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Thread: 2 Subway Lines (A and C) Crippled by Fire

  1. #1

    Default 2 Subway Lines (A and C) Crippled by Fire

    January 25, 2005

    2 Subway Lines Crippled by Fire, Officials Assert


    Two of the city's subway lines - the A and the C - have been crippled and may not return to normal capacity for three to five years after a fire Sunday afternoon in a Lower Manhattan transit control room that was started by a homeless person trying to keep warm, officials said yesterday.

    The blaze, at the Chambers Street station used by the A and C lines, was described as doing the worst damage to subway infrastructure since the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. It gutted a locked room that is no larger than a kitchen but that contains some 600 relays, switches and circuits that transmit vital information about train locations.

    The A line will run roughly one-third the normal number of trains - meaning that riders who used to wait six minutes for a train might now have to wait 18 minutes - while the C train will cease to exist as a separate line, at least for the time being. The C will be replaced by the V in Brooklyn. Long waits and erratic service are likely to be the norm for 580,000 passengers who previously relied on the A and C each weekday.

    Riders on the West Side of Manhattan and in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of East New York and Ocean Hill-Brownsville will find the available trains more crowded, and will likely seek alternate subway lines, crowding them as well.

    "This is a very significant problem, and it's going to go on for quite a while," said Lawrence G. Reuter, the president of New York City Transit. He estimated it would take "several millions of dollars and several years" to reassemble and test the intricate network of custom-built switch relays that were destroyed in the blaze, which officials believe began when the homeless person - who has not been found - set fire to wood and refuse in a shopping cart in the tunnel about 50 feet north of the Chambers Street station.

    The flames quickly spread to a series of electrical cables. "Those cables short-circuited as a result of the fire, causing arcing as well as fire inside a relay room," said a Fire Department spokesman, Michael R. Loughran.

    The fire underscored the fragility of the antiquated mechanical equipment that keeps the subways moving and of the sensitive nodes where that equipment is stored. Officials said they believed that there were only two companies in the world that were able to repair the signals. One is based in Pittsburgh, and the other in Paris.

    The fixed-block signaling system has been in use since the New York subway's inception in 1904. The transit agency has invested $288 million on its first computerized signaling system, scheduled to make its debut on the L line in Brooklyn and Manhattan in July. Computer-based train operation has been a goal of transit planners for decades, but since 1982 the transit agency has focused its capital spending on basic maintenance.

    Dozens of signal relay rooms like the one destroyed on Sunday are scattered throughout the 722-mile subway system, and it is impossible to fireproof them, Mr. Reuter said. Firefighters had to forcibly remove the bolts when they arrived at the locked relay room on Chambers Street, but the locks did nothing to prevent the fire from entering.

    Until Wednesday, there will be no A service between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. at Spring, Canal and Chambers Streets and at the Broadway-Nassau station in Manhattan and at the High Street station in Brooklyn to allow workers to perform critical repairs. During those hours, the A will operate on the F track between West Fourth Street in Manhattan and Jay Street in Brooklyn. Supervisors will manually operate signals using two-way radios and observation.

    The transit agency, an arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said in a statement that there were "no plans for the restoration of C service in the near future."

    An expert on the city's subways expressed amazement that a single fire in a confined space could have such a long-lasting impact. "It seems astonishing that a single signal room would be so central to the operation of the line that it would take five years to recover from," said Clifton Hood, a transit historian at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. "That's about as long as it took to build that entire line of the IND."

    The first segment of the Independent Subway System, of which the A and C are a part, opened in 1932. The city's three subway divisions were unified in 1940. Professor Hood noted that four stations that were closed after the Sept. 11 attack were reopened in a year.

    Yesterday morning, the first commute since the blaze gave a taste of the irritation that awaits riders in the days and weeks to come. "All I can do is wait here and hope for the best," said Ana Reyes, 51, a medical receptionist from Boerum Hill who had waited half an hour for the A train at the Jay Street station in Brooklyn. "Nobody tells you anything, so I just follow everyone else. If a train comes, I'm getting on it, and I don't care where it goes."

