Rail

N.Y. MTA prepares for snowstorm with army of workers, heavy equipment

Posted on January 22, 2016

Storm Juno on January 26, 2015. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.
Storm Juno on January 26, 2015. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.
With a wintry blast that may dump as much as 12 inches of snow in parts of the metropolitan region, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority is hard at work to ensure safe, reliable service this weekend by using an army of dedicated workers and a fleet of heavy equipment built for snow-fighting duty.

NYCT Subways
The Incident Command Center will be activated Friday night at 8 p.m. Personnel will be stationed to communicate with outlying local storm fighting centers, coordinating the overall snow-fighting effort. NYCT has refined procedures at the Incident Command Center upgrading a tool for tracking field reports on snow removal and station conditions, as well as a database of essential resources such as salt, sand, and generators to enable better collaboration and response time.

To prevent subway trains from being blocked in yards, they will be moved and stored underground in anticipation of heavy snow or ice. This will impact service on lines with express service. In addition, all scheduled weekend work has been canceled.  However, if the storm tracks south and snow accumulation is minimal, NYCT may proceed with some work.

Departure signs and an empty concourse at Penn Station following a shut down of Long Island Rail Road service as per Governor Cuomo's travel ban due to Winter Storm Juno on January 27, 2015. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin
Departure signs and an empty concourse at Penn Station following a shut down of Long Island Rail Road service as per Governor Cuomo's travel ban due to Winter Storm Juno on January 27, 2015. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin
The Department of Subways has a yellow-hued fleet of snow and ice-busting equipment designed to keep outdoor tracks, switches and third rails clear of snow and ice. Super-powered snow throwers, jet-powered snow-blowers, and de-icing cars – retired subway cars modified with tanks and other specialized equipment to spray de-icing fluid on the third rail — are ready for immediate deployment. Based on the current forecast, workers will be held after their regular shifts and additional personnel will be brought in prior to the beginning of the storm. Approximately 1,000 track workers will be deployed during the storm in addition to 800 station workers to keep stairs and platforms clear of snow. Personnel will have access to 262,500 pounds of calcium chloride and 200,000 pounds of sand to melt snow and ice.


The MTA's bus fleet navigated the streets of Manhattan in the early stages of Storm Juno on January 26, 2015. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.
The MTA's bus fleet navigated the streets of Manhattan in the early stages of Storm Juno on January 26, 2015. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.

While the underground portions of the system remain unaffected during snowstorms, there are nearly 220 miles of outdoor track throughout the boroughs. NYCT resources strategically deployed for the storm include:

  • 10 snow-throwers
  • 7 de-icers
  • 4 jet blowers
  • 8 R156 diesel locomotives
  • 22 heated/insulated work cars
  • 79 trains placed into service with scraper shoes, which help reduce icing on the third rail

NYCT has also added more third rail heaters and snow-melting equipment at critical points throughout the system. There are currently 1,084 remote-controlled, and 494 manual third-rail heaters as well as snow melting devices at 500 switch and 700 signal locations to keep trains moving.

New York City Transit crew members install chains on buses at the Flatbush Bus Depot on Monday, January 26, 2015, in preparation for Storm Juno.Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.
New York City Transit crew members install chains on buses at the Flatbush Bus Depot on Monday, January 26, 2015, in preparation for Storm Juno.Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin.
NYCT and MTA Bus
The Department of Buses has expanded the testing and evaluation of all-season tires on the bus fleet. Currently 60% of standard buses and the entire articulated fleet have been fitted with these tires that are designed to provide additional grip in snowy weather. However, out of an abundance of caution due to predicted high levels of snow accumulation, buses will also be fitted with tire chains. Articulated buses will be replaced by shorter buses starting Friday night.

This year’s weather plan has been updated to include new snow-fighting equipment, bringing the total number of snow fighters to 37 in the fleet. Predetermined routes have been mapped for this snow-fighting equipment to quickly reach highly trafficked locations for buses such as terminals, lay-over locations, facilities and known hotspots. The Department of Buses also coordinates closely and shares information with the Department of Sanitation to keep routes passable.  

