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THE VILLAINS (AND HEROES) BEHIND THE SUBWAY MESS
You’re likely aware subway trains are breaking down partly because parts of the signal system date back to the 1930s. The succession of bad decisions that got you stuck in that tunnel goes back nearly as long — to the 1950s, at least. The list includes politicians and other leaders long dead or, at least, long off the public stage.
In 1952, Robert Wagner Jr., then borough president, protested any attempt to raise the transit fare from 10 cents, despite acknowledging that “the transit operating deficit” — about $500 million in today’s dollars — “is just about as large as the additional money we need this year for pensions for [city] employees.”
Wagner became mayor in 1954. Even as budget gaps grew, Wagner gave most city employees the right to collectively bargain (transit workers were already unionized, as the subways had started out in the private sector). He also massively increased social spending.
Mayor John Lindsay, Wagner’s successor, continued this strategy. That left less money for subways, which the state gradually took over from the city. The MTA spent much of the 1980s and 1990s making repairs and replacements that should’ve been done two decades previously.
In the early 2000s, Gov. George Pataki started piling on debt. He wanted projects like the Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access. The MTA also had to keep repairing and replacing tracks, train cars and the like. Pataki didn’t want to pay for it. In 1999, the MTA owed $12 billion. By 2006, it owed $23.9 billion. Pataki also restructured the MTA’s debt so that the bills would come due later — today.
The MTA’s biggest problem isn’t money. It’s that it can’t do construction fast enough. But debt costs now suck up $2.6 billion in annual spending. At some point soon, the crisis won’t just be on the tracks, but in the CFO’s office.
During the 2008 financial crisis, the MTA said the same thing about its workers as Mayor Michael Bloomberg said about city workers: They couldn’t get raises unless they paid for them through productivity increases or benefits givebacks.
A year later, under Gov. David Paterson’s tenure, a supposedly neutral team of arbitrators gave the workers two years’ worth of 4 percent annual raises and health care goodies, costing the MTA $300 million a year. (The MTA now has $3.2 billion in annual benefits costs.)
In spring 2009, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith cobbled together a middle-of-the-night bailout package that awarded the MTA what today amounts to $2 billion in additional annual revenue. Again, lawmakers missed an opportunity to reform labor and construction costs.
Contrary to popular belief, Gov. Andrew Cuomo doesn’t run the MTA. An independent board does. Yes, Cuomo names six of those board members, more than any other politician. Yet they have a legal duty to act independently. Truly independent directors would’ve questioned MTA managers’ labor-cost strategy and operational failures long ago.
They also wouldn’t sign off on major projects such as East Side Access, which will bring Long Island Rail Road trains to a station underneath Grand Central, without questioning whether it’s better to focus on something else first, like subway signals.
The board at least should’ve held off on approving East Side Access until Long Island agreed to pay a greater share, perhaps through higher property tax revenues that’ll come from better transit.
New chairman Joe Lhota, who ran the MTA five years ago, can fix this by encouraging board members to collectively assert a real strategy, rather just signing off on whatever project Cuomo feels like adding, like a $2 billion third track on the LIRR — a fine idea, but one that should wait until New York has made more progress on its aged signal system. Lhota doesn’t need this job; he has a job running a hospital. He should use that independence to push back against the governor when necessary.
MTA chairpeople are supposed to serve six years, to insulate them from day-to-day politics. But Tom Prendergast, who left early this year, was the longest recent-serving chairman and executive director — and he only served four years. Now the MTA only has an interim executive director, Ronnie Hakim, and may soon see another newcomer. (Lhota isn’t taking the day-to-day reins, only chairing the board.)
Hakim and her team should’ve considered long ago what the MTA is now thinking about: closing entire subway lines to speed up signal work. To be fair, the MTA is already planning to close the L train in two years, and the hardest work involves interlockings that control several subway lines; we can’t shut them all down.
Still, whatever the MTA is doing isn’t working. The authority has been reactive, not proactive, in experimenting with new ways to deal with sick passengers and frozen signals and record crowds.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, as he likes to remind us, isn’t in charge of the subways. Still, he hasn’t taken advantage of New York’s record revenue boom — the city will take in $6.6 billion more in local taxes than it did when the mayor took office — to benefit transit.
The state plans to invest nearly $3 billion in signals over the next five years. Why not work with the MTA to see if it can get this work done more quickly? The city could do its part by better managing the streets: carving out more space for bus lanes, bike lanes, real rideshare (with four or more people in a car) and other ways for New Yorkers to get around during shutdowns.