    Other subway lines buckled from the added load of passengers from the A and C lines. At the Atlantic Avenue station, a major hub in Brooklyn, Patrick Joseph, 40, a construction worker from Crown Heights, was unable to board a crowded No. 2 train. "This is the second train I can't get on," Mr. Joseph said, adding that he was in his fourth day of a new job. "I'm definitely late. I've been on the train for an hour and 10 minutes and I have only traveled from Eastern Parkway."

    The blaze also showed the unforeseeable consequences of the weekend snowstorm. In addition to the fact that the homeless person was thought to have set the fire to battle the cold, transit workers were already grappling with frozen switches, ice-slicked tracks and service disruptions on seven other lines.

    On average, there are more than 100 fires each month on subway cars, stations and tracks, but most cause no injuries or damage. So when "smoke conditions" were reported at the northern end of the Chambers Street platform at 2:04 p.m. on Sunday, the scope and extent of the fire were not immediately clear.

    The Fire Department issued an "all-hands" request at 2:22 p.m. and 12 units and 60 firefighters ultimately responded, but they had to wait for electricity to be shut off to the room. The blaze was declared under control at 5:19 p.m. One firefighter had a minor back injury. "The room was basically totally destroyed, and all the relays and wires were gutted," Mr. Reuter said.

    Near the charred equipment, investigators found pieces of wood and refuse, according to Assistant Chief Henry R. Cronin III, the commanding officer of the New York Police Department's transit bureau. "I don't think it was an intentional act of arson," he said. Fire marshals began interviewing witnesses, but no arrests were made as of last night.

    The last time subway equipment was so badly damaged by fire was on March 11, 1999, and the affected station, at Bergen Street on the F and G lines, was less critical than the transit node at Chambers Street. Homeless people have been known to frequent the Chambers Street station. As a policy, the police do not eject them from the subway system during freezing weather, and the fire was an indication of the extensive use of subway tunnels as shelter. An April 2004 estimate by the city put the number of homeless people in the subway in Manhattan and Brooklyn at 582, but advocates for the homeless say there are far more.

    Johanna Jainchill contributed reporting for this article.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

    Service Alert

  2. #2


    The incompetence of the MTA is appalling. Using an antiquated relay system, not investing in the upgrade for quarter of a century, failing to provide security of the vital communication center – some people might see sabotage in these actions.

    Now that Al Qaeda knows that one guy can cripple the subway system – for years - by burning some refuse, would they dispatch couple of guys with $100 worth of gasoline (how many gallons is that?) to completely destroy the subway?

    Remember what occupied MTA recently? The law to prevent innocent tourists take pictures on the train. How pathetic.

  3. #3
    Architectural Padawan
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    Turtle Bay


    how are critical relay systems not in a fireproofed room? I think that any idiot could have thought of that.... even taking into account the lack of myopia that hindsight provides.

  4. #4


    I saw a very indignant MTA employee telling a reporter that people need to be patient about the damage, because the burned equipment was "unique" and "one-of-a-kind".

    Wha-huh? Did no one think to build a back-up?

  5. #5
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    New York City


    It takes MTA construction workers two years at most to renovate a station, while last century they might have been halfway done with building an entire subway line in the same amount of time.

    Almost every time I go to the West 4th Street IND station, the date of completion for the elevator they're installing there is pushed back another month. Meanwhile, when it rains, the leaky ceiling results in a veritable downpour on part of the uptown ACE platform.

    You could probably count on one hand the number of hours the construction workers are actually being productive in any given week.

  6. #6


    The MTA = sad,sad,sad :roll:

  7. #7


    The MTA makes the city look bad. Faulty stations, dirty stations,and decrepit cars. (Some of them Ive been on. One didnt have a door leading to the next car. Wind came gusting in!) Why dosnt the MTA wise up and start using techniques to gain money? Why not install vending machines in the tunnels? That would make money. Why not install TV that show when the train is coming and allow companies to have commercials? Come on MTA! Lets do something! NY'ers are paying higher fares for worse service!

  8. #8


    Blame our governor for cutting, year after year, upgrades from the capital budget and then forcing the MTA to issue bonds to pay for what it is allowed to do.

