By Charles Seaton, MTA New York City Transit
Mother Nature threw a curveball past New York City when a weather event originally predicted to be a routine six to 10 inch January snowstorm, developed into a monstrous blizzard that amassed snowfall totals only one-tenth of an inch behind the worst snowstorm in the city’s history. The storm also made the books by bringing the snowiest 24 hours in New York City history.
The blizzard marked the first time that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) New York City Transit put into operation a service plan that limited subways to underground portion – about 60% of the system’s 469 stations. We accompanied the service change with a special subway map outlining for customers the limits of service. The modified subway map was posted prominently on the MTA’s website on NYC Transit’s twitter and Facebook pages.
The Monday morning rush was as near normal as possible considering the city had been battered by 26.8 inches of snow as measured at Central Park. The effects of the storm, which brought even higher totals to boroughs outside of Manhattan, forced a planned suspension of bus service city-wide at noon on Saturday, Jan. 23, followed by an orderly halt, four hours later, to all outdoor subway service.
“This was one for the record books. The planned shutdown of all bus and outdoor subway service was necessary due to the conditions but suspending those trains also allowed us to restore service to a majority of our outdoor stations less than 24 hours later,” said MTA New York City Transit President Ronnie Hakim. “We owe a tremendous debt to our bus and subway workers who labored to maintain services where we could and restore them as quickly as possible after they were suspended.”
Throughout the weekend, an army of transit workers labored to keep trains up and running and fought to minimize the storm’s effects on outdoor segments so that restoration of train service could be accomplished as quickly as possible. Non-revenue trains continued running outdoors staffed with maintenance personnel, who cleared switches and corrected problems as they were encountered. They were joined by snow fighting and de-icing equipment which continued running throughout the storm.
Lines running through open-cut sections (essentially a subway without a roof) in Brooklyn and the North Bronx were especially hard hit, including the Sea Beach N, Brighton Q and Dyre 5. The A line over Jamaica Bay to the Rockaways was also stressed with blowing snow and ice. Workers labored to keep subway station entrances and stairs cleared of snow driven by 50 mph wind gusts, clearing and salting more than 2,200 street stairways.
Wynton Habersham, acting sr. VP, department of subways, noted that the enhanced storm preparation and response led to a much improved ability to restore safe operations quickly. “By mid-day Sunday, 68 miles of track and 400 stations were cleared and operating,” Habersham noted. “This is credited in no small part to the personal sacrifices of thousands of employees who worked long hours in unimaginably harsh conditions.”
Conditions on the city’s streets deteriorated rapidly and the decision was made early Saturday to cease all bus operations by noon and restore those services after careful examination after a route by route inspection by supervisors.
“Rapid snowfall, high gusting winds, low visibility, and treacherous conditions all contributed to the decision to suspend services at noon on Saturday,” noted Darryl Irick, president, MTA Bus, and sr. VP, NYC Transit Department of Buses. “The entire Buses team worked to maintain a safe and orderly suspension of services and the prompt recovery beginning at 7 a.m., the next day. There was a tremendous amount of cooperation and commitment among hourlies, supervision, management, and the unions who all contributed to this complex operation.”
Service information was disseminated around the clock throughout the weekend via web posts, emails and social media postings through the Department of Customer Communications and the MTA Press Office.
“A major part of good customer service is effective communications and we worked throughout the weekend to alert our customers of plans to suspend service and when and how those services would resume,” noted Paul Fleuranges, VP, corporate communications. “The creation of the new map outlining underground-only service is an example.”