Ghost trains are running under Brooklyn tonight.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to shut off the city’s subway system overnight on Monday ahead of an anticipated blizzard came as a surprise to transit workers and runs against common sense, because the trains need to move as part of keeping the tracks clear and will be running all night anyway, according to a transit insider. The governor’s 6 pm announcement that subway and bus service would be halted completely at 11 pm blindsided the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Incident Command Center, where workers first heard about it on the news, said the source, who lacks authorization to speak about internal matters and asked to remain anonymous.
The claim that trains were running empty appeared to be confirmed by the NYC Subway Time app for Android, which says it uses real-time data provided by the Transportation Authority. Around midnight, the app showed activity in both directions on all train lines in the city. The only exceptions were Manhattan’s 42nd Street Shuttle and the B and C trains, which do not run at night.
The halting of subway service is the first ever for a snowstorm. It is ill-considered because an actual turning-off of the entire system requires moving all the cars to far-flung facilities for storage, as the agency did during Hurricane Sandy, when flooding was a concern, and rebooting from that takes ages, the insider said. Emergency personnel will be riding the trains overnight while no one else is allowed to, per the source. The closure will strand people and put lives at risk, not because the subways can’t run, but because Cuomo wants to look good, the source said.
“I think it’s horrible, purely political decision, not based on anything that’s needed,” the insider said. “It seemed like cutting out a necessary lifeline unnecessarily.”
As much as two feet of snow are expected tonight and into tomorrow. Schools, courts, and offices have closed, and Cuomo has ordered drivers off the streets starting at 11 pm, under threat of arrest.
“This blizzard is forecasted to be one of the worst this region has seen, and we must put safety first and take all the necessary precautions,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Commuters and drivers need to get home before the storm completely cripples our transit networks and roads.”
The lack of ground transportation options makes keeping the subway open all the more important, the transit source said.
“The underground lifeline should be open,” the source said.
During snowstorms, limited closures along low-lying, outdoor sections of track such as the Brighton B and Q line makes sense, but the majority of the subway system runs on underground and elevated lines that are largely protected from the storms’ impact, the insider said.
A Twitter exchange between a Transportation Authority data scientist and a New York Post reporter appears to corroborate the agency being caught off guard by the governor’s announcement. Shortly before Cuomo’s bombshell, the transit wonk wrote that outdoor portions of the N, A, and Q, lines may be suspended. But when the reporter pointed out Cuomo was saying the plug would be pulled, the worker deferred to public relations.
Later, the data scientist lamented that stranded New Yorkers might resort to loosely regulated services such as Uber to catch now-illegal rides through the storm.
“Not a good plan from the governor,” Samuel Wong wrote. “The startup procedures will be fun.”
Following publication of this article, Wong wrote that the changes meant many workers would have to “stay overnight.”
Early Tuesday morning, a transit agency spokesman confirmed that “a handful” of trains were running in the system to prevent rust buildup on the rails, including trains equipped with scrapers and de-icing sprayers. Work crews were also being transported by subway, the spokesman said. The spokesman declined to comment on the efficacy of the service cancellation but said Cuomo made the decision in consultation with transit agency chairman Tom Prendergast.
On Monday afternoon, Prendergast said there would be “no reason” to halt underground service.
“I don’t believe so,” he said when asked if such a stoppage was likely. “Because there’d be no reason — because we’d be able to run trains.”
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is effectively controlled by the governor, who nominates the members of its 17-person board. Members are confirmed by the state Senate.
The Brooklyn Paper has reached out to the governor’s office and will update this story if we hear back.