  9. #9


    3-5 years? WTF is going on! :evil:

    Since 9/11 I have told people who oppose building tall at Ground Zero that the next attacks will more likely be in the subways, and sadly I might be right. If a homeless person can do this much damage, than Al Qaida could destroy our entire subway system. If the MTA used to be able to build half of a line within two years, they damn well better become that efficient again.

  10. #10
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    West Harlem


    NBC just reported the timeline for the A train has changed to 60-70% restoration within 2 weeks, and full within 9 months.

  11. #11
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    New York City



    NYC Transit Says A, C Service Will Be Back To Normal In 6-9 Months

    JANUARY 25TH, 2005

    Just a day after telling straphangers that service on the A and C lines in Manhattan would be disrupted for as many as 3-5 years because of damage caused by a weekend track fire, transit officials said Tuesday that full service should be restored to both lines within 6-9 months.

    New York City Transit says it expects to have the A train back at 50-60 percent normal capacity by the second week of February, and up to 80 percent capacity sometime in April. It is still unclear when C service will be back to normal.

    Currently, the C train is suspended indefinitely, and the A line is only running at 30-40 percent of normal capacity, meaning wait times can be much longer than usual. The disruptions, which affect nearly half a million riders, are also causing overcrowding on other lines.

    “I think it's disastrous,” said a straphanger at the Ocean Avenue station in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. “There are many of us who have to go to work at a set time, and this way it's inconveniencing us. They don't even understand the situation. I think it needs to be solved as soon as possible.”

    Investigators believe Sunday's fire, which broke out at the Chambers Street station in Manhattan, was started by a homeless man trying to keep warm during the blizzard. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says the blaze spread to a small room housing the intricate system of relays, switches and controls for the A and C lines.

    “The signals are basically knocked out really at the station and just south of the station,” said New York City Transit President Lawrence Reuter. “But you know, just like when you crimp your garden hose, once you've crimped the garden hose in any one spot, only so much water can go through it. It's the same thing with the trains."

    The damage to the custom equipment, which is necessary to safely space out trains along the tracks, could take three to five years and millions of dollars to repair, Reuter said.

    “It really is unacceptable,” a rider said. “They really need to do something better about it. It needs to be done immediately, as far as I’m concerned.”

    "It's packed in there, and I hope it's not like this every day, because this is ridiculous," said another straphanger.

    "It's crazy. It's ludicrous,” said a third. “I mean, people pay all this money for the subway, and basically this is what we’ve got to go through.”

    In the meantime, the C train effectively does not existed, replaced by the V train in Brooklyn but with no substitution in Manhattan. To avoid delays, A train riders in Manhattan are encouraged to take the No. 1 or 9 or the B or D. The MTA is advising Brooklyn commuters to stay on the No. 2 and 3, the No. 4, the J/Z or the L instead of the A.

    In addition, through Wednesday, A trains will run on the F line between Jay Street in Brooklyn and West 4th Street in Manhattan in both directions between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

    To get a better idea exactly what commuters will be going through, a NY1 reporter boarded an A train at Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn - luckily we found a relatively empty one - and rode to 14th Street in Manhattan. NY1 made it to 14th Street in 27 minutes.
    Not bad - but the bigger problem is the wait on the platform. One woman said she waited half an hour for her train.

    "I am angry, yes. I am angry, because they have to do something,” she said. “It's affecting my life, my child's life, and my employer is not going to understand."

    "It's a disaster. It's a total disaster,” said another rider. “It has to be rectified as soon as possible."

    Meanwhile, in the wake of the fire that crippled the C train, one City Council member says the MTA needs to get its act together.

    Queens Councilman John Liu says the MTA is not making safety its top priority. Liu says the fact that so much damage could be done to sensitive switching equipment by someone trying to keep warm is proof of how vulnerable the system really is.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg says keeping an eye on the subways is not easy.

    “It's a constant challenge when you have a system the size of this subway system - open 24 hours a day, seven days a week - how you guard against every possible intrusion,” Bloomberg said Tuesday. “What I think you see is that we're not doing as good a job as we should do."

    Liu, however, says the agency needs to beef up security instead of cutting critical safety measures.

