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New York governor signs emergency declaration for MTA; provides $1B in funds while seeking ideas for overhaul


By Steve Bittenbender
Editor, Government Security News

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a state of emergency Thursday, calling for expedited repair work to begin on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s rail network. He also requested on New York City’s energy provider to review its infrastructure that powers the subway system and trains.

In addition to declaring the emergency, which will suspend the agency’s procurement rules, Cuomo also announced an additional $1 billion in state funding for the beleaguered system. That funding will help speed up the repair work as well as replace antiquated infrastructure.

In speaking at a MTA conference Thursday, Cuomo said he likened the aging system’s current condition to that of a person who had a heart attack.

“We know the underlying causes of the problem,” Cuomo said. “We know that decades of underinvestment, deferred maintenance and deferred modernization have caused the problem. We know this has now compounded from a surging ridership. More volume than the system was ever designed to hold.”

In recent months, a number of accidents have plagued system, also used by Amtrak and the Long Island Rail Road, and caused long delays and physical injuries. The most recent one took place on Tuesday morning, when two cars derailed in Manhattan, resulting in 34 injuries. While all injuries were minor, half of those people went to hospitals for treatment.

Other recent incidents include:

  • Derailments of an Amtrak train in March and a New Jersey Transit train in April;
  • A truck getting stuck between stations earlier this month, losing power and air conditioning for over an hour;
  • Another NJ Transit train being stuck in a tunnel for three hours in April;
  • At least three other reports of signal trouble since January.

An overhaul of the system is long overdue. The governor noted that parts of the New York City subway system still relies on equipment that dates to the 1930s. At the same time, the expanse of the system and the layers of bureaucracy make MTA leaders project a 40-year timetable to replace its aging signal system.

That means MTA needs to rapidly upgrade the technology it has available. Cuomo noted that installing WiFi in subways wouldn’t just be for rider convenience. It also could serve as the backbone for a new signal system.

The rail system won’t be the only item to get an overhaul. Cuomo also asked MTA chairman Joe Lhota to develop a reorganization plan over the next month and review the agency’s capital spending plan over the next 60 days. Those reviews will take place as ConEd reviews the power infrastructure over the next 90 days.

"Millions of New Yorkers depend on the MTA every day, and we must rebuild confidence in the authority with a complete overhaul of the system – identifying the root causes of our problems and taking immediate and decisive action to fix them,” Lhota said. “It is our responsibility to transport people as safely, quickly and efficiently as possible, and the current state of the subway system is unacceptable.”

Cuomo’s remarks came at the announcement for MTA Genius Transit Challenge, an international competition to modernize the system. However, there are some who consider the challenge nothing more than a gimmick.

Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim New York, said the challenge won’t help fix the aging system.

“The Governor should drop the desperate attempts to dodge responsibility and immediately demand smarter spending, not just more money,” he added.

However, Cuomo dismissed critics of the plan, saying the need for original thinking was a critical element of the MTA overhaul.

“In an age where you’re building drones and autonomous vehicles, it can’t be 40 years to design and install a signal system for a subway system,” he said. “All it means to me is the thinking and the creativity that is doing the new technology and the new apps and the new drones and the new autonomous vehicles is not being applied to the nation’s transportation system. We have to get that thinking and that creativity and apply it to this problem.”


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