If the MTA can do signal work more efficiently, the mayor could offer some of these record revenues to do more. The city is putting up less than 10 percent of the MTA’s capital budget over five years; it can do more if Cuomo does more. Bloomberg is guilty of the same sin; while he pushed congestion pricing, he never thought strategically about the MTA and how the city could use money as leverage to fix it.
The subway has its heroes, too. Richard Ravitch, who chaired the MTA in the early ’80s, convinced the business community to support the taxes it would need to make up for the neglect of the previous two decades.
Sam Schwartz, the city’s former transportation commissioner, has warned about maintenance cutbacks for years — and has proposed a congestion-pricing plan to fund at least some of this work.
Long before Twitter complaints from stuck passengers, Gene Russianoff, who founded the Straphangers Campaign in 1979, made sure newspapers were armed with data on whether the trains were working well.
And finally, there’s today’s generation of transit reporters and bloggers. Nearly all of them are too young to remember the last transit crisis. Their interest in the trains, and their willingness to think about everything from pension costs to fare structures, can help ensure that this crisis never gets as bad as that one.
Where does that leave Cuomo? It’s too early to tell if he’ll be known as a hero or a villain. He’s increased the MTA’s debt to more than $37 billion, without saying how he’ll pay for it. But his excitement over projects like the Second Avenue Subway isn’t silly. We do need more subway stations.
How he handles the current crisis of delays and crowding without forcing a future generation to pick up the bill will help determine his legacy.
RAILROADS IN OGDENSBURG, NEW YORK
I read on a railroad forum that the steel for the Ogdensburg-Prescott bridge across the St. Lawrence River was shipped on the New York Central Railroad. Instead of continuing on the Central’s branch from DeKalk Junction to Ogdensburg, it instead went to Norwood and did the last few miles to Ogdensburg on the Rutland Railroad. Another member surmised that the bridge was being built on the east side of the river in Ogdensburg while the NY Central line terminated on the west side.
Now a more knowledgeable person on the forum responded.
At the time, there were only two bridges across the Oswegatchie River, Lafayette St and Lake St. Lafayette at the time could not support heavy loads. Lake Street could support traffic as State Route 37 used this bridge. But… people in Ogdensburg weren’t very pro-New York Central.
Ogdensburg is where the Northern Railroad, which became the Ogdensburg Railroad, then Ogdensburg and Lake Champlain, was founded. It was financed mostly by businesses from the Ogdensburg area. Even in the
1950’s, many were pro-Rutland and the town administration would not allow the bridge pieces to cross the Lake Street Bridge. So they had to be routed through Norwood and over to the port.
Now the “wanne be expert” and the “real expert” got into a great discussion:
WANNABE: Thanks for correcting me on why the movement was over the Rutland. I was never clear on how Rutland and NY Central connected/interchanged. Have a picture of NY Central station and I think that was on the West side of the river. Did it serve both the line from Watertown and the line from DeKalk?
EXPERT: The NYC Station in Ogdensburg was located south of the ferry dock on the west side of the Oswegatchie River where it joins the St. Lawrence. The NYC Line from Dekalb Jct to Ogdensburg then continued west along the St. Lawrence River to Morristown, across from Brockville Ontario. The station was torn down in the early 1990’s I believe, while the freight house is still there, it is now a restaurant. Good food there too. All of this a block or two north of Claxton-Hepburn Hospital.
WANNABE: Where was the Rutland station?
EXPERT: The Rutland station was at the end of the yard, Patterson Street. This is now the main entrance of the OBPA Port Facilities.
WANNABE: I was relying on a memory from 50 years ago. Besides, in those days, my trips to Ogdensburg (from Canton) were primarily seeing student nurses from the State Hospital.
EXPERT: The State Hospital still exists.
WANNABE: So who owned what in “The Berg”? Who owned the bridges? How much interchange was there?
EXPERT: The road bridges? The bridge across the Oswegatchie called Lake Street was owned by the City. That was until it was demolished and replaced this summer. As for interchange, there was coal interchange between CP and the NYC via the ferry. I believe that the old Silk trains used to ferry cars across the St. Lawrence too. The Rutland had many shippers that dealt with at the port, however there was no direct interchange between the
NYC and the Rutland. There may have been passenger interchange when passenger service was still there as I believe the street car that was in Ogdensburg did serve both stations.