  12. #12


    From the Wall Street Journal today:

    Take the C Train (Please)

    January 26, 2005; Page A16

    As residents of New York City, we thought we'd seen everything. But this week the city learned that a Sunday fire at a major subway station will disrupt service on the C Train for -- we're still trying to wrap our heads around this -- at least several months, and perhaps as much as three to five years. The rest of the country should think of this as the perfect liberal storm.

    It seems that a local homeless man caused the fire trying to keep warm. And the city is lucky that's all it was because -- this being a good, progressive town -- just about anybody is allowed to roam the subway tunnels during freezing weather, according to official police policy. In other words, compassion for the homeless, on whom taxpayers already spend millions annually to provide shelter, requires that the city grant largely unmonitored access to people who could just as easily be planning anthrax or poison gas attacks as looking to keep warm.

    Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani made some progress against aggressive panhandling and vagrants, but they've both been returning with a vengeance under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A genuinely compassionate city -- or at least a Mayor seeking re-election this year -- would require that those refusing the city's many legitimate venues for help be institutionalized, not granted blind-eye acceptance of their "alternative lifestyle."

    Meanwhile, only in Manhattan could a burned-out switching system take years to repair. Most cities pretending to be world class would have long ago replaced 1930s-era wiring, and that certainly would have been true of New York when Robert Moses ruled. But for decades New York has been quite literally mortgaging its future by taking on debt and putting off infrastructure upgrades in order to keep feeding its out-of-control public sector unions.

    Mr. Giuliani also made a temporary dent here, but as politicians tend to do he left big bills to his successor. And rather than use events of September 11 to promote changes, Mayor Bloomberg has acquiesced to the big spending political culture. He's even proposing his own larger spending projects, such as a taxpayer-financed Manhattan stadium for the New York Jets. He has said New York is a "luxury good" for which people should happily pay higher taxes. Thanks, Mike.

    Readers interested in the history and cause of New York's descent should consult an essay by the Manhattan Institute's Edward J. McMahon and Cooper Union Professor Fred Siegel, which is excerpted in the current issue of the Public Interest magazine. The authors describe the city's core problem as its "distributional politics and entitlement culture" that tend to prosper "in settled, affluent places that combine large pockets of wealth with sufficient comparative advantages to create the illusion of economic invulnerability."

    This political culture has created a public-sector workforce close to one-seventh the size of the entire federal government's -- or some 300,000 workers. Along with a like-minded state government in Albany also dominated by public-sector unions, this culture has fed a cycle of high tax rates that feed greater spending in the boom years, followed by bankruptcy, or close to it, when a slowdown hits.

    The result is also visible outside our office windows in lower Manhattan, where we can see that Number 7 World Trade Center is going up nicely with private money and under private direction. Meanwhile, the square that held the Twin Towers -- and that requires government agreement in order to develop -- remains a snowy, inactive hole in the ground three years after September 11.

    We hope Congress is paying attention to what it's getting for the $20-some billion check it wrote the city in the aftermath of 9/11. That's not to mention that the city has utterly failed to take advantage of the fact that Wall Street, its cash cow, was helped immensely by President Bush's dividend, capital gains and marginal rate tax cuts.

    No one should expect even the C Train fiasco to cause New York to change; that won't happen until the local political class understands the problem that Messrs. MacMahon and Siegel describe. We do hope, however, that New York's woes will serve as a warning to other parts of the country in danger of succumbing to the same liberal political fate. Californians were descending into a similar mire a couple of years ago with a dysfunctional political class in Sacramento, but they were fortunate to have the initiative process that allowed them to elect an outsider like Arnold Schwarzenegger. New Yorkers are stuck waiting for the C Train.

  13. #13


    From the New York Times today:


    A Subway, Not a Shelter

    Published: January 26, 2005

    It started with a very cold night and, probably, a homeless person - one of hundreds hiding in the subway. A fire was lighted somehow and spread, incinerating a small control room. That loss of wires, cables and connections doomed almost 600,000 New Yorkers to various levels of commuter hell for months and possibly years.

