Subways will run empty overnight during snowstorm, source says

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Ghost trains are running under Brooklyn tonight.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s move to shut off the city’s subway system overnight on Monday ahead of an anticipated blizzard came as a surprise to transit workers and runs against common sense, because the trains need to move as part of keeping the tracks clear and will be running all night anyway, according to a transit insider. The governor’s 6 pm announcement that subway and bus service would be halted completely at 11 pm blindsided the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Incident Command Center, where workers first heard about it on the news, said the source, who lacks authorization to speak about internal matters and asked to remain anonymous.

The claim that trains were running empty appeared to be confirmed by the NYC Subway Time app for Android, which says it uses real-time data provided by the Transportation Authority. Around midnight, the app showed activity in both directions on all train lines in the city. The only exceptions were Manhattan’s 42nd Street Shuttle and the B and C trains, which do not run at night.

The halting of subway service is the first ever for a snowstorm. It is ill-considered because an actual turning-off of the entire system requires moving all the cars to far-flung facilities for storage, as the agency did during Hurricane Sandy, when flooding was a concern, and rebooting from that takes ages, the insider said. Emergency personnel will be riding the trains overnight while no one else is allowed to, per the source. The closure will strand people and put lives at risk, not because the subways can’t run, but because Cuomo wants to look good, the source said.

“I think it’s horrible, purely political decision, not based on anything that’s needed,” the insider said. “It seemed like cutting out a necessary lifeline unnecessar­ily.”

As much as two feet of snow are expected tonight and into tomorrow. Schools, courts, and offices have closed, and Cuomo has ordered drivers off the streets starting at 11 pm, under threat of arrest.

“This blizzard is forecasted to be one of the worst this region has seen, and we must put safety first and take all the necessary precautions,” Cuomo said in a statement. “Commuters and drivers need to get home before the storm completely cripples our transit networks and roads.”

The lack of ground transportation options makes keeping the subway open all the more important, the transit source said.

“The underground lifeline should be open,” the source said.

During snowstorms, limited closures along low-lying, outdoor sections of track such as the Brighton B and Q line makes sense, but the majority of the subway system runs on underground and elevated lines that are largely protected from the storms’ impact, the insider said.

A Twitter exchange between a Transportation Authority data scientist and a New York Post reporter appears to corroborate the agency being caught off guard by the governor’s announcement. Shortly before Cuomo’s bombshell, the transit wonk wrote that outdoor portions of the N, A, and Q, lines may be suspended. But when the reporter pointed out Cuomo was saying the plug would be pulled, the worker deferred to public relations.

Later, the data scientist lamented that stranded New Yorkers might resort to loosely regulated services such as Uber to catch now-illegal rides through the storm.

“Not a good plan from the governor,” Samuel Wong wrote. “The startup procedures will be fun.”

Following publication of this article, Wong wrote that the changes meant many workers would have to “stay overnight.”

Early Tuesday morning, a transit agency spokesman confirmed that “a handful” of trains were running in the system to prevent rust buildup on the rails, including trains equipped with scrapers and de-icing sprayers. Work crews were also being transported by subway, the spokesman said. The spokesman declined to comment on the efficacy of the service cancellation but said Cuomo made the decision in consultation with transit agency chairman Tom Prendergast.

On Monday afternoon, Prendergast said there would be “no reason” to halt underground service.

“I don’t believe so,” he said when asked if such a stoppage was likely. “Because there’d be no reason — because we’d be able to run trains.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is effectively controlled by the governor, who nominates the members of its 17-person board. Members are confirmed by the state Senate.

The Brooklyn Paper has reached out to the governor’s office and will update this story if we hear back.

Nathan Tempey is a Deputy Editor at the Community Newspaper Group. Reach him at or by calling (718) 260–4504. Follow him at
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018: Context added.
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Reasonable discourse

Michael from Carroll Gardens says:
Dump Cuomo, for he is a moron.
Jan. 26, 2015, 11:13 pm
Epiphany from Ex-Brooklyn says:
It's official! New York is a military state! Stay off the streets or face arrest. At some point, they won't give the excuse of a storm to have the power-hungry governor or the goofy mayor (the House Speaker apparently is absent) to arrest anyone on the street against their orders. But maybe the cops will just turn their backs on the storm!

