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MTA combats snow with tire chains, melting devices, more

The MTA has 2,000 snow-melting devices and another

The MTA has 2,000 snow-melting devices and another 1,500 heaters to combat snow and keep service active. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Alex Trautwig

How to keep New York City moving during a blizzard is like a chess match — one false move and it’s checkmate for commuters.

In 2015, the MTA suspended all subway service ahead of a threat of 18 inches of snow from a January blizzard — the first time subway service was shut down completely for a snowstorm. The storm turned out to be much less severe than anticipated and the agency was criticized for what was considered a botched handling.

During last year’s storm in January that brought historic snowfall, the MTA canceled subway service at all aboveground stations. Closures affected 196 stations, about 40% of the agency’s network.

“I believe the public anger at last year’s total shutdown played a part in a much better plan this time,” said Andrew Albert, an MTA board member and chairman of the Transit Riders Council, at the time.

During storms, all MTA service is tracked through the MTA’s Incident Command Center situation room, located within its Rail Control Center in Manhattan. Here's how the MTA prepares to deal with the snowfall:


The MTA will keep 13,000 workers dedicated on subways for the storm — some working up to 12-hour shifts — with 9,700 of those workers focusing on snow-fighting.

To keep tracks clear, there are 2,000 snow-melting devices at track switches and another 1,500 heaters on third rails through the subway system. Metal flaps known as “scrapper shoes” will be installed on the underside of about 80 trains to brush tracks clean. There are also seven “de-icer” train cars, which are retired subway cars that spray de-icing fluid on the third rail.


New York City’s Sanitation is in charge of clearing bus stops. Last year, the city spent $21 million on new plowing equipment, which officials said had been used effectively during a smaller storm earlier this winter.

MTA buses will be outfitted with tire chains, but the governor has already announced up to 30% reduction in local, limited and SBS bus service starting Tuesday morning. All accordion buses, known as articulated buses, will be taken out of service.


Metro-North and LIRR use similar efforts as the subway system to keep snow off the tracks. The two branches of the MTA are deploying 3,000 employees to work specifically on storm preparation and response. Scheduled work will be canceled during the storm, according to the governor’s office. Conditions will be re-evaluated throughout Monday, with potential service interruptions to be announced.


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