    The New York City Transit obviously has to make repairs fast, while also shoring up other similar control rooms - there are perhaps a dozen - throughout the city's antiquated subway system. Obviously, the first estimate of up to five years to fully restore the A and C lines was unacceptable. After a storm of criticism, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and city transit officials shortened that estimate yesterday to six to nine months for returning to the old schedule, a vast improvement. But that had better just be the start.

    The subway is also no place for the homeless, and it's a sign of the system's shaky state that hundreds of people have been allowed to live in its grapevine of tunnels and passageways. It is not safe for them and, as Sunday's fire makes clear, it is not safe for the millions who ride through those tunnels every single day. The city's police and homeless outreach programs need to be mobilized right away.

    Infuriated riders who need to vent their anger should understand that neither the station manager nor City Hall is the right target. The buck really stops at Gov. George Pataki's office. He appoints the people who run the M.T.A., and his proposed budget skimps on the kind of maintenance and infrastructure upgrading that could help prevent the disruptions subway riders are seeing this week.

    Mr. Pataki could start getting involved by contacting Lawrence Reuter, president of New York City Transit, and his team to make sure they work harder to communicate with commuters. Garbled announcements and bad advice from transportation workers have added to riders' frustrations in recent days. If the delays are inevitable, the confusion about how to cope with them is not.

  14. #14


    January 26, 2005

    Subway Disruptions Expected to Last Months, Not Years


    Graphic: Fire Compromises Antiquated System

    Transit officials said yesterday that service on the A and C lines could be restored to full capacity in six to nine months, substantially revising their earlier prognosis that a fire in a Lower Manhattan signaling room would disrupt service on the lines for as long as three to five years.

    The new time frame for repairs will still mean months of confusion and inconvenience on two lines that have an average weekday ridership of 580,000, and hardly diminishes how the fire underscored the vulnerability of a signaling system based on electromechanical switches that were first developed in the 1870's.

    Several former transit officials said yesterday that the agency has repeatedly acknowledged over the past 20 years that the signaling system was obsolete or unreliable, but nonetheless chose to devote the vast majority of its limited capital funds to other projects. Reports after two fatal crashes, in 1991 and 1995, recommended improvements in the signal system, though neither blamed the system for the deaths.

    The limits of the system were brought into focus on Sunday afternoon when a Depression-era signal relay room, one of dozens distributed throughout the 722-mile subway network, was destroyed in an underground fire north of the station on Chambers Street that serves the A and C lines.

    Lawrence G. Reuter, the president of New York City Transit, said at a news conference yesterday that replacing the custom-made signal relays, switches and circuits would take less time than expected. "We were just this morning able to come to the determination that we could actually do this in six to nine months," Mr. Reuter said. "We were actually able to find enough relays left over in our system that we could salvage out of other jobs we had to do this work," he said.

    About 90 relays were found to begin replacing the 600 that he said had been "totally destroyed" in the signaling room. About 4,000 feet of signal lines were damaged in the blaze.

    The transit agency, an arm of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said that it would take a series of three stopgap measures to restore partial service.

    Mr. Reuter said the A line - with an average weekday ridership of 470,000 - would be running at 50 percent to 60 percent of its regular frequency by early February and at 80 percent by the middle of April. It will take a full nine months to restore regular service on the C line, which has a ridership of 110,000. "We could do it faster but we'd have to shut the system down," Mr. Reuter said.

    Full functionality on both lines, including the ability to run trains in reverse, will still take three to five years to restore at a cost of $25 million to $60 million, Mr. Reuter said. He noted that repairs to the station at Bergen Street in Brooklyn, which was ravaged by a March 1999 fire, were not yet complete. But even when A and C service is revived, the restored signals will be only a refurbishment of the signaling system upon which the agency has relied since 1904. Upgrading and computerizing the entire signal system - as is already being done on one line - would cost billions, Mr. Reuter said.

    For decades, transit officials have been aware that the system was obsolete, but updating it - both logistically and financially - has been seen as impractical.

    "The issue of the signal system was always the same," said David Z. Plavin, the transportation authority's executive director from 1981 to 1985. "Everybody knew it needed to be replaced, but nobody could figure out how you could do it without shutting down majors parts of the system for extended periods of time." Mr. Plavin, now president of a trade association, the Airports Council International-North America, added: "It was a system that was very clearly not state of the art, and most people understood that it needed to be replaced. In effect, most people ultimately resigned themselves to the fact that there was no way to do this and keep the system functioning."

