Home 7 Line Extension Scenes from the 7 line: Who watches the watchers?

Scenes from the 7 line: Who watches the watchers?

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

The Hudson Yards escalators have since been repaired, but grouting problems continue to plague the station. (Photo: Benjamin Kabak)

Remember those photos from Hudson Yards I posted last week? Showcasing a leaking wall and some out-of-service escalators, these pictures represented but a slice of the problems plaguing the MTA’s newest subway station. As many have noted — both in the media and as riders — icicles formed over the winter, and MTA officials eventually poor grouting work that a contractor will fix, at a cost of $3 million to this contractor. It won’t cost the MTA a penny, but it leaves egg on the face of an agency with a poor public image. Worse yet, it exposes some deep rifts in the oversight process.

Yesterday morning, the MTA’s Board committee met for the first time since the Hudson Yards flaws hit the headlines, and they were not happy with the news. Polly Trottenberg said she found out about the water intrusion problems first from reading Gothamist and not from internal MTA reports, and MTA Capital Construction President Michael Horodniceanu grew very defensive in the face of appropriately combative and probing questions. At one point, in response to questions regarding faulty escalators, Horodniceanu said simply, “I do not control when things break.” His words came awfully close to a self-absolution of responsibility, and he later indicated that MTACC knew about the problem as early as 2012.

Meanwhile, while Charles Moerdler was content to defend the MTA’s shoddy waterproofing efforts — a reason, by the way, why the new South Ferry station is being rebuilt from the ground up — Jonathan Ballan, Trottenberg and Allen Cappelli were far less forgiving. “The level of surprise and disappointment cannot be overstated,” Ballan said, of a station the MTA Board seemed to call a $2 billion lemon. “It should work.”

Cappelli, meanwhile, picked up on the public relations aspect of the problem. The images, he said, are “damaging to the reputation of the agency,” adding that it “looks foolish” to have problems so soon after opening, and Horodniceanu hedged when asked if the contractors responsible are working on other MTA capital projects. My own reporting has indicated that the Yonkers Contracting Company is involved with some work in the East Side Access cavern but does not appear to be involved with the Second Ave. Subway construction.

For its part, the MTA plans to engage an outside consultant to assess the process. The agency will study “what did we know and what actions did we take with respect to trying to correct the conditions that are existing there, so we can find ourselves in a position next time that we don’t have the same outcome?” MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast said.

But on the other hand, this development raises questions regarding general oversight. No one in charge of the MTA today was around when this project was approved in the mid-2000s. Peter Kalikow was in charge of the agency then, and Mysore Nagaraja was the head of Capital Construction. Still, the current administration, and in particular Horodniceanu, have been around long enough to oversee numerous contract awards and the day-to-day construction progress. Yet, waterproofing and escalators, a technology that dates to the mid-to-late 1800s, have remained frustratingly out of reach.

So what next? The MTA is going to open some new stations later this year or early next (if they can once more, in part, overcome the hurdle of escalator installation and operations), and we’ll do this all over again. But from oversight to construction practices, it seems as though an agency that can’t spend efficiently needs some help. How they get it is an open question.

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Ralph March 22, 2016 - 10:05 am

Dr.H will probably retire or be fired after the SAS is finished.

LLQBTT March 22, 2016 - 10:24 am

I hope that you’re referring to Phase 1 (or 2) at most!

tacony March 22, 2016 - 10:06 am

I don’t understand why this only now became a scandal. The leaks were there on the day the station opened. Although I think the escalators were all working when I visited, the elevator from the surface to the mezzanine level (not the fancy one) was not working, and the bathroom was already out of service. I thought this was embarrassing then, but nobody seemed to care. After the ribbon cutting press conference, the VIPs patted themselves on the back and went home.

The Post and Gothamist write about the station six months later and suddenly everyone is outraged. How did the Board committee not know about this until it became a media firestorm? Had they never actually seen the station? It doesn’t take some special expertise to see the issues identified here. That they’re “surprised” now is inexcusable.

I sadly get the impression that most of these people seem to just sit at home all day and apparently they read the New York Post but don’t actually go out into the city, and they seem to lack the ability to observe the things that regular people are forced to deal with every day. How is their lack of attention until the Post brought this up not the real scandal? Why do we need to rely on the New York Post to hold their feet to the fire? Everyone I know thinks the Post is a joke. Why are they our muckrakers? It’s not like they did some deep digging to find that the station was leaking. It’s visible to the naked eye.

There are dozens of other stations in worse shape than Hudson Yards, where the water intrusion has been so extreme for so long, and has never even been cleaned up, that there are stalagmites and stalactites on the ceilings and floors. Does the MTA board need the Post to show them this for them to demand it be resolved?