WANNABE: I got hung up looking for a Rutland Route 67 grade crossing (road from Canton), but realize the crossing was on route 37.
EXPERT: Route 37 crossed the Rutland’s spur to the State Mental Hospital east of Ogdensburg. Before the Route 37 bypass opened, Route 37 (Proctor Ave) crossed over the Rutland. After the bypass opened, the Rutland line has a crossing just west of the 37/812 junction. The NYC line crossed Route 37 near the station before all of the downtown “renewal” that occurred, and went under the Route 37 where the road crossed both the NYC line and the Oswegatchie River a mile south of the station area.
The former NYC line from Lake Street south to Heuvelton is now called the Maple City Trail and is a nice walking trail until you are south of the Route 37 bridge. Concrete mile post markers and whistle posts are still in place. The area is “rough” so I wouldn’t walk it in the evenings.
DeKalb to Ogdensburg branch:
By 1956, there was only one passenger run a day left. It was gone by 1961.The paper mill at Ogdensburg struggled on until about 1985, when it closed for good. The road shut down operations, since there was no other business. After about a year, the track was removed. March 1987 seems about right as the date of abandonment. So what does USA do for paper these days? Import paper from China?
DeKalb to Ogdensburg branch started on the West side of the river in Ogdensburg. It went South through Heuvelton and Rensselaer Falls to DeKalb Junction. At DeKalb Junction, it met the old New York Central (now CSX) rail line from Watertown to Massena. In Ogdensburg, a former New York Central branch ran Southwest along the St Lawrence River to Watertown. This branch crossed the river and met the Rutland rail line that ran to Rouses Point. Now this line goes to Norwood where it meets CSX. It is owned by the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority that also owns the international bridge that replaced the car ferries.
Prescott – Ogdensburg car ferry: It was first started by the Grand Trunk Railway, then the St. Lawrence & Ottawa Railway took it over, then CPR got a hold of it and created a subsidiary company to operate it until it was discontinued. With predecessors it operated to Prescott, Ontario, from the mid 1860s through Sept 1970. In conjunction with the Canadian Pacific Railway from 1930-1970 the joint operation used the tug ‘Prescotont’ and the car barge, ‘Ogdensburg.’ It should be noted that the company also operated the car ferry between Brockville and Morristown.
CUOMO’S ATTEMPT TO PUT SUBWAY RESPONSIBILITY ON CITY A BIT OF AN ABOUT-FACE
Governor Andrew Cuomo has tried to put the responsibility for the ailing subways on the city and the mayor. It is a bit of an about-face for the governor, who was eager to take credit for the Second Avenue Subway last winter.
Governor Andrew Cuomo was riding high. After years of delays, the much-anticipated Second Avenue Subway was finally set to open on New Year’s Day.
The governor was eager to not only take credit for the success, but also to be held accountable.
“You know who runs the MTA? The governor has the majority of members. And what I said is, I’m going to step up and take responsibility,” Cuomo said at the time. “If this does not open January 1? It’s me. It’s me. I would have failed. And I accept that responsibility.”
Fast forward seven months. The subways are in a state of disrepair. Delays have worsened, and subway rider anger about the system is at an all-time high.
At an event last week, Cuomo quite literally tried to run away from his responsibility for the subways by attempting to avoid reporters’ questions. He was forced to stop and talk, and this time, he hit a very different note about who is accountable for the trains.
“By law, New York City owns the transit system. New York City is solely responsible for funding the capital plan for the New York City subway system,” Cuomo said.
Cuomo has been feuding with Mayor Bill de Blasio on this and many other issues. On Sunday, the mayor rode the train and laid the responsibility for poorly functioning trains solely on his rival.
“The state of New York is responsible for making sure our subways run,” de Blasio said.
Experts back the mayor on this over the governor.
“The state exerts the most control and oversight, both through the number of board appointees that the governor has, more than any other person, including the mayor,” said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. “And also from the financing. The state is the taxing entity.”
The governor’s poll numbers have started to sink, particularly over the issue of subways. Some believe that is precisely why the governor has tried to muddy the waters on this issue.
Mayor releases 5-point subway system improvement plan, Lhota fires back.
The mayor wants:
1) Immediate relief for riders, improving service and reliability.
2) The MTA should have public performance goals and standards.
3) Clear accountability for continual improvement.
