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Large part of the subway system slows to crawl; riders call for fix

NEW YORK — Spilled debris across the tracks at one subway station ended up bringing Thursday morning's rush to a grinding halt on a highly-traveled subway line and slowing a half dozen other lines to a crawl.   Transit advocates called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to find the funds to fix the system after additional problems during the evening rush.

Thursday's problems happened two months after a track fire ended up having a similar effect on the entire system and a week after Gov. Cuomo had a photo op on some subway tracks, where he wielded a heavy industrial vacuum nozzle.  It was a p.r. move designed to show that the state is cracking down on litterers.

This time, however, the culprit behind the debris is the MTA itself, and its problems can only be cleaned up by the governor himself, according to public transit advocates.

The morning problem was at the 50th Street station on the 1 line. A cover over the third rail came undone and was destroyed, spilling debris on the 1 train tracks around 7:20 a.m., according to a preliminary MTA investigation. Debris also spilled onto the tracks for the 2 and 3 lines, which run express through the station.

The situation shut down the entire 1 train line throughout Manhattan and severely delayed the 2 and 3 lines, as well as the F and M lines.  Riders on those lines had to go to other trains and that caused residual delays on four other lines.  Operations did not get fully back to normal until around noon.

"It's crazy, the whole system," said subway rider Malik Cummings.  Somebody's got to do something about it."

He'd been riding the F train after it had been delayed.  Other riders there and on the delayed 1, 2 and 3 trains agreed.

"It's just been horrible, horrible for weeks," said Emily Forman, as she waited for a 1 train to finally leave the station.

"It's a lose, lose situation," said Miller Bryant, a straphanger on the F train.

In addition to the 1 train debris issue shutting down or delaying seven different train lines, there were other problems.

There were also signal problems at Queens Plaza and a signal malfunction at the Brooklyn Bridge/ City Hall station, according to John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, a commuter advocacy group.

He said that the combination of subway rail issues caused delays and shutdowns on more than half of all subway lines Thursday morning.

The Riders Alliance did credit the MTA with alerting riders as quickly as possible to the various delays, especially the 1 train shutdown.

"No matter what the MTA does to clean the tracks and maintain cars better, they also need a long-term plan," Raskin said. "Only Gov. Cuomo can put the funding together to make that possible."

Raskin pointed out that the governor runs the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  It weighed in on the issue of delays, in an interview with its managing director, Ronnie Hakim.

"We know it was a frustrating morning or our customers and for us as well," Hakim told PIX11 News.

One frustrated customer, Onkita Iqbal, was late for class at Borough of Manhattan Community College because of the 1 train shutdown.

"Please fix whatever you need to fix," Iqbal implored the MTA. "I'm tired of the signal problems. Every single day, there's always something happening."

Hakim said the MTA agrees with the need for change and pointed out that the MTA has plans in place for immediate fixes to significant subway problems.

"We must be responsible with our customers" she said. "We get it."

What the MTA doesn't have yet, however, is a full financial commitment from Gov. Cuomo and legislators in Albany for larger, long-term projects, such as updating a switching system that is up to 80 years old.

Gov. Cuomo has insisted that the state and the City of New York split the cost of major upgrades to the public transportation system. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio maintains that the cost of upgrades is a state responsibility because the governor controls the MTA.

Meanwhile, the need for such upgrades was apparent on the 1 train yet again during the evening rush.  A signal malfunction at Penn Station caused delays on that subway line, as well as on the 2 and 3 lines.