If only we had more intrepid transit reporters at our third rate tabloids, we’d have a more functioning transit system, because the people who can actually drive change don’t seem to have the capability of observing the very simple issues that daily riders are inherently familiar with? Is that the solution?

Tower18 March 22, 2016 - 7:01 pm

#1 our leaders don’t ride the transit they oversee
#2 NOBODY uses this station for now

I suppose between those things, you can see how people wouldn’t know. That doesn’t explain why they *shouldn’t* know. But that’s how they don’t.

Easy Rider March 24, 2016 - 5:13 pm

Today I was in the station mid-afternoon, and was surprised to see just how many people use the station TODAY. A decent amount of tourists by the looks of it as well. So your #2 is a lame straw man.

Having been the first time back for me since shortly after it opened, I was sad to see the rusting/discolored white ceiling panels from the drips, as I was getting spritzed in the face going up the escalator.

PS – they should make that escalator move more quickly, like they do in Russia.

Tower18 March 25, 2016 - 12:37 pm

Sure, people use it. I’m using “nobody” relatively.


5900 riders per day, LOL.

So, back to my point, yes they pay about as much attention to this station as, say, your average G train station in Brooklyn, which have similar or higher ridership.

Easy Rider March 25, 2016 - 1:15 pm

When was that written? Oh wait, I see, October 2015 ROFLcopter

You should check out the yards sometime and see what’s happening around there and see how quickly it’s growing.

Stephen March 23, 2016 - 7:29 am

I am awarding you the prize for what is probably the first use of those 2 words in a transit blog. Mind you, I don’t know what the prize is or what it should be, but you get it.
Now, because I wasn’t sure which is which, I was thinking that your ordering of the words ‘ceilings and floors’ indicated that they matched up with ‘stalagmites and stalactites.’ Alas, that is not the case.
Stalactites hang from the ceiling of a cave while stalagmites grow from the cave floor.

LLQBTT March 22, 2016 - 10:23 am

Maybe the MTA should get out of the business of building stuff and leave it to someone else.

LordDeucey March 22, 2016 - 7:52 pm

It worked for LA with the Gold Line and Expo Line Construction Authorities.

lawhawk March 22, 2016 - 10:39 am

Water intrusion has been an issue facing underground construction since they started building subways more than 100 years ago. This isn’t some radically new problem. That they’re still facing the same issues, and haven’t sufficiently planned for water intrusion or haven’t followed through with the design plans that take it into account is a huge problem.

It’s wasted time, money, and further reduces reliability in the system (water will eventually damage critical components, as we’re already seeing with the 7 line and South Ferry). Water intrusion isn’t just a cosmetic issue; it reveals deeper problems with ongoing maintenance throughout the system.

tacony March 22, 2016 - 11:18 am

I guess water intrusion is not taken seriously because to a casual observer it would seem that it’s “just water” and people may not be aware that water alone can destroy structures so easily. I’m still a bit amazed that in 2016 there is seemingly no way to build rail infrastructure and equipment that salt water does not totally destroy on contact. You’d think some sort of corrosion-resistant coating could be applied without compromising the conductivity necessary, or at least that you could apply this to all the components that don’t need to be conductive to minimize loss. I’d think it’d be worth hiring some people to try to figure this out instead of accepting the idea that if salt water gets in the tunnels during the next storm it will necessarily destroy them and cause innumerable disruptions and billions of dollars in reconstruction.

Easy Rider March 24, 2016 - 5:17 pm

Yeah every time a water drip lands on us casual observers in a station we repeat to ourselves “nothing to worry about it’s just water it’s just water it’s just water” pretending not to really want to immediately get hiv tested and go through a radiation decontamination shower.

JJJ March 22, 2016 - 11:41 am

“Polly Trottenberg said she found out about the construction first from reading Gothamist and not from internal MTA reports”

Has she considered, perhaps, riding the subway?

Tower18 March 22, 2016 - 7:07 pm

It’s amazing she’d even say that out loud. At least pretend you were aware via the normal channels and some random this-or-that kept you from acting on it just yet.

TimK March 23, 2016 - 11:48 am

It sounds to me as if she expected to hear this via MTA reports — i.e., that those are the normal channels — but she didn’t. That seems to have been her whole point.

As for her not riding the subway, it’s perfectly possible that she rides it frequently and just rarely has reason to go over to Hudson Yards.

Easy Rider March 24, 2016 - 5:22 pm

I take umbrage with gothamist which makes it a priority to crap on anything the MTA does regardless of how positive it is. Ditto for anything regarding the bronx, gothamist just craps all over it. It has to be incredibly demoralizing for anybody who is actually trying to do the right thing just get crapped on by them.

