the 7 train, which would have then eliminated the need for anything other than the ADA elevators at Hudson Yards, and any escalators could be easily augmented with stairs for more reliable crowd flow.

Larry Littlefield March 14, 2016 - 11:46 am

But how about the SAS Phase II?

John-2 March 14, 2016 - 11:50 am

No excuses for the deep tunnels there, other than the MTA’s still suffering from institutional shell-shock from the battle with wealthy Manhattanites over the 63rd Street tunnels going through Central Park way back in 1971 (and if the do finally start Phase 2, I’m waiting to see if the MTA’s paranoia about cut-and-cover is so great, they opt to not use the existing tunnel around 116th Street for anything more than a mezzanine, and decide to bore under the already-built two-track tunnel).

Will March 14, 2016 - 2:36 pm

Phase 2 cut and cover cause building these huge cavern tunnels and stations at 106 st, 116 st, and 125 st at Lex, which is a bad ideal and reduces capacity will suck up 2.5 b and much more

Riverduckexpress March 14, 2016 - 11:01 pm

The MTA is NOT going to tunnel under the 1970s tunnels in Phase 2. Where did you hear that? The 1970s tunnels in Harlem will be used completely.

The line under 2 Av will generally be around ~45 feet deep. The ONLY part of Phase 2 that will be extremely deep is the part under 125 St, and that’s unavoidable since the line has to pass under the Lexington Avenue Line.

Riverduckexpress March 14, 2016 - 11:00 pm

The MTA is NOT going to tunnel under the 1970s tunnels in Phase 2. Where did you hear that? The 1970s tunnels in Harlem will be used completely.

The line under 2 Av will generally be around ~45 feet deep. The ONLY part of Phase 2 that will be extremely deep is the part under 125 St, and that’s unavoidable since the line has to pass under the Lexington Avenue Line.

Jon March 14, 2016 - 7:46 pm

Absolutely. Which is why it’s so unbelievable that they’re actually planning to tunnel under the already built tunnels on SAS Phase II.

Jon March 14, 2016 - 7:53 pm

Most of the line up to 125 is already built other than the stations. The stations would need to be dug out anyway. If they’re really anticipating all these issues with residents, then they should be upfront and say the cost difference both in terms of construction and in terms of the inconvenience to riders travelling to and from the surface. If the MTA simply said that it would cost, say, an additional billion dollars for the deep bore tunnel in order to slightly reduce construction disruption for a few years, I have a feeling the opposition would die down or be overruled pretty quickly. Even if it isn’t, at least everyone will know what we paid to placate the neighbors.

Riverduckexpress March 14, 2016 - 10:57 pm

The MTA is NOT going to tunnel under the 1970s tunnels in Phase 2. Where did you hear that? The 1970s tunnels in Harlem will be used completely.

Riverduckexpress March 14, 2016 - 11:03 pm

34 St-Hudson Yards had to be deep underground in order to pass under the LIRR’s West Side Yard and Amtrak’s Empire Connection, which are both right above the line.

TimK March 14, 2016 - 10:00 am

I may be wrong, but I’ve formed the impression that in WMATA’s three-escalator banks, only the center escalator is reversible. If I’m right, that was not a smart choice, but I can only imagine that they made it for a reason.

Jedman67 March 14, 2016 - 12:04 pm

It probably costs a few thousand more to have a reversible escalator. The bigger question is why does it take WEEKS to fix an escalator?

SEAN March 14, 2016 - 1:03 pm

IDK, but are some parts custom? I wonder… who here knows anything about escalator design & installation.

Chris March 19, 2016 - 8:16 am

IIRC it’s also partially related to wear and tear; an escalator that has run for years downwards apparently won’t take too well to suddenly running upwards.

Jason March 14, 2016 - 3:43 pm

It’s not about WMATA not being smart enough to do it so much as they’re afraid that the escalators won’t turn back on if they power them down to reverse them from their usual direction.

JJJ March 14, 2016 - 10:24 am

Very dictator. Look amazing for the press and foreign dignitaries, look like crap 99% of the time for the common people.

Brooklynite March 14, 2016 - 12:51 pm

Not even that. One of the elevators was broken on opening day.

Jerrold March 14, 2016 - 10:26 am

Just a correction………

One of the picture captions says “elevator” instead of “escalator”.