Bus managers now have new technology that tracks service when it falls below minimum expected levels on any route, allowing them to make decisions more quickly.  Bus service will be adjusted based on road conditions around the city and service curtailments on a route-by-route basis are possible.  

This spreader-ditcher, nicknamed "Darth Vader," is part of Long Island Rail Road's snow jets in it's snow fighting fleet. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin
This spreader-ditcher, nicknamed "Darth Vader," is part of Long Island Rail Road's snow jets in it's snow fighting fleet. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

Metro-North Railroad & Long Island Rail Road
Snow-fighting equipment is winterized, tested and positioned strategically throughout both railroads to start operation as soon as snow accumulations begin. Protective heat circuits are verified to be operational, air brake lines are purged of any moisture to prevent them from freezing, and electric trains are fitted with special third rail shoes to prevent snow from accumulating. Metro-North Railroad covers exposed couplers to keep snow out, treats exposed shoes with de-icer, and sprays door panels with an anti-freeze agent.

Long Island Rail Road has the following snow-fighting equipment located at various yards around the system ready for deployment:

  • 1 Spreader/Ditcher
  • 3 Cold Air Blowers to clear main track, yards and third rail
  • 2 Stabilizer/Brooms used to clear excessive snow from rails
  • 7 Rail-bound Jets and 2 hi-rail jets (total 9 jet snow blowers)
  • 2 Pickup Truck Plow/Spreaders
  • 151 Snowblowers

Metro-North Railroad has the following snow-fighting equipment ready to go, located at various yards around the system:

  • 1 Front-end Loader with thrower
  • 5 Backhoes
  • 6 Cold Air Blowers
  • 3 Rail-bound Jets
  • 2 Tractor Blower/Spreaders
  • 70 Pickup Truck Plows
  • 216 Snowblowers
A switch heater when it is switched on prevents snow and ice from accumulating on the switch where two sets of rails come together. The dark area in the center of the photo shows that the snow has been melted so that track switches will work properly. Switches are pieces of running rail that move, allowing trains to change from one track to another. Photo by Melvin Donegal, Metro-North Assistant Signal Inspector,
A switch heater when it is switched on prevents snow and ice from accumulating on the switch where two sets of rails come together. The dark area in the center of the photo shows that the snow has been melted so that track switches will work properly. Switches are pieces of running rail that move, allowing trains to change from one track to another. Photo by Melvin Donegal, Metro-North Assistant Signal Inspector,

Along the right-of-way, switches – the interlocking tracks that allow rail traffic controllers to route trains from one track to another – are treated with an anti-freeze agent and lubricated. Long Island Rail Road has switch heaters with natural gas burners at Jamaica Station and electrical heating elements at switches around the system.  Metro-North Railroad uses propane switch heaters and activates heating rods.  Switches are continually moved by rail traffic controllers to keep them from freezing shut.

Extra personnel at both railroads are positioned at numerous locations to pre-salt platforms and stairways before the storm begins and to clear them of snow during and after the storm.

Both railroads must consider various service options due to the vast coverage of service areas and severity of the storm.

Long Island Rail Road may modify or suspend service if snowfall is heavy, 10-13 inches or more. In ice storms, blizzards, or sustained winds over 39 mph, train service may be severely curtailed or suspended, especially if there are frozen switches or there is a loss of third rail power. Long Island Rail Road has four modified schedules for storm recovery.

Departure signs and an empty concourse at Grand Central Terminal following a shut down of Metro-North Railroad service as per Governor Cuomo's travel ban due to Winter Storm Juno on January 27, 2015. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin
Departure signs and an empty concourse at Grand Central Terminal following a shut down of Metro-North Railroad service as per Governor Cuomo's travel ban due to Winter Storm Juno on January 27, 2015. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

Metro-North Railroad impact to service is not just determined by the amount of snow that falls, but also by the age of equipment and the condition of infrastructure, especially evident on the New Haven Line where there is 100-year-old catenary and moveable bridges. Service options include reductions of service and temporary suspensions of service.  

