Morning subway commute chaos due to ‘significant errors’ internally, the MTA says

The MTA said an internal communications error led to the disastrous commute Monday morning for subway riders on the N, D and R lines.
The MTA said an internal communications error led to the disastrous commute Monday morning for subway riders on the N, D and R lines. Photo Credit: Louis Lanzano

Unannounced track work in Brooklyn Monday managed to blindside both subway commuters and the MTA itself.

The first weekday of long-planned track work lead to hours of delays during the morning rush for N, D and R lines, as the MTA scrambled to run trains around the construction and failed to alert the public of its plans.

“We had issues and challenges coordinating internally and the planned change was not properly communicated to our customers,” said Sarah Meyer, MTA Transit’s chief customer officer, in a statement. “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.”

Riders crowded onto platforms, waiting for trains that seemed to never come — all during what should have been routine subway rehabilitation work. But the MTA failed to coordinate the work internally and didn’t plan to reroute trains or notify commuters. The MTA’s own app did not display any service changes, befuddling riders who ventured down to subway platforms only to notice a blue construction wall blocking the N express track.

“This work that they’re doing certainly wasn’t emergency work. This was work that they were planning for at least a better part of a year,” said Brooklyn Councilman Justin Brannan, who was caught in the delays this morning. “The fact that they weren’t prepared — it’s concerning because you’d think that a contingency plan would be in place in advance to avoid Monday morning total chaos on the subway.”

An MTA spokesman said there were no equipment failures that spurred the delays. The scheduled construction was not appropriately labeled internally as “planned work” — a classification that would trigger the MTA’s communications team, Meyer said on Twitter.

The work, expected to be completed by July of next year, ultimately requires minor service changes. N trains will run on the local track in both directions between 36th and 59th Streets in Brooklyn — adding 45th Street and 53rd Street to trips. D and N trains will run express north of 36 Street, as normal, according to Meyer.

During the service change, the MTA will replace structural steel columns, tunnel lighting and ventilators. The agency will also repair steel beams and deteriorated concrete to help stop water leaks along Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue express tracks, between 36th Street and 59th Street stations. Meyer pledged that the work won’t lead to future service meltdowns.

“The significant delays our customers experienced this morning in the project area will not happen again,” Meyer continued in a statement, “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.”

Brannan added that, while he likes MTA Transit President Andy Byford and his ideas, the failure to plan for the rehabilitation work leads him to question the agency’s competency in tackling bigger-picture projects.

“If they can’t get something like this straight then it worries me for overhauling the entire system,” Brannan said, referencing Byford’s Fast Forward plan to modernize Transit service.

“I think that the number one issue . . . is people want to know what is going on,” Brannan added. “Just tell us what’s happening. You have us hostage underground anyhow, just tell us what’s going on.”

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