P.S. Will sledding or skiing send you to Rikers?
Jan. 26, 2015, 11:50 pm
D. Litner from Midtown East/UES says:
Can't use cabs or uber either...roads closed at 11 pm.
Jan. 27, 2015, 12:19 am
olen from williamsburg says:
I heard the L running underneath metropolitan at 1am
Jan. 27, 2015, 1:07 am
Chuck Norris says:
HAARP manufactured weather. It fell a little flat, but it did sell a lot of gasoline and groceries.
Jan. 27, 2015, 1:14 am
bias blind-spot from Washington Heights says:
Clearly there's a reason this "insider" is not authorized to talk to the press about internal matters.

“I think it’s horrible, purely political decision, not based on anything that’s needed,” the insider said. “It seemed like cutting out a necessary lifeline unnecessarily.”

Hey, you know what sounds purely political? Criticizing the governor for taking steps to ensure that people will do the smart thing and get home and stay there, so emergency and first response professionals won't have extra work on their hands during a big storm dealing with morons who have no common sense. If someone had a need for a "necessary lifeline" during the storm, I'm pretty sure they would have called 911, genius. Hey Nathan- try vetting your sources a little better next time. The real story here isn't that Cuomo screwed up, but that the decision to run the trains all night was a smart move to reduce the recovery time of the system and that closing the system to passengers was just part of a general order to keep people from leaving their homes unnecessarily, just like the driving ban/fines. Duh. You owe the Governor and your readers an apology.
Jan. 27, 2015, 7:09 am
Me from Bay Ridge says:
Politicians have a tough time in New York with the hyper-critical populace. Damned if they do, damned if they don't.
Jan. 27, 2015, 7:44 am
Nick Danger from Carroll Gardens says:
bias blind-spot, why in the world do people need to "stay home'" People were walking around my neighborhood all night, and everyone seemed just fine. The only thing they couldn't do was get to a different neighborhood!

My friend's wife was sick, and needed over-the-counter medicine. He should have called 911 for that?!
Jan. 27, 2015, 8:09 am
pgl from says:
The governor just spoke on this and other manners. This insider is just stirring up a false controversy. Subways back up by noon.
Jan. 27, 2015, 8:33 am
Allison from Williamsburg says:
No. Cuomo's decision to shut down the subways was dumb and ill-advised
Jan. 27, 2015, 9:10 am
Lincoln from Upper West Side says:
I did not know Cuomo lived in Washington Heights!

