FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Sinking of New York City’s Subways

by RITT GOLDSTEIN

It took just short days before New York’s subways overcame the assorted horrors of ‘Frankenstorm’, Superstorm Sandy’s turning subway tunnels into horizontal saltwater silos proving nothing that could stop NY. But just after Sandy struck, Bloomberg News headlined “New York Subway System Faces Weeks to Recover From Storm”, the story observing that many of the Subway’s key electrical systems “can be ruined by salt”, leading to a “short circuit”. In the same article section, titled “Saltwater Damage”, the piece observed that “such a failure caused the deadliest crash in the history of Washington’s Metro system in 2009”.

Photo Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin. MTAPhotos
MTA employees using a pump train are working around the clock to pump seawater out of the L train’s tunnel under the East River. The tunnel was flooded during the unprecedented 13-foot storm surge of Hurricane Sandy. This photo shows activity on the afternoon of Monday, November 5.

After the tunnel is pumped dry of water, work will begin to inspect tracks, signals, switches, electrical components, and third rail. If any repairs are needed, employees will make them as quickly as possible to get service restored. MTA Caption

While I don’t doubt the resourcefulness and genuinely courageous efforts of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and its workers, I do wonder just how many ‘shortcuts’ might have been taken, especially when The New York Times reported MTA “officials at times alternating between a compulsion to cling to protocol and to toss it aside”. I’ll add that, according to The Times, the L train tunnel (pictured above) contained water that “stretched 3,400 feet and was 15 feet deep.”

The Times article, “New York Subway Repairs Border ‘on the Edge of Magic’”, also observed that MTA repair strategy often seemed to rotate upon one question – “Well, what works?” And, in a time when Mayor Bloomberg repeatedly cited the economic benefits of the New York Marathon before finally cancelling it, there do seem questions about prioritizing business issues over human ones, with little doubt as to the business losses a shutdown subway meant. With even the Times article noting subway service returned “quicker than almost anyone could have imagined”, maybe it might be worthwhile to consider why.

Yes, all of New York is rejoicing in its subways’ returning — I certainly don’t doubt the hardship many ordinary people have without them — and I certainly don’t mean to ‘rain on the parade’ here, but maybe there was a reason why most experts thought repairs would take far longer.

Bloomberg’s article had sought the opinion of a gentleman by the name of Mortimer Downey, someone who indeed seems knowledgeable upon the issues, reporting:

“Thousands of connections in signal systems will need to be cleaned and tested before trains can run again, said Mortimer Downey, a former MTA executive director and current board member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

It’s an enormous amount of wiring and an enormous amount of connections that go to what’s called relay rooms,” Downey said. “They’ve got to turn the system on, and if it seems to be working I think they’ve got to go to every component and check it and get rid of all the salt. What you don’t want is a short circuit that causes the system to fail.”

Photo Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Deirdre Parker. MTAPhotos
Damaged vs. Pristine Condition
An example of subway signaling components that were damaged as a result of flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Photo taken at the 207th Street Yard in Upper Manhattan. MTA Caption

In contrast, The Times description of what needed to be done stated:

“And even if tunnels were pumped, obstacles remained. Workers had to inspect tracks, third rails and signals. There could be no dangerous debris in the tunnels. Some cables needed to be reattached.”

While it’s natural that any two articles on the same subject will focus somewhat differently, if every electric component hadn’t been inspected, all salt removed, it would have saved a lot of time. Of course, if they did inspect every component, remove all the salt, then I guess it was just bad luck that led The Times to report “unexpected third-rail and switch problems” at one station, and that a G line “transformer blew”, delaying that line’s restarting.

While the imperatives of getting NY’s subways working are apparent to all, the 2009 Washington Metro crash is worth recalling, for many reasons. Aside from the nine dead and about eighty injured (some of the injured trapped for hours), Wikipedia notes that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found that “a faulty track circuit, part of the automatic train control system”, had caused the crash. It was further noted that the NTSB found that the circuit in question “had been malfunctioning since 2007, 18 months prior to the collision”.

Photo Credit: NTSB, via Wikipedia
June 2009 Washington Metro Crash

I personally don’t believe in magic, and while I may be biased, I do hope New York’s officials, and its millions of subway riders, might be just a little hesitant to believe in it as well.

Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist living in Sweden. His work has appeared fairly widely, including in America’s Christian Science Monitor, Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, Spain’s El Mundo, Austria’s Wiener Zeitung, Hong Kong’s Asia Times, and a number of other global media outlets.

Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist living in Sweden.

More articles by:
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
Binoy Kampmark
Headaches of Empire: Brexit’s Effect on the United States
Dave Lindorff
Honest Election System Needed to Defeat Ruling Elite
Louisa Willcox
Delisting Grizzly Bears to Save the Endangered Species Act?
Jason Holland
The Tragedy of Nothing
Jeffrey St. Clair
Revolution Reconsidered: a Fragment (Guest Starring Bernard Sanders in the Role of Robespierre)
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail