The last place anyone wants to be surprised is during your Monday commute. But that's just what happened to NYC subway commuters, who found out about a five-month service change after a problem-filled Monday morning rush hour.
Commuters on the D/N/R lines coming out of Sunset Park were reporting major delays this morning, July 30, all the while the MTA’s website and app showed Good Service. The N train was particularly badly hit:
— Shea (@Eat_Work_Run) July 30, 2018
Hey @NYCTSubway South Brooklyn riders have been complaining of significant delays on the N,R,D lines for the last hour, including the express tracks being barricaded (see picture), yet no mention on your site/app? @JustinBrannan pic.twitter.com/AWPUDB0nLN— Matthew Kabel (@MattKabel) July 30, 2018
I have been on the N train for 30 min and have gone 3 stops so I should be at work in roughly 3 hours at this rate. I hate you so much @MTA— Jenna Hammonaco (@jennasourus) July 30, 2018
#mta I think people are going to start killing each other on this stuck N #train in #brooklyn I'm NOT joking I hope u read this as blood may be on ur hands this tweet may be evidence in court tell my family I loved them #help #subway #stuck #long #time People going #insane— queenB (@queenBbrooklyn) July 30, 2018
Are you kidding? This drastically effects people’s everyday lives and you gave no warning. What are you going to do to prevent the unacceptable delays seen today? A 20 minute trip took 70 minutes today— Caroline Fenn (@CarolineFenn) July 30, 2018
At first, it appeared Monday morning’s chaos on the NYC subway was caused by a temporary blue wall in the 59th Street tunnel:
And excuse me, now I am at 59th Street and this blue wall is literally blocking the N express line. Yet utterly no explaination why? There is not even basic signage. WTF is this? How can anyone plan their trip “accordingly” with a literal wall like that just being there?!? @NY1 pic.twitter.com/5kt1GW6S0k— Jack Szwergold (@JackSzwergold) July 30, 2018
The real story is more complicated. That wall was put up as part of scheduled repair work last weekend on the N line (which was properly announced). What was not announced was that the wall would remain while the N train’s express tunnel undergoes “necessary structural repairs” from 59th to 36th streets for the next five months through December 2018. The MTA’s @NYCTSubway Twitter account dropped this information in a reply to one commuter amid the flood of frustration over this morning’s service:
Good morning. This work started this morning and is expected to be completed sometime in Dec 2018. ^JP— NYCT Subway (@NYCTSubway) July 30, 2018
Aaron Gordon, who writes the newsletter Signal Problems about NYC subway woes, notes that long-term service changes are usually listed under the Special Service Notices section of the MTA website. As fuming commuters pointed out, this would’ve been useful to know before Monday's rush:
This is bullshit. You are posting this at around 9:24am and there are passengers on the trains who had no idea this work was happening and are now running late. Also, how long will this work last? I respect necessary work. I do not respect the lack of communication here. pic.twitter.com/qLUNuGDHEt— Jack Szwergold (@JackSzwergold) July 30, 2018
The MTA agrees.
“We had issues and challenges coordinating internally and the planned change was not properly communicated to our customers,” according to a statement by NYC Transit Chief Customer Officer Sarah Meyer to Metro. The MTA’s website and app now reflect the changes to N service in Sunset Park, and announcements are being made. “We deeply apologize for our significant errors today and know that we need to do better. We are working through our policies and procedures to ensure this does not happen again.”
City Councilman Justin Brannan reached out to the MTA to find out, in his words, “what in God's name happened this morning.” He was told the beams holding up the express tunnel between 59th and 36th streets are “rusted and failing,” which means the N train will run on the local track between those stops in both directions while repairs are made.
But this morning's problems happened because “the signals were not properly configured for this change,” and that “the MTA swore that the hot mess we experienced this morning will not happen again even though the service change on the N will remain in effect. It just sounds like the MTA wasn’t ready for prime-time this morning.”
The actual service change is minor, adding just two stops at 45th and 53rd streets for N train riders. This morning’s problems on the D/N/R lines happened because of “an error that prevented the routing of D service onto express tracks at 36th St.,” according to Meyer. “The significant delays our customers experienced this morning in the project area will not happen again, and we estimate that the planned work will only add up to five minutes of additional travel time during the weekday rush hour periods going forward.”
She also explained that the blue wall on the tracks is a construction barrier, “which reduces our need to perform ‘flagging’ which slows trains down. We will be building more of these for this project to keep workers safe and trains moving.”
The repair work in Sunset Park includes replacing steel columns, lighting and ventilators, repairing deteriorated concrete and fixing water seepage into the tunnel. And brace yourselves for the last bit of bad news — the rehabilitation project is not scheduled to be fully completed until July 2019.
This isn't the first time the @NYCTSubway Twitter account has surprised commuters this month. Just last week, it urged NYC subway riders to report dogs on trains — by calling 911. Thankfully, that policy only lasted 12 hours. Maybe it's time to consider an e-bike?