Extreme cold, ice reveal faults in U.S. northeast mass transit

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2015 12:50 PM

By Barbara Goldberg and Elizabeth Barber

NEW YORK/BOSTON (Reuters) - Wicked winter weather gripping the northeastern United States exposed weaknesses in mass transit systems from Boston to New York, with commuters stranded on icy train platforms amid delays stretching into Tuesday.

A day after a deadly snowstorm slammed the region, extreme delays crippled Boston's subways, including the most heavily traveled Red Line, which sees about 273,000 riders each day.

"A week of constant exposure to frigid temperatures, ice, and record snowfall has taken a major toll on the MBTA's vehicles and infrastructure," the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority said in a statement.

"We're incredibly late and we're incredibly annoyed," Jeremiah Graves, 31, said as he and a companion waited for a bus to get to work after no train showed up at the Harvard stop.

"The decision should have been made yesterday to shut down everything and have time to clean up for today," he said, referring to the second major storm in less than a week to pummel the Northeast. It was blamed for at least seven deaths, including some in the Midwest, where it struck first.

In New York City, icing on Monday was blamed for paralyzing the Number 7 subway line - which serves 500,000 riders a day - and doubling commuting times for some who scrambled to squeeze onto buses or taxis.

"'7'th ring of hell for frozen Queens riders," proclaimed a Daily News headline about the end-to-end shutdown for six hours, which began when workers tried to remove an umbrella burning on the electric third rail and wound up allowing ice to form on the third rail, which stalled a train and brought the line to a halt.

"Am I going to be stranded in Queens all day?" Helen Gutowski, 24, a performance artist, recalled worrying after the train went out of service, and she waited for a bus for two hours in the cold before she started walking the snowy streets to head home.

On Tuesday morning, three other subway lines were delayed because of signal problems that could be weather related, said Amanda Kwan, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which oversees the subway system, including 220 miles of track that are above ground and exposed to the elements.

Commuter delays due to weather also were reported on trains in suburban New Jersey and Long Island, and ice closed the sidewalk on the George Washington Bridge spanning the Hudson River.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Elizabeth Barber in Boston; Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Doina Chiacu)