When the Second Avenue Subway opened this past New Year’s Day, it was nothing short of a miracle. Not only had the $4 billion infrastructure project been 100 years in the making but in the months leading up to its deadline, there was much talk about delays related to the system’s “rigorous testing schedule” not being met. As it turns out, the testing wasn’t met; the Times tells us that when the train opened on January 1st, “the fire alarm system was still being tested and more than 17,000 defects found during inspections had not been fixed.” And eight months later, the train is still operating under a temporary safety certificate.
The heavy push to meet the December 31st deadline came from a very vocal Governor Cuomo, who, during the inaugural ride said, “We needed to show people that government works and we can still do big things and great things and we can still get them done,” adding that those who worked on the line’s planning and construction “made a superhuman effort to get this done on time.”
But what did they sacrifice in order to do so? MTA oversight reports prepared by Urban Engineers of New York and submitted to the Federal Transit Administration stated that the number of issues was evidence that “quality was compromised for schedule acceleration.” When the line opened, there were 75 active water leaks at the 96th Street station, for example. And up until July, commuters complained of typically sweltering conditions, despite the promised climate-controlled stations. NBC uncovered that the MTA had failed to receive permission from the health department to activate air cooling because they hadn’t completed a test that to show there was no risk of Legionnaires disease in its cooling towers. Apparently, the agency had put the test on the back burner in order to focus on keeping the trains running.
The MTA committed to addressing these and all other problems with 60 days of the subway opening, but they missed the deadline and had it extended to April 15th. However, the most recent report from the end of May still showed 7,264 defects.
MTA Spokesman John McCarthy counters that the new stations have been “completely safe” since day one. “They feature state-of-the-art technology for fire protection, closed-circuit monitoring and new public address systems — any suggestion that safety was at all compromised to meet the deadline to open is patently false,” he said. The MTA is also downplaying the reported problems, noting that they’re minor things like fixing door closures or signs.
The final safety certificate is not expected to come through until November, so for the time being, the MTA has employed staff to patrol the stations to keep an eye out for fires or other safety issues. This is an expensive endeavor, added to what may an increased cost of running safety tests once the trains are already in operation.
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Images courtesy of Governor Cuomo’s office