    Fixed-block signaling uses track circuits to detect the location of trains, wayside signals -which have three colored lights that are similar to traffic lights - to communicate authorized train movements to train operators, and mechanical trips to stop a train if it passes a red signal.

    "It remains a 19th-century technology operating in a 21st-century environment," the subway system's chief transportation officer, Kevin T. O'Connell, said at a City Council hearing this month.

    The agency estimates that it has made more than $40 billion worth of capital improvements since 1982, when the system began to reverse a decades-long decline. Many New Yorkers remember graffiti-scarred subway cars, decrepit stations, brittle track and frequent derailments that were emblematic of the subways at their nadir.

    Immediate safety needs like faulty tracks and higher-profile projects like station rehabilitation took priority over the signaling system. And most of the capital spending on the signaling system has gone toward equipment replacements rather than upgrades.

    "Everything had been underinvested in, literally everything: the stations, the platforms, the track, the signals, the right-of-way and the tunnels and bridge structure, the rolling stock," Mr. Plavin recalled.

    The disastrous signal-room fire on Sunday came just as the transit agency was finally making progress on upgrading the signaling system, on a much smaller line. Since 1992, the transit agency has been planning a $288 million system known as communication-based train operation on the L line in Brooklyn and Manhattan. In April, the agency plans to start using the system on a trial basis and by July plans to use the system to operate the trains.

    The push for the new system came from two fatal crashes - one at Union Square in August 1991, the other on the Williamsburg Bridge in June 1995 - that exposed weaknesses in the existing signaling system. Reports by the agency recommended improvements in the signaling system, but neither crash was attributed directly to signal failure.

    The authority's latest five-year capital plan, which has not been approved by Albany, calls for two additional computerized signaling projects: $266 million for the No. 7 line in Manhattan and Queens and $350 million for the portion of the F line between Bergen Street and West Eighth Street in Brooklyn.

    The proposal also requests $247 million to rehabilitate complex train switches, known as interlockings, in preparation for eventual computerized train operation of the E, R and V lines in Queens and the G line in Brooklyn and Queens.

    The new system would permit transit engineers to track the precise position and speed of each train. It would also allow trains to operate at higher speeds, reduce wait times and, eventually, tell passengers when the subway will arrive.

    The computerization of the L line's signals will be only the start of a process that is expected to take decades.

    "I can't resignal the system in a few years," Nabil N. Ghaly, the transit agency's chief signal engineer, said in an interview last year. "It's going to take a lifetime."

    David L. Gunn, who was the president of New York City Transit from 1984 to 1990, said that few advancements were made in signaling over the years compared with other areas. "We were basically trying to bring all the systems to a state of good repair as quickly as possible," said Mr. Gunn, now the president of Amtrak. "But there was no great leap forward on signals. We weren't trying to revolutionize the system. We were trying to get reliability and modern equipment so we could get replacement parts easily."

    Not all of the signaling equipment is outmoded. Train control has been consolidated from a system of hundreds of local towers to about a dozen or so master towers, and eventually, signal engineers will be able to monitor train operations from a centralized rail control center. On the former IRT division, 95 percent of its 241 miles of signal systems have been modernized; on the IND and BMT divisions, with 480 miles, 59 percent are modernized.

    "Remember, the signal system 20 years ago still had people who sat in towers throwing switches," said Mortimer L. Downey, who was the authority's executive director from 1986 to 1993. "It was like being out in the Wild West. All of that was replaced. So that was a significant improvement. But it was not a jump to new technology or a new form of signaling, which is ultimately the direction you want to go in."

    Transit veterans disagree on the extent to which upgrades have been hobbled by a lack of funding.

    "It's a question of money," said Seymour Dornfeld, a former signal engineer, who worked for the transit agency from 1946 until he retired in 1983. "This is not an engineering decision, but a policy decision."

    Mr. Gunn, however, said: "The issue was not dumping more money on it, but doing the rebuilding in an orderly, phased manner, which we did."

