Cuomo Promises Solutions to Subway's Power Problems

By Paul Berger Features Dow Jones Newswires

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the biggest cause of the city's subway delays is power problems, but fixes are on the way.

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Instead of the Consolidated Edison utility and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority pointing fingers at each other every time there is a problem, Mr. Cuomo said the pair will work together to inspect, repair and modernize the power system that feeds the subway.

"This is a massive undertaking," Mr. Cuomo said. "It will be the first time the system has been gone through and modernized literally in 80 years."

The fix isn't voluntary. The New York Public Service Commission, the state's utility regulator, is directing the power company to take action following several power-related disruptions earlier this year. If it fails to comply, the regulator can impose penalties.

In a statement, the utility's chief executive, John McAvoy, welcomed the initiative, saying that the utility is "fully committed to implementing the recommendations."

Mr. Cuomo took reporters on a tour of the electrical system Wednesday, accompanied by Mr. McAvoy and Charlie Hall, a senior vice president at the engineering consulting firm WSP.

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Dressed in khaki slacks and a white polo shirt emblazoned with the New York state seal, Mr. Cuomo started at an open manhole on Central Park West, pointing out where power feeds into the subway. Then, he led reporters into the 59th Street-Columbus Circle station, onto the tracks and over the third rail to an energy distribution room.

Subway delays are an increasing problem, with on-time performance this year languishing at 62.9%, well below the MTA's target of 75%.

For Mr. Cuomo, who controls the MTA, it is a growing headache, particularly following two subway derailments this summer as well as a well-publicized incident in which riders were stuck for almost an hour in subway cars without air conditioning.

The MTA runs 8,200 trains every weekday. There are myriad reasons for delays, including sick passengers, overcrowding, equipment failures, track fires or problems with an antiquated signal system, which in some places is more than 50 years old.

Mr. Cuomo began Wednesday's tour by saying there were 32,000 power-related delays last year. He included in that figure not just times when Con Ed lost power, but also when fluctuations in the power supply caused subway signals and other MTA equipment to fail.

"It's not the signal that fails," he said, pointing to a chart of how power flows through the system. "It's somewhere in here."

Mr. Cuomo ordered the Public Service Commission to investigate following a crippling power outage in April. The commission's chairman, John Rhodes, who was also present Wednesday, said that investigation is continuing.

The commission's review of the April power outage as well as other power-related delays led to the state's order for a comprehensive overhaul.

The plan includes changing cables from aluminum to copper and replacing switches that cannot cope with deviations in power. The most immediate trouble areas are to be fixed in six months and the remainder are to be fixed within a year.

Mr. Cuomo emphasized the scale of the problem as he stood in a relay room at the 59th Street station. About 20,000 relays, each one in a glass case, stretched in rows along the room. The switches were installed in the 1970s but were built using 1950s technology, the governor was told.

There are 300 such rooms throughout the subway system.

Write to Paul Berger at Paul.Berger@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 09, 2017 16:14 ET (20:14 GMT)