Trains were running all night anyway.
Jan. 27, 2015, 9:13 am
Yohan from bed-stuy says:
The source was correct. No reason to shut down the subways, just like there wasn't in 2010, or 2006, or 2003... Much worse storms than this. And since that time, plans have been put in place to address trouble spots. For those of us who have to travel, it's the safest way to go during the snow... Suspending it left a lot of folks stranded.
Jan. 27, 2015, 9:21 am
Atlantic Yards neighbor from Atlantc Yards says:
Could this idiot of a gov make more of an effort to looking into the management of state projects and the fools he's hired to manage them than giving us storm warnings. Seems Gov spends more time watching the weather and closing roads than looking into how the state agency HE RUNS, Empire State Development Corporation has screwed up the oversight,management of the construction process and neighborhood agreements promised in the neighborhood. Then again, look at this agency and the Port Authority....all run by Cuomo.
Jan. 27, 2015, 9:25 am
park slope woman from park slope says:
The Governor is all about public relations. He wanted to look strong . Never thought about the poor workers making a buck in restaurants, cleaning offices etc who could not get off in time to use the subway by 11 . The trains were running anyway! What a fool! He stranded thousands. What an idiot. Can't wait for Preet to bring that arrogant ##### down because you know he is next after Shelly Silver for closing the Moreland Commission! Can't wait!
Jan. 27, 2015, 9:38 am
Epiphany from Ex-Brooklyn says:
When you are surrounded by a bunch of alleged corrupt legislators and former legislators, many under federal probes like Sheldon Silver, Velmanette Montgomery and Eric Adams (and also under fire for dismantling a commission to investigate alleged crimes), a snowstorm is a wonderful gift—that is if it can dump enough snow. It didn't, but Cuomo will certainly figure out a way to continue to deceive and con the people of New York.
Jan. 27, 2015, 9:45 am
Chris from Manhattan says:
What a ——ty article. Bet the rest of you ——s would be crying like babies if transit wasn't shut down, the storm did hit, and people were injured as a result.
Jan. 27, 2015, 9:53 am
Patrick Mcdougal from Anywhere, USA says:
I believe that if a Subway car full of nightly passengers had become stranded due to the storm everyone would be singing a different tune. You aren't in a police state NYC, you are just bored.
Jan. 27, 2015, 10:14 am
Walt Gekko from Outside NYC says:
I don't think anyone would want to admit it, but I'm suspecting the real reason Cuomo did a complete shutdown of the NYC Subway as he ordered for this snowstorm-that-wasn't-as-big-as-forecast was because he almost certainly in my opinion was protecting a potential Presidential bid in 2016 (if Hillary doesn't run) OR more likely 2020 or '24 (depending on who wins the White House in '16).

This was the first time anyone could remember the entire subway system being shut down due to snow. While parts (especially the open cuts and some elevated sections) have been closed in the past in big snowstorms, there was no reason for the underground portion to be closed and it never had previously been in a snowstorm, which to those of us who lived through the blizzards of 1983 (a then-record 21"), '96, 2003 and '06 (still the record) for instance never saw the MTA have problems. What happened in 2010 (as noted in a previous posting) had to do more with the MTA being ill-prepared due to when that hit: Right after Christmas when a lack of normal media availability due to the Christmas holiday likely contributed to those problems.

I suspect this closure was mainly because Cuomo was fearful that NOT shutting down the entire system, the MTA screwing up and there being a situation similar to 2010 that resulted in a lawsuit similar to what happened resulting in when it would otherwise be long forgotten Cuomo having it used against him during a run for President in 2020 or '24 by a rival candidate. In the cutthroat world that is politics today, something like that scenario is certainly NOT off the table and I suspect was playing a lot heavier than anyone realized in Cuomo's decision not to trust the MTA to do things right and shut down the system.

Cuomo now may be dealing with some serious blowback from this that includes potentially key donors, especially those on Wall Street making it clear that he is NEVER to shut the underground portion of the subway again like that and if he did OTHER than a Sandy-like situation where flooding is a genuine concern, he would face having donations withdrawn from a 2020 or '24 Presidential campaign.

I do suspect politics may very well have played into this decision.
Jan. 27, 2015, 10:54 am
LS from Gravesend says:
I feel for the vast majority of people who know how to act with careful necessity to continue to pursue their own livelihood
Unfortunately, NO ONE in public office represents them
The only thing that benefitted from closing down the train system was a government so completely out of touch with REAL NEW YORkERS. Lets Get rid of ALL the political fools who PRETEND to govern or we will be the victims of an HISTORICAL political storm . .. we are already mired in 2 feet of unloved excrement!!!!!!
Jan. 27, 2015, 11:05 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
I'm a Democrat. I agree with Cuomo on several issues. Marriage equality. Gun control. Abortion rights.

Cuomo is just BAD at the actual act of governing. There isn't a point on the political spectrum that aligns with whether the subways should have been shut down. That is just a basic question of competence, which he yet again failed. He is a bad governor.
Jan. 27, 2015, 11:42 am
sid from boerum hill. says:
I am not fan of Andy Cuomo. He is the reason that LICH is closed but he was right this tine, If there was 30 inches of snow as was forecast, having the cars off the street made it so they plow. Closing the subway showed it was serious and made people stay home. you are entitled to your opinion but not false facts.
Jan. 27, 2015, 12:09 pm
sgs from says:
bias blind-spot from Washington Heights --- you do bow so pretty to your overlords.
Jan. 27, 2015, 12:36 pm
Jeff from windsor terrace says:
Cuomo is not a moron. People who voted for him are.