    Subway Gear Depends on a Pair of Suppliers


    Shifting technological demands and years of consolidation in the transportation industry have left only two manufacturers in the country that make the kind of subway switches destroyed by a fire on Sunday in Lower Manhattan, a company official said yesterday.

    The two companies - Alstom Signaling Inc., based in Rochester, and Union Switch and Signal, based in Pittsburgh - have been manufacturing the electromechanical switches, known as vital relays, for at least as long as New York City has had a subway.

    The relays control signal lights, track switchers and other machinery throughout New York City's 722 miles of subway track. But in recent years, most major metropolitan transit systems have been converting to computer-controlled switching systems, leaving transportation manufacturers with little incentive to get into the business.

    "Not many companies are going to invest their money into old technology," said Ulisses D. Camilo, the managing director of Alstom Signaling.

    "New York is in the process of upgrading its system," Mr. Camilo said. "But that takes a while, because it's the biggest subway in the U.S., and they have a lot of legacy technology." The switch design itself, he said, is at least 50 years old.

    The fire, in a relay room at the Chambers Street station, affected the A and C lines, and city officials initially said that it could take three to five years for service to be restored to full capacity.

    Yesterday, officials substantially revised their time frame, saying service might be back to normal in only six to nine months. However, it could still take years to restore the signal machinery to full operations, city officials said.

    Mr. Camilo said it would take three to six months to manufacture replacements for the destroyed switches, which are designed and built to exacting standards. Most of the delay in repairing the destroyed signal room, Mr. Camilo said, would come from the time needed to install, wire and test the replacement switches.

    Alstom Signaling was founded a century ago as General Railway Signal and purchased in 1998 by Alstom Corporation, an industrial conglomerate based in Paris. Union Switch and Signal was founded in 1881 by George Westinghouse, the inventor and railroad entrepreneur, and acquired in 1988 by Ansaldo Signal N.V., a global transport company based in the Netherlands.

    Alstom sells 10,000 to 15,000 of the switches a year, mostly to subway systems in New York, Chicago and Toronto. (A sister business, Alstom Transport Inc., manufactures train cars, and is under contract with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to deliver hundreds of new cars to the New York subway system beginning next year.)

    The parent company, Alstom Corporation, reported about $2.2 billion in losses in fiscal year 2004, and has struggled to avoid bankruptcy.Union Switch and Signal has supplied signaling equipment to transit systems in Montreal, Dallas, and Miami as well as New York. Company officials were unavailable to comment yesterday.

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  15. #15


    January 26, 2005

    Confusion on the Lines Adds to a Maddening Commute


    Transportation officials might do their best to varnish and explain the situation, but to Chris Foster, 25, of Brooklyn, yesterday's morning commute for A train riders could be summed up simply.

    "It's just mad delays all morning," said Mr. Foster, 25, an aspiring rapper and singer who works as a clothing salesman in Manhattan.

    He arrived at the Broadway Junction stop yesterday in Brooklyn to take the A train to work, but orange-vested transit workers gave him the news. Workers were telling passengers that the C train was no longer in service and that an overflow of passengers on the A would make switching to the latter line inadvisable. The V line has replaced the C in Brooklyn.

    "The A and the C are so much faster into the city," Mr. Foster said. "Why shouldn't I take them?"

    Notices on subway platforms and advice from transit workers did little to temper the frustration of riders of the city's A and C lines, as those passengers got a taste of what their daily commute might be like for many months.

    "The Downtown A is now local," said a voice over the loudspeaker. "There is no C service."

    Service on those lines may be crippled for six to nine months, transit officials said, because of the fire on Sunday that destroyed a control room responsible for handling train traffic on the lines. The officials said that during the peak commuter hours, the A line was running eight trains an hour in each direction - instead of the usual 26.

    In Manhattan, Ashley Moldonado, 15, said she left home in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx at 6 a.m. and, partly because of the confusion, had waited for an hour on the subway platform in the 168th Street station for an A train to take to her school on 137th Street in Harlem. By 8 a.m., she was still waiting and still confused.

    "I'll have to get my mother to call the school and tell them the trains made me late," she said.