Pertinent information regarding service on both railroads is available via customer email alerts, website updates, station announcements, platform display message boards, as well as message boards at key terminals.

Paratransit
Paratransit customers may experience additional travel and wait times. Depending on conditions, customers may want to reconsider travel, unless medically necessary. For Access-A-Ride paratransit service, a dashboard storm monitoring system is in place to track immobilized vehicles and customers.

NYC Transit has also coordinated a procedure with New York City first-responders and the Office of Emergency Management for rescuing customers on immobilized vehicles or those who develop medical needs during storms. Also in place is a paratransit-specific Storm Action Plan that includes processes for curtailing all non-medically essential service.

Customers should check mta.info for updates and modified emergency schedules.   

The Queens span of RFK Bridge during the beginning of Winter Storm Juno on January 26, 2015. Photo: MTA Bridgets and Tunnels / Ray Higgins
The Queens span of RFK Bridge during the beginning of Winter Storm Juno on January 26, 2015. Photo: MTA Bridgets and Tunnels / Ray Higgins

Bridges and Tunnels
Extra managerial staff will be activated and the Command Center will be operating their weather desks throughout the snow event.  These include:

  • Operations Section Post: Desk will be staffed by a uniformed supervisor to handle weather related operational issues and to keep a detailed record of all storm activities;
  • Logistics Section Post: Desk will be staffed by a member of the Maintenance Division to track snow removal equipment, assist with storm tracking and to analyze and redeploy resources as conditions necessitate.

Bridges and Tunnels has 9,180 tons of roadway deicer on hand and 100 pieces of snow-fighting equipment in service and available for storm fighting operations.  Staffing will be kept at a maximum level to assist with mitigation of snow and ice build-up as well as to sustain the normal operation of the 7 bridges and both tunnels.

Bridges also are equipped with embedded roadway sensors for temperature and above-ground atmospheric sensors that deliver real-time information on wind velocity, wind direction, humidity and precipitation via wireless communication. These sensors record data used to determine if speed restrictions are necessary.

To enhance our communications with customers, the MTA has taken steps to insure its communications systems function well during any type of emergency. The current website design allows for the quick posting of service information and includes a special weather page that becomes the mta.info homepage during weather-related events affecting operations.

Customers can view the Winter Weather Guide available at http://web.mta.info/coldWeather/
The Winter Weather Guide is a handy guide to keep customers informed during periods of inclement weather that may require service changes. The poster provides information about service on each of the MTA’s agencies with a description of the weather condition and how that weather may affect operations.

Customers are urged to monitor mta.info regularly as well as television and radio for service updates.  Customers can also sign up for customer alerts by visiting www.mtamyalerts.com.

Description of Subway Snow-Fighting Equipment

Snow Throwers - Precise directional snow-throwing equipment.  Includes a two-stage impeller and side mounted rotating brushes to throw snow up to 200 feet; can remove 3,000 tons of snow an hour. This is similar to a household snow-blower, just a lot bigger.

Jet Blowers - This equipment uses a jet engine to remove accumulated snow from the roadbed and deposit it a distance from the tracks so that it cannot slide back. This piece of equipment is used primarily to keep the yards clear.

De-Icer Cars - Equipped with scraper shoes that scrape off ice and also uses pumping equipment to dispense a stream of nontoxic, biodegradable de-icing fluid to prevent ice buildup on the third rail.  If ice is permitted to build up, subway car power pickup equipment will not be able to draw electric current from the third rail and the train will stop.

Work Cars - Heated/Insulated work cars that can be used to carry crews and equipment to snow removal work sites. These cars are equipped with ice-scraping equipment to help keep the third rail clear. These cars are also designated Storm Emergency Train (SET) Riders, which can be used to rescue passengers if stranded.

Diesel Locomotives - All Diesel Locomotives are equipped with a small snow plow at both ends to assist in scraping snow and ice off the road bed and transporting the other snow removal work cars.  Additional diesel locomotives are also equipped with shoe beams that allow crews to mount scraper shoes for third-rail de-icing.


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