He's a criminal, and sadly ran against a moron from the GOP.

Howie Hawkins should have been who you voted for.
Jan. 27, 2015, 12:42 pm
nattyb from Battery Park City says:
@sid from boerum hill:

I write to debunk this claim:
Closing the subway showed it was serious and made people stay home.

Oh, it def. made people stay home. But you can also achieve most of that goal by warning people not to go out. In such cases, most people won't go out, unless they absolutely have to, which in a city of millions, includes thousands of people who end up stranded (perhaps in a safe place, but still unnecessarily stranded)..

What I find most objectionable about that point though, however, is that it doesn't comport with reality. It's like saying: we don't have to worry about people in the hurricane flood zones because they've all been told to evacuate. In a city of 8 million people, not everyone has the luxury of just "not going out" or "not going to work" or, in the case of Sandy, "going to an emergency shelter or evacuate."

We need the subway as an emergency outlet in emergencies and to shut all of it down, when as a system, the Subway is relatively safe from blizzards, is incredibly stupid, reckless and dangerous even (imagine all the homeless who usually sleep in the subway).
Jan. 27, 2015, 12:46 pm
Walt from Greenpoint says:
It was reckless and potentially dangerous to shut down the subways.
Jan. 27, 2015, 1:21 pm
Oh the corruption from New Yorker says:
Albany is a hot mess and instead of addressing that our Gov puts all his efforts into a snowstorm. Since the speakers arrest no comment from his office. Then again, still no comment when it comes to the closing of the GW Bridge. So,this is Cuomo's way of avoiding real problems in our state capital.
Jan. 27, 2015, 2:04 pm
SlopeClassic from Park Slope says:
I'm afraid that there really isn't anything this man (Cuomo) does for any reason other than his own gain. His grimacing expressions and bulging eyes are scary. He's a bully and a self-promoter, dishonest to his core. I wouldn't trust him to stop for a pedestrian if it suited him to get through the intersection. He is so insecure that he needs to undercut De Blasio and grandstand at every opportunity. I hope he goes the way of all corrupt politicians--eventually. Sooner, rather than later, I hope.
Jan. 27, 2015, 2:24 pm
Harry from Carroll Gardens says:
Shutting down the subways seems unnecessary -- and also has negative consequences for those who do not have the option of staying home. This includes not only first responders and other public safety workers and some healthcare workers, but other people too, from the homeless to bank and brokerage employees who could not all stay home given that the stock exchanges and government securities markets were open regardless of the storm warnings.
Jan. 27, 2015, 4:08 pm
HT from Staten Island says:
These city/state officials are damned if they do and damned if they don't. They went with the info they had at the time, and at the time they were being told there was going to be 2 or 3 feet of snow. When the Christmas Blizzard happened, everyone jumped on Bloomberg for NOT shutting down mass transit, especially buses that ended up being stuck in the middle of streets, which then could not be plowed. People were stuck on stranded subway trains for hours on end. People complain when there is 2 or 3 feet of snow being forecast, then they complain when we didn't get 2 or 3 feet of snow. Weather is an inexact science. People just love to complain. If there actually had been 2 or 3 feet of snow, would we still be having this conversation?
Jan. 28, 2015, 10:38 pm
HT from Staten Island says:
And, also, let's not forget that Long Island DID get clobbered. Everyone seems to forget that.
Jan. 28, 2015, 10:40 pm
Pedro Valdez Rivera Jr. from Southside, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York, United States says:
Governor Andrew Cuomo is calling the ultimate shots about the MTA because the MTA is a state agency.
Sept. 12, 2015, 2:13 pm

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