4) An efficient and fair MTA budget and a reallocation of resources towards core needs.
5) A meaningful state commitment to the needs of subway riders.
“The political posturing and photo opps are getting silly,” said Joe Lhota, MTA Chairman.
To a stupid outsider like me, it sounds like kickoff of campaign for Governor.
We have several collections of railroad stations, the largest is Connecticut. One that was missing was Newington Junction. Our friends at Tyler City Station, The most authoritative source for information on Connecticut railroad stations, donated pictures and information on Newington Junction. We would like to thank them very much.
The name of the area refers to the railroad junction where the railroad line from New Haven meets with the railroad line from Bristol and Waterbury. The depot on the left was built in 1891 by the New York & New England RR. The passenger station on the right and the freight depot behind it were constructed by the NYNH&H in 1890.
Hard to believe it, but the fabeled 2nd Avenue Subway is NOW OPEN FOR BUSINESS!!!
Riders on Tuesday, the first full day of Second Ave. subway service after the New Year’s holiday, said they were relieved to finally ditch the congested Lexington Ave. line, long walks across avenues to the train and painfully slow crosstown buses for the Q line that is now at their doorstep.
Robert R. Young (1897-1958), principal supporter of Penn Central merger on NYC side, commits suicide in Palm Beach, Florida, at age 60.
This bridge carries not only dozens of Metro-North commuter trains, but also vital to AMTRAKs NorthEast Corridor between Boston and Washington, DC.
Dick Carpenter of East Norwalk, author of “A Railroad Atlas of the United States in 1946,” said the Walk Bridge is the only four-track swing bridge that he knows of on a major rail line in the nation. That and its age are its distinguishing characteristics, he said
These notes come from The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical & Historical Society Lots of years in Pennsylvania RR history are available. But what is great is that they cover lots of other railroads.
PASSENGER 1957: ALL KINDS OF COOL STUFF ON EASTERN RAILROADS, EVEN THE REVERSAL OF “TRAVEL TAILORED SCHEDULE PLAN”
Junction of old Harlem Division branch and Hudson Division in Hudson, NY
HERE YOU GO RAILFANS. ALTHOUGH THE HARLEM DIVISION TO HUDSON LINE WAS SEVERED, PART IS STILL IN OPERATION
Only 55 years ago, but things on a railroad are so different now! They do not use wreckers (steam cranes) anymore. Now contractors with tractors. No more cabooses! The big electric locomotive (“motor”) is only in museums. How many of those automobiles are still around?
Even the New York Central Railroad is gone!
Pictured above is a “rider car” going through Troy, New York.
So what was so spectacular about what was called the “Rutland Milk Train”? Well, it started out way up in New York State, ran across the top of the state, ran down the length of Vermont, then back through New York State into New York City! Used to go over Rutland Railroad’s “Corkscrew Division”, but when that track had no more on-line business, they cut through Troy. Besides the truck lobby, what killed the Rutland Milk was inability to sell Vermont milk in New York (Federal “milkshed” regulations). My goodness! Almost 500 miles!
The Rutland milk ran to Chatham as train 88 which held over for 90 minutes for the arrival of the northbound empties from the NYC on the Harlem Division. The trains were swapped over from one railroad to the other as the Rutland crew returned north with the empties. The Rutland milk train dropped one car at Mott Haven for the Bronx Terminal Market, dropped cars at 130th Street yard, and arrived at 60th Street yard at 3:20 a.m.
Picture below is the Fabled Rutland Milk at Mott Haven
We wrote about the 19-mile line built from DeKalb Junction to Ogdensburg.
Then we wrote a blog about Railroads In Ogdensburg, New York.
We have blogged a lot on the “Fabled Rutland Milk” which started in Ogdensburg.
Now we have found some great videos that talk about Ogdensburg and railroads.
It is amazing the hype that is starting to surround Grand Central Terminal in New York City. But most of it is very factual (with a little bit of fun and fiction added on).
Argent Ventures is a privately held real estate company based in New
Mysterious Track 61 Grand Central Terminal Track 61, which FDR used to sneak in and out of Grand Central and hide his disability (he had severe polio) from the public. Was Track 61 used other times by Presidents? Matt Lauer of NBC put on his best play clothes May 8 2008 to examine “The Mystery of Track 61? on the Today show.
The idea being that Timken Roller Bearings were so good that a locomotive could move with ease.