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2 Subway Lines Crippled by Fire; Long Repair Seen

Passengers squeezed into a No. 2 train at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn on Monday, made more crowded by riders from the A and C lines. (Angel Franco/NYT)

This sucks. I used to live in Brooklyn — Stuyvesant Heights, to be specific — and took the A or C trains in to work every day. Now the service has been crippled for the next 3-5 years because of a fire that destroyed a signal relay room. The cause: a homeless person set a fire in the subway to keep warm that got out of control. (NYT):

The blaze, at the Chambers Street station used by the A and C lines, was described as doing the worst damage to subway infrastructure since the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. It gutted a locked room that is no larger than a kitchen but that contains some 600 relays, switches and circuits that transmit vital information about train locations.

The A line will run roughly one-third the normal number of trains – meaning that riders who used to wait six minutes for a train might now have to wait 18 minutes – while the C train will cease to exist as a separate line, at least for the time being. The C will be replaced by the V in Brooklyn. Long waits and erratic service are likely to be the norm on the two lines, which have a combined ridership of 580,000 each weekday.

…”This is a very significant problem, and it’s going to go on for quite a while,” said Lawrence G. Reuter, the president of New York City Transit. He estimated it would take “several millions of dollars and several years” to reassemble and test the intricate network of custom-built switch relays that were destroyed in the blaze, which officials believe began when the homeless person – who has not been found – set fire to wood and refuse in a shopping cart in the tunnel about 50 feet north of the Chambers Street station.

…An expert on the city’s subways expressed amazement that a single fire in a confined space could have such a long-lasting impact. “It seems astonishing that a single signal room would be so central to the operation of the line that it would take five years to recover from,” said Clifton Hood, a transit historian at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. “That’s about as long as it took to build that entire line of the IND.”

Computerized transit operation is going to roll out; the first, according to the NYT, will be on the Brooklyn L line and Manhattan’s lines this summer. That does a lot of good for the rest of the 722-mile system, huh? The roll-out of the rest of the system will be highly political in terms of which neighborhoods get priority to switch over,

As bad as this story is, what does this tell you about NYC’s homeland security preparations?? This event is a giant roadmap for Al Qaeda — target the signal rooms. No need for a dirty bomb or a car bomb. All you need is a match and some dirty rags and you’re in business to take out the public transit system of NY. It wouldn’t be as emotionally devastating as 9/11, but sure as hell would be more effective at crippling our economic engine if millions of people have no effective way to get to work. Other cities with elderly public transit systems need to take note.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding