New York commuters’ ‘summer of hell’

New York (CNN)New York’s commuter rail lines, subways and buses carry about 9 million riders every day. Six million of those souls cram into the subway system’s vast underground maze each day.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, besieged by complaints about faltering service and infrastructure problems, sounded the alarm on North America’s largest transportation network on Thursday — declaring a state of emergency at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
As part of the disaster declaration, Cuomo committed $1 billion to the MTA capital plan during a speech at the MTA Genius Competition, which was organized to foster new ideas to fix the subways.
    “It’s going to be like that movie ‘Planes,Trains & Automobiles’ and we’re preparing for what we call a ‘Summer of Hell,'” Cuomo said, referring to the 1987 movie about a simple trip home becoming a slapstick ordeal.
    The $1 billion will be in addition to agency’s $15 billion operating budget for the 6,000 subway cars and 5,700 buses the MTA uses now. The governor did not specify where the funds would come from.
    Cuomo is giving MTA leaders 30 days to come up with a game plan, and they have their work cut out for them with more than 700 subway cars older than their 40-year expiration date.
    The MTA is run by the state, not the city government, and critics say the governor is a big part of the problem.
    “The governor has stopped ignoring the problem, which is a vital first step. Now he needs to produce a credible plan to fix the subway, and to put together the billions of dollars we will need to make it happen,” John Raskin, executive director of The Riders Alliance, said in a statement.
    The Riders Alliance is a grassroots group of New Yorkers who have been advocating infrastructure improvements for years. Raskin says the public transportation system has been a low priority of the government and that’s why the city’s transit system is in decay.
    Here is a sampling of recent transit mayhem:

    Off the rails, then off to court

    A subway derailment in Harlem Tuesday morning injured 39 and brought the subway to a grinding halt for the day.
    One injured rider filed a $5 million lawsuit against MTA.
    “[I had] passed out for a second,” said Sheena Tucker at a news conference at her attorney’s office Thursday afternoon.
    She also said that after she’d “vomited,” “choked” and had been “stepped on” at the scene of the derailment in a tunnel above 125th Street on Tuesday, her “side still hurts” and she’s “just in a lot of pain” still, CNN affiliate WPIX 11 reported.
    Tucker’s lawsuit is sending a clear message to the MTA, according to her lawyer Sanford Rubenstein.
    “MTA — fix the trains,” Rubenstein, said.

    Stranded underground

    If they’re not sliding off the tracks, subway cars — some with equipment nearly 80 years old, according to Gov. Cuomo — will stop without warning deep in the dark tunnels.
    In early June, a packed subway train with a broken air conditioning system was stranded stopped in a tunnel in Lower Manhattan for nearly an hour, CNN-affiliate WABC reported. After finally rolling up to a platform, some desperate riders tried to claw their way out of the cars gasping for air.
    It got so hot on the train that a passenger was able to scrawl, “I will survive,” on the humidity-covered train doors.
    MTA authorities attributed the problem to power failure and launched an investigation into the incident.

    Tunnel of misery

    The city subways are not alone in their misery. Many train lines intersect at midtown Manhattan’s Penn Station, which each day handles about 600,000 commuters who use the MTA, Amtrak and New Jersey Transit services.
    Those government subsidized transportation companies are also facing the realities of neglected transit systems. Amtrak, which runs much of Penn Station, recently announced emergency repairs of decaying tracks and train switches that will cut the number of operating trains by about 20 percent during peak travel times.
    So when Amtrak struggles with, say, a power failure, it doesn’t just affect their own trains, but also those of New Jersey Transit and the Long Island Railroad.
    On Thursday, LIRR commuters faced delays and cancellations all day after a train lost power in a tunnel to Penn Station because of Amtrak’s third-rail problem.
    A train with 500 people on board became stuck in the tunnel because of power issues on the electrified third rail, which is maintained by Amtrak. The LIRR said on Twitter that the passengers were evacuated onto a rescue train nearly two hours later.
    Seventeen trains were canceled or rerouted, and trains traveling into Penn Station were delayed an average of 20 to 25 minutes as a result, CNN-affiliate WABC reported.
    One commuter in the Jamaica section of Queens was among those who felt the effects. She tweeted during her trek:
    “Dangerous insanity at Jamaica.”
    In New York, riders resort to MTA buses when the underground transportation fails them. But the buses aren’t without their own issues.
    A runaway MTA bus rolled backward at least three blocks and crashed into a church last Wednesday, leaving a man hospitalized and damaging several cars in its path in Brooklyn, CNN affiliate CBS reported.
    The MTA suspended the bus driver and launched an investigation into the incident.

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    Government plans might be in order to begin to fix the vast system, but for commuters is a matter of wait-and-see.
    “Subway riders are going to evaluate the government’s performance based on our day to day commute,” Raskin of The Riders Alliance told CNN.
    “It absolutely can get worse.”

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