Straphangers got an unpleasant surprise during their morning commute on Monday, July 30, when they had to cope with extensive delays thanks to the unexpected closure of the express tracks between the 36th Street and 59th Street stations on the N, R, and D lines, which will be closed for repair until the end of the year.
Many riders didn’t know about the closure of the track until they got stuck on a train or waiting for one; at around 11:11 a.m. — well after rush hour — the MTA posted a message on its website stating, “Expect longer wait times and delays on the N Subway, R Subway, and D Subway lines in Brooklyn while we perform necessary structural repairs in the tunnel — essential work to restore reliable service. Thank you for your patience.”
Commuters were not happy.
“I was on an N train this morning and all of a sudden it just started going local and there was no announcement or anything like that,” one rider — who got to work 45 minutes late — told this paper. “There were huge delays. Everything was running local. I think the most frustrating thing was I kept checking the MTA website because they usually update if there are delays and even before I had gotten on the train, I checked to make sure there was good service like I usually do. There was zero communication about anything that was going on. I didn’t know if it was a temporary thing.”
“I don’t think anyone is saying we shouldn’t repair a tunnel in danger of collapsing, but posters in the stations giving us a heads up to expect delays would be nice, as well as maybe extra bus service along 3rd and 5th Avenue,” added Elizabeth Donohue via Facebook. “If the delays this morning are going to be a daily occurrence until the end of the year, I need to leave an hour earlier than normal.”
“Because I’m an actor, I commute all times of the day, depending on when my auditions are scheduled,” Bay Ridge resident Anthony Devito said. “I never know what fresh hell is waiting for me when I descend the stairs to the Bay Ridge Ave station. Coming home, I often walk from 59th Street because I can’t deal with waiting who knows how long to take the R one stop. The express track being closed will mean even more chances for the R to get stuck because of ‘train traffic.’ How can there be traffic when there are 20 minutes or more between trains?”
Some straphangers went on Twitter to complain on the MTA’s official account.
“We do apologize for this,” the MTA Twitter account responded to one tweet. “The work is scheduled to be completed in Dec 2018. We will work to make sure these delays won’t re-occur, like this morning’s delays.”
“I realize someone running a social media account is not to blame so you are definitely dealing with headaches others have caused,” the person replied. “But I assure you that communication of this work between 59th St. and 36th St. was/is non-existent to abysmal. Utterly nobody knew what was happening.”
“The tunnel rehabilitation work should not have created these extreme delays. We are working to make sure this does not reoccur,” was the response.
According to NYC Transit Chief Customer Officer Sarah Meyer, “Today was the first weekday of a long-term structural rehabilitation project in Sunset Park, due to be complete in July 2019, which will include the replacement of structural steel columns and tunnel lighting, the repair of steel beams and deteriorated concrete, water infiltration remedy, and ventilator replacement and resiliency.
“We had issues and challenges coordinating internally and the planned change was not properly communicated to our customers,” Meyer acknowledged. “Additionally, due to an error that prevented the routing of D service onto express tracks at 36th Street, northbound N, R and D trains experienced significant delays from congestion at the northern end of the project site.
“Going forward,” Meyer continued, “N trains will run on the local track in both directions between 36th and 59th Streets in Brooklyn (adding 45th and 53rd Streets to the trip). D and N trains will run express north of 36 Street as normal.”
According to Meyer, the delays that bedeviled the Monday morning commute “will not happen again.” She added that the MTA “estimate(s) that the planned work will only add up to five minutes of additional travel time during the weekday rush hour periods going forward.”
In addition, Meyer said, the MTA had “updated” its digital service notices, “and announcements are now being made….We deeply apologize for our significant delays today and know we need to do better. We are working through our policies and procedures to ensure this does not happen again.”
Ultimately, it was the lack of communication on the MTA’s part that was the main frustration among commuters.
“No signage, no advanced announcements, no meetings with local stakeholders, nothing on the MTA app, or information provided to Transportation reporters,” said Community Board 10 member Brian Kaszuba. “This proves one of two things, either the MTA is incompetent and does not know these types of projects need advanced communication, or they are just plain lazy and grossly negligent.”