MTA set to greet Old Man Winter

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
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Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) New York City Transit (NYCT), Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and MTA Bridges and Tunnels are once again preparing for the arrival of winter weather.


The MTA follows plans designed to keep the region’s transit services up and running during harsh winter weather conditions. From forecast to clean-up, MTA keeps a close eye on winter weather patterns and responds accordingly with an army of dedicated workers and a fleet of machinery, much of it specially built for snow-fighting duty.

After unprecedented conditions during the December 26, 2010, blizzard crippled the system, the MTA immediately began a review and made necessary changes to strengthen storm preparedness. Many of the changes that were implemented were quickly executed and tested with success during subsequent snow storms.

“We have moved away from the philosophy that we will deliver service until we can’t,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Thomas Prendergast. “We have successfully demonstrated that in some scenarios, it is safer and more prudent to temporarily suspend service. This shift in tactics has allowed us to recover and begin providing meaningful service far more quickly.”

“The subways and buses are indispensable to the city on an around-the-clock basis and we invest heavily in the resources needed to keep those services running as conditions permit,” said NYCT President Carmen Bianco. “Commuters depend on our services to get them to work and back home again and we use everything from 21 Century weather forecasting to ice picks and shovels to make certain that we don’t disappoint them.”

The Department of Subways has a yellow-hued fleet of snow and ice-busting equipment designed to keep outdoor tracks, switches and third rails clear of snow and ice. Super-powered snow throwers, jet-powered snow-blowers and de-icing cars, retired subway cars modified with tanks and other specialized equipment to spray de-icing fluid on the third rail, are ready for immediate deployment whenever there is a prediction of weather than will result in accumulations of snow or ice.

While the underground portions of the system remain unaffected during snowstorms, there are nearly 220 miles of outdoor track throughout the boroughs. The Rockaway, Sea Beach, Brighton and the Dyre Ave. Lines are particularly vulnerable to snow and freezing precipitation.

During a heavy snowstorm, tracks on outdoor subway lines must be cleared often, the third rails kept free of ice and outdoor steps at all 468 subway stations shoveled and salted. Elevated lines do not have the problem of snow build up as the flakes fall between the ties, but platforms and staircases still must be kept clear of snow and salted to melt ice. To prevent subway trains from being blocked in yards, they are moved and stored underground in anticipation of heavy snow or ice.

Metro-North Railroad
In advance of a storm, employees begin prepping the fleet; door panels are sprayed with an anti-freeze agent; air brake lines are purged of moisture to prevent them from freezing; electric trains are fitted with special third rail shoes with holes in them to prevent snow from sticking, exposed shoes are treated with de-icers and exposed couplers are covered to keep snow out.

Along the tracks, switches are treated with an anti-freeze agent and lubricated and heating rods are activated; switches are continually moved by the Operations Control Center to help keep them functioning.

Jet engine snow blowers and plow trains are positioned to start operation as soon as snow accumulations begin. Metro-North has purchased additional snow-fighting equipment, including two more cold air blowers (for a total of five), allowing MTA to clean yard switches and third rail simultaneously at more locations and an additional front-end loader and backhoe enabling it to plow more of right-of-way in order to access track interlockings and power substations.

Metro-North recently has received two high volume snow blowers from NYCT to supplement its capabilities during extreme snow events. MTA has also completed retrofitting three jet hot air blowers for greater power and fuel efficiency.

Finally, snow-fighting material is dispatched to all stations and crews are positioned at numerous locations ready to clear platforms and stairways and rescue equipment is fueled.

LIRR’s snow fighting equipment is winterized, tested and positioned strategically throughout the system to start operation as soon as snow accumulations begin. The fleet consists of nine jet snow blowers, three cold-air snow blowers and two double-ended snow broom/thrower machines.

In advance of the storm, employees begin prepping the passenger fleet, door panels are sprayed with an anti-freeze agent; air brake lines are purged of moisture to prevent them from freezing and many electric trains are fitted with special third rail “scraper” shoes to help reduce icing on the third rail so electric trains can draw their power properly. Rescue equipment is fueled.

Scheduled trackwork is canceled to allow LIRR forces to concentrate their efforts on storm preparation. Along the right-of-way, switch-heaters are activated to keep switches moving freely so that trains can continue to be routed from one track to another. During the storm, anti-freeze trains are deployed throughout the system to spray de-icer on the third rail in an effort to prevent ice-build-up and non-passenger patrol trains operate along the right-of-way to prevent snowdrifts from forming on the tracks. Engineering forces will concentrate on key switches to keep the LIRR on the move.

Extra LIRR personnel are assigned to key locations throughout the system. LIRR employees pre-salt station platforms before the snowstorm and clear platforms of snow as soon as possible after the storm ends. Station waiting rooms are kept open around-the-clock during storms to provide shelter for customers waiting for trains.


Categories: Commuter/Regional, OFF Track Maintenance, Rapid Transit/Light Rail