Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the Metropolitan Transportation Authoirty on Thursday, days after a subway derailment in Harlem left dozens injured and stranded hundreds.
Cuomo announced the move at the Genius Transit Challenge Conference in Manhattan, saying the state of emergency will “expedite the MTA procurement process.”
He also called for a joint review of the system by Con Edison and the MTA to identify necessary equipment and the state of repair needed within 90 days.
Additionally, Cuomo said the state will add another $1 billion to the MTA Capital Program to modernize the subway and issue a directive to review the MTA’s capital plan.
“We understand what happens when a system collapses and we want to make sure that nothing like what’s happening at Amtrak and Penn ever happens again,” Cuomo said.
While the system was worse in the 1970s, Cuomo said, “the current state of decline is wholly unacceptable and we’re going to do something about it now.”
This declaration comes as commuters brace for what Cuomo called “the summer of hell” that could result from planned renovations to address long-term infrastructure issues at Penn Station.
Penn Station’s planned summer construction, from July 10 to Sept. 1, has been expected to disrupt LIRR rush-hour service. The repairs will close three of the station’s 21 tracks.
Such expected disruption prompted the MTA to develop a mitigation plan with ferries, buses and added cars. Fare reductions for affected LIRR riders followed.
The costs are expected to be well into the millions, but the exact amount is unclear.
Joe Lhota, the recently reappointed chairman of the MTA, described the current transit system as outdated. He said it began in 1904, was designed in the nineteenth century and that they must enter the twenty-first century.
He also described the Genius Transit Challenge Conference, an international competition seeking groundbreaking ideas for improving the reliability of the city’s subway service, as the “beginning of a long term effort” to re-imagine the MTA.
William Henderson, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA, said that while “it’s probably early to speculate” on the possible impact of Cuomo’s plans, he feels it’s a good step.
“It’s gratifying that we’re finally addressing some of these infrastructure issues that we’ve sort of pushed off for awhile,” Henderson said in an interview.
Brandon Muir, executive director of the conservative good-government group Reclaim New York, said Cuomo has not gone nearly far enough.
“It took the Governor long enough to realize the MTA is in a state of emergency. That’s something your average rider could have told you months or years ago,” Muir said in a statement. “His Hail Mary contest to find a random person who will fix the subways is the definition of a publicity stunt.”
“The governor should drop the desperate attempts to dodge responsibility and immediately demand smarter spending, not just more money,” Muir added. “We can only hope the new MTA Chairman lives up to promises to put commuters first.”
Senator Elaine Phillips (R-Manhasset), who fought to reduce fares for LIRR commuters, also noted that any LIRR commuter could have told Governor Cuomo that the “mass transportation system is at a crisis point.”
But Phillips also said Cuomo was taking steps in the right direction. She expressed support for his emergency declaration, desire to review the capital plan and committing $1 billion in new funding for the city’s subways.
She said he should also focus on improving LIRR infrastructure between Jamaica Station and the East River Tunnels.
“This is the biggest choke point for the country’s largest commuter railroad. Nearly every LIRR line converges in this area to get into and out of Penn Station,” Phillips said. “Breakdowns and delays here disrupt operations throughout the entire system.”
Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos also announced plans to audit the MTA and LIRR’s station operations and maintenance. He said the audit, set to begin July 12, aims to uncover “how well taxpayer money is spent by the LIRR in operating and maintaining the Nassau County system.”
“The litany of service delays, train cancellations, derailments and overcrowding appears to represent a failure of management, inadequate maintenance, poor planning and lack of investment in the LIRR,” Maragos said in a statement.