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Cuomo declares ‘State of Emergency’ for MTA, but some fear it won’t solve train problems

MIDTOWN MANHATTAN — It's the type of measure New York State took after Superstorm Sandy  devastated many parts of the state, including flooding many parts of the public transportation system.  Now, a state of emergency is being declared by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in response to the many problems that are making commuting a daily struggle for many of the nearly nine million people who use the MTA's subway and commuter rail system every day.

The governor's order comes with a massive infusion of cash, but the jury is still out as to whether or not it can right the many wrongs apparent in the system.

"Standing on a packed train for 45 minutes.  Terrible, terrible, terrible," one commuter said about her trip from Long Island after her LIRR train died during the morning rush hour Thursday in Long Island City just outside of the tunnel that goes under the East River and across Manhattan to Penn Station.

"You get kind of used to it," another commuter said.  "[It's] generally frustrating," he said, adding, "It is what it is."

That relative acceptance of frequent shutdowns, power outages and even derailments on the subway, Metro North and the LIRR are part of what a major announcement by Cuomo on Thursday was designed to combat.

"The delays are maddening New Yorkers," the governor said at a conference in Midtown designed to promote innovative solutions to commuter problems.  He used the opportunity to break news about transit improvements.

"I'm going to sign an executive order declaring a state of emergency for the MTA," Cuomo announced."

It will expedite the normal processes of permitting and regulatory approval, the governor added. The order is intended to promote rebuilding of damaged, aged or dilapidating infrastructure, much like conditions that met recovery and restoration workers after Sandy.

The executive order also came with a major infusion of cash that's intended to fuel the governor's desired improvements.

"New York State is putting its money where its mouth is," Cuomo declared.  "I'm putting an additional billion dollars in [the MTA's] capital plan."

That's a financial boost to the MTA's current plan to invest $32.5 billion toward improvements.

Just as important as the money, according to the MTA's chairman, Joe Lhota, is the executive order's suspension of standard approval processes.

"We can submit a [request for proposal to do project work] in a week, rather than three months," Lhota said.

"Government over time has built layers of bureaucracy," the chairman added.  "We've got to find a way to do it quicker."

The announcement came two days after more than three dozen people were injured when a subway A-train derailed in Harlem.  It also came just hours before one of the worst affected victims of the derailment filed a lawsuit.

"[I had] passed out for a second," said Sheena Tucker at a news conference at her attorney's office Thursday afternoon.  She also said that after she'd "vomited," "choked" and had been "stepped on" at the scene of the derailment in a tunnel above 125th Street on Tuesday, her "side still hurts" and she's "just in a lot of pain" still.

Her lawsuit seeks $5 million in damages that's intended to compensate her and to send a simple, but clear message.

"MTA -- fix the trains!" Tucker's attorney, Sanford Rubenstein, said.

The governor's new order and cash infusion may very well help the MTA do that, provided all goes according to plan.

However, there are skeptics.  Transportation advocates, like Gene Russianoff, executive director of the Straphangers Campaign, and John Raskin, top director of the Riders Alliance, were both pleased with the new developments, but are approaching them with questioning eyes.

"A billion dollars is a start, but where will it come from, and is it new money?" asked Raskin in a statement.  "When and where will the State find the other billions that are needed to truly address the problem? How does a state of emergency fit into a comprehensive plan to fix public transit? Most importantly, when will riders begin to see improvements in their day-to-day commutes?

“The Governor has stopped ignoring the problem, which is a vital first step," Raskin continued. "Now he needs to produce a credible plan to fix the subway, and to put together the billions of dollars we will need to make it happen.”

Raskin also added that the state legislature will have to vote on whether or not to add $1 billion to the MTA's capital plan.  The legislature is currently in recess.