I really try to avoid reading them because of all their negativity. The only thing they’re good for is shaming subway wankers, and even then that “Master of None” show did a good job making me feel bad for them as mentally ill.

smotri March 22, 2016 - 12:01 pm

So Allen Cappelli is worried that the images of the leaks are “damaging to the reputation of the agency”? As a daily subway user, the agency’s ‘reputation’ was ‘damaged’ loooonnnnngggg ago! The subways are outmoded, decrepit, filthy, and staffed with, at best, indifferent workers. The system is basically, an unavoidable, unpleasant chore to be endured for as little time as possible when one is in it’s nasty embrace.

John-2 March 22, 2016 - 1:39 pm

The ongoing station infrastructure problems does make you appreciate the efforts of the Interboro Rapid Transit Company’s Contract 1 and Contract 2 projects even more — waterproofing of stations out the wazoo, and the pneumatic pumps that kept the Joralemon Street tunnel from suffering the damages of Sandy as much as the nearby Montague Street tunnel and some of the others built after 1908.

(Horodniceanu’s attitude towards the MTA board’s queries not only passes the buck on blame for the water infiltration problems, it almost comes across as him telling the board they should be glad they’re getting anything at all, as if the current construction options are all that’s available to the MTA. Which actually may be true, if the regulations, requirements and other political maneuverings make the current group of contractors the only ones who can meet the MTA’s standards, not due to competence, but due to how many people they can make happy before the new stations ever open.)

cesar March 22, 2016 - 5:31 pm

Why does Michael Horodniceanu still have a job?

Michael549 March 23, 2016 - 1:07 am

“Why does Michael Horodniceanu still have a job?”

Because a political scapegoat is needed to take on the rage of the public! A whipping guy is needed and he serves that function – so that everyone can feel better about themselves for yelling or cursing at him.

Does that actually solve problems? Nope, but it makes the folks feel better – which is actually the goal. Solving problems – really solving problems take actual hard – day-in day-out – getting your hands dirty – work.

It is just so much more emotionally satisfying to have somebody to yell at. After the yelling is done – folks can get some quiche.


bigbellymon4 March 25, 2016 - 5:23 pm

And that is the sad part of America. They would rather kick the can, yell at people for doing their job than actually solve a problem that could have a lasting result that helps for generations.

Bryan March 23, 2016 - 8:27 am

Because taking blame is part of his job. And really, if he gets fired he goes onto another construction-related job. That’s what makes this whole “accountability” argument so amusing.

Ed Unneland March 23, 2016 - 8:07 am

My bête noire is how ever since they were built, from the first strong storm in 1996, the MTA has contented itself with buckets underneath the places where the ceilings leak in the northern passageways from Grand Central. Twenty years?

smotri March 23, 2016 - 2:12 pm

Same thing at City Hall-Brooklyn Bridge on the Lexington Avenue line. When it rains, it pours.

bigbellymon4 March 25, 2016 - 5:17 pm

Even in above ground stations such as Broadway Junction. The covered overpass between the J/Z platform to the A/C platform has a leaky spot near the newsstand and all they do is put up a “caution: slippery when wet” sign with a bucket when it rains and move on.

Rob March 23, 2016 - 10:46 am

Seems to me these probs are accentuated – certainly for escalators and probably for waterproofing – by their recent penchant to build things so deep, almost halfway down to china. I realize with all the previous construction close to the surface, you have to go under, but I wonder whether they overdid it in the thought they were taking the easy way out.

smotri March 23, 2016 - 2:14 pm

London has some very deep stations, Paris on the RER lines also has some very deep stations, and both have functioning escalators that rarely are out of service. Why is such an elementary thing so hard to do in NYC?

bigbellymon4 March 25, 2016 - 5:19 pm

Because they need to be fancy enough to show that they have money, even though they don’t.

Alon Levy March 25, 2016 - 9:52 pm

In Stockholm, a lot of escalators are out of service, and people have to use stairs. At my home station there are three escalators, and it’s common for just two to work at a given time.

Neil M March 23, 2016 - 1:18 pm

What level of professional incompetence is required before somebody at Capital Construction is fired? Pendergast’s solution is to hire yet another contractor to tell him what went wrong. The MTA seems to think it’s someone else’s job to manage these projects, and then act shocked when they find out they’ve been taken for a ride. They need in house expertise to supervise their contractors – this seems to be why the Europeans build things more cost effectively.

victor March 27, 2016 - 3:06 pm

Something just came to my mind. What about the second entrance? When’s that opening?


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