At 9:30 p.m. Monday night, the MTA closed the 4-5-6 trains at Union Square as the first of many evenings fast track switch repairs for lines that, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit this year, moved more people on a daily basis than the Boston and Chicago subways put together.
Now is the perfect time to make the extensive upgrades, MTA Chief Development Officer Janno Lieber said Tuesday, with ridership being lower than it has been in generations, struck down by the pandemic. Once down 90% at the peak of the pandemic, ridership is crawling back upward as the city gradually reopens.
For the rest of August, Lieber says, they will do the work that will not only benefit this line, but many other train lines that rely on the 4-5-6.
“What we’re doing is we’re replacing the switches, those are the rail systems – the infrastructure – that allows our trains to move from the 6 line to the 4-5 line if there is a blockage, for example, that is able to keep the system running. It’s unique to New York and it’s really important to serve our customers and keep them on-time,” Lieber said. “We have to get the work done now, now is our chance.”
The switch repairs to the Lexington Avenue line are within the scope of $2 billion worth of other capital improvements that the MTA is already committed through contractors to complete. The 9:30 p.m. closure period is an extension of the 1 to 5 a.m. closure for systemwide sanitation efforts to restore customer trust that the subways are safe for travel, pandemic be damned.
“We’re actually rebuilding the structure of the Eastern Parkway Station in Brooklyn all because we have it shutdown now, we can work done all over the line,” Lieber added. “We have 300 plus construction projects already ongoing that are fully funded, we have work to do that we’re going to continue for some time. The challenge is that you can’t commit to any new projects. All the ADA stations, accessibility projects, some of the re-signaling projects we wanted to do, a whole lot of other work that’s now on hold until we see that Washington is going to step up and help us to solve this budget crisis.”
The MTA has received $4 billion from the federal government through the CARES Act in April and still needs an additional infusion for the same amount in a stimulus bill that has stalled on Capitol Hill.
The additional $4 billion needed will help the MTA with operations throughout the rest of 2020, but deficits still mount as ridership is slow to return.
The 7 train or Grand Central Shuttle at 42nd Street can help commuters get between Brooklyn and Midtown Manhattan link up with other north-south routes during the closure period while a crosstown bus at 59th Street is also available, a message the MTA’s Chief Customer Officer Sarah Meyer has been working to spread.