Now, as for somebody’s suggestion to turn the system over to a private company, what makes you think that anybody could manage to run it at a profit, unless they were permitted to substantially raise the fare?

Juan March 21, 2016 - 5:50 pm

The fact that the Hong Kong and Tokyo metro systems manage to run their systems at a profit.

A large part of the reason the MTA is unprofitable is that it is run for the benefit of the politicians and their powerbase among the unions and the contractors, even if that means it has to lose billions of dollars in the process. If it stopped being a political tool, it might be able to focus on profitability instead.

BrooklynBus March 14, 2016 - 10:42 am

Since station usage is so light at the present time, it always struck me as very wasteful why all those escalators needed to be service 24/7 anyway. At least they could have installed treadles so they only work on demand. Seems that would greatly lengthen the life of the escalators and reduce repairs. Someone should do a study whether MTA escalators break down more frequently than other similar escalators and are out of service for longer periods of time.

Seth March 14, 2016 - 11:44 am

Good point. I really wonder whether continuous operation is more demanding than on-demand use.

imogen March 14, 2016 - 4:26 pm

Everything has a MTBF, no matter how many fans you blow at it while it’s under load.

BrooklynBus March 15, 2016 - 1:19 pm

But it seems logical that the time between failures is increased with continuous usage but I can also see how constantly starting and stopping could cause more wear and tear. That’s why operating each escalator on alternate days would seem to make sense unless there is a time when more than one up and down escalator would be needed at the same time.

Bgriff March 14, 2016 - 11:45 am

The escalator from the B/Q platform at Atlantic Avenue to the LIRR area went out of service a few weeks ago with a sign saying it would reopen on a quoted date about a month later. I figured it would be closed for months. Shockingly it reopened before the quoted date with all-new steps in the escalator and seemingly working better than ever. The MTA should be studying whatever went right there and bringing it across the rest of the system.

SEAN March 14, 2016 - 2:22 pm

A few weeks ago, at Stamford station one of the escalators was out for about 2-weeks & at the same time, an adjacent elevator was also out of service. Luckily, the elevator was only out for about 3-days & I witnessed actual workers making repairs. I even had a brief conversation with them on what repairs were being performed & it was quite interesting believe it or not.

bulk88 March 14, 2016 - 3:38 pm


The station has been leaking since opening day.

Ben M March 14, 2016 - 6:57 pm

Just a question, why do the escalators need to be closed when out of service? Why not just let people walk on them as stairs to increase capacity?

wahi1234 March 14, 2016 - 7:10 pm

I always figured the center 2 escalators were closed because there’s constantly water dripping onto them from the ceiling.

Duke March 15, 2016 - 12:09 am

Which is probably also why they’re broken. And will keep breaking unless that water problem is solved.

Brooklynite March 15, 2016 - 7:34 pm

I am admittedly not an escalator expert, but if they break because of a few drops of water from the ceiling how do they work in the winter, when everybody brings in wet snow on their shoes?

tacony March 15, 2016 - 2:06 pm

I think threat of lawsuits is a part of it. This is also why you never see “stand right, walk left” officially written anywhere either: you’re not technically supposed to walk on escalators at all! People are really bad at walking to begin with. The rise and run of escalators are not the valid legal dimension of actual stairs, despite similar appearance.

Elvis Delgado March 15, 2016 - 1:50 pm

This is also a topic of interest to the New York Post:


Their view (typically, for the Post) is not as sanguine as yours.

MoleRat March 16, 2016 - 6:48 am

There is a complete failure of the waterproofing system here. Shotcrete was installed over the loose PVC membrane and likely punctured the waterproofing in the process. MTA has already pumped thousands of gallons of grout all over the station but the water just finds a new weak point and finds its way in. You can see grout everywhere on the inclined elevator walks. The leaks are not fixable.The center escalators are off as the constantly dripping water damages the operating escalators. The only solution at the escalators would be to take the ceiling down and create a giant drop pan to catch the water and divert to a sump pump.

Old New Yorker March 17, 2016 - 6:20 pm

I rode the first train into this station…I can’t believe it’s such a mess six months later. The Third Avenue El stations that were torn down in 1955 and 1973 were made of wood and hung through ghastly weather for nearly a century with no maintenance. What’s wrong with the Transit Authority?


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