    Nearby, another passenger, Scot Anthony, 34, watched several A trains pull into the station that were too crowded to board. "Look at this," he said, standing next to the open door. "I'm not getting on this train. And the next one won't be any different."

    Mr. Anthony, an aspiring filmmaker from Brooklyn who works nights as a security guard at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, was clearly frustrated. "They're not letting us know anything," he said.

    He said he heard on the news about the fire in the room in Lower Manhattan that destroyed the circuitry that helped run the lines. The A and the C lines have a combined ridership of 580,000 on weekdays. In some places throughout the city yesterday, the problems on those lines caused crowding on the E and the B lines as well.

    "I don't understand how a fire at one station can cause this much damage to a whole line," Mr. Anthony said. "They're telling us a homeless man started a fire by lighting up his shopping cart? If that little room was so important to keep the system running, shouldn't it have been better protected?"

    Charles F. Seaton, a New York City Transit spokesman, said yesterday that there were crowded trains and delays of up to 20 minutes.

    "That's what happens when you're running 40 percent of your service," he said. "Customers had longer waits because we had fewer trains, but it was better than Monday and it will keep getting better."

    Meanwhile, at the Atlantic terminal in Brooklyn, James Healey, an actor from Fort Greene, said he usually takes the C train to Times Square, but, anticipating problems on the A, he had gone out of his way to take the Q train. "If the C and A are having the trouble," he said, "then why is the Q so messed up, too? It's amazing how vulnerable this system is."

    A Fire Disrupts a City's Lifeline (6 Letters)

    To the Editor:

    Re "2 Subway Lines Crippled by Fire; Long Repair Seen" (front page, Jan. 25):

    New York City Transit officials need to do better by the 580,000 weekday A and C train riders than telling us there are "no plans for the restoration of C service in the near future."

    The city should demonstrate its commitment to public transportation by making the speedy restoration of service as much of a priority as the cleanup of the World Trade Center site.

    If the debris from that site was removed in less than a year (1.8 million tons in 10 months), is "several years" really the best it can do to replace a room's worth of switches?

    As a key link to Kennedy International Airport, Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the A train is many visitors' first impression of this city. I don't want them to witness what I did on my morning commute today.

    Lauren Starke
    New York, Jan. 25, 2005

    To the Editor:

    Now that the A and the C subway lines may not run normally for three to five years, shouldn't riders receive a refund for unavailable and therefore unused service? A reversal of the fare increase soon to begin seems in order.

    Howard Sage
    New York, Jan. 25, 2005

    To the Editor:

    Re "2 Subway Lines Crippled by Fire; Long Repair Seen" (front page, Jan. 25): It's projected that A and C train riders will have to endure years of disrupted service during the slow repair. If commuters must suffer anyway, shouldn't the Metropolitan Transportation Authority install a modern signal system instead of the antiquated status quo?

    As they say, when you have a lemon, it's an opportunity to make lemonade.

    Matt Nadler
    New York, Jan. 25, 2005

    To the Editor:

    New York City Transit's claim that it will take three to five years to repair switch relays destroyed in a fire at Chambers Street should be viewed with great skepticism.

    Only two companies in the world are said to be able to do the job. What is the reason, I wonder, for a sign on the I.R.T. No. 1 station at Broadway and 231st Street saying that it will take until July to repair the closed northeast stairway? Is it that nobody knows how to make steps?

    I suspect that the real reasons for such unacceptable delays in both cases is inept management combined with a disregard for the needs of riders.

    James Grossman
    Bronx, Jan. 25, 2005

    To the Editor:

    It's laughable that New York's subway system is so antiquated that an entire line can be put out of service for several years when an accident strikes a single control room. This is especially true after 9/11. And New York wants to play host to the Olympic Games in 2012?

    Perhaps we'd be better served by concentrating on making the city function competently before trying to bring the world to our doorstep.

    Robert S. Haas
    New York, Jan. 25, 2005

    To the Editor:

    That a fire set by one homeless person can essentially disrupt subway service for three to five years on the A and C lines is unfathomable. If Bangkok can build an entire subway line within six years, what does this tell us about the decline of American ingenuity?

    Douglas Kremer
    New York, Jan. 25, 2005

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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