MTA Board Member Sounds Alarm About Fire Risks Underneath Metro-North Tracks

The garden center that was operating out of a city-owned lot where a fire started underneath the Metro-North tracks in East Harlem last week remains open for business, despite facing numerous summonses after the blaze.

The Urban Garden Center was issued four summonses by the FDNY last week for failing to get proper permits for propane and other fuels. Propane, firewood, plywood and other flammable materials at the site fueled a massive blaze last Tuesday night, sparked by an accidental fuel spill. It damaged a steel column on the Park Avenue viaduct, crippling service for days. 

"I'm terribly concerned," said MTA board member Charles Moerdler Monday. "This was a wake-up call that can happen all over New York." 

Moerdler said he wants to know whether the city inspects its properties underneath the Park Avenue Viaduct, which contains the elevated Metro-North tracks. The Urban Garden Center is owned by the city's Economic Development Corporation, but no one has been able to answer his question.

"The city has fallen asleep at the switch," he said. 

For example, a stretch of the no. 1 train in northern Manhattan is only yards from a gas station. And in the Bronx, the MTA couldn't say if anyone keeps track of who parks under the elevated subway or who's keeping track if someone leaves behind flammable trash. 

Commuters want answers, too.

"Why don't they know what's underneath there?" said Michelle Irving of Yonkers. 

"I guess they don't think that's a job that's needed, but I think it is," said Matt Hoyt of New Windsor.

Annie Ehrmann of East Harlem agrees someone should be checking, but also thinks riders should relax. No one was hurt in the blaze last week, and the risk of a repeat seems minimal.

"I think what happened was just a fluke accident," said Ehrmann. 

The mayor's office told NBC 4 New York Monday that four city agencies are now coordinating to make sure everyone is one the same page, ensuring the safety of under-track areas.  

Meanwhile, trains are continuing to roll by at slower speeds near the site of the fire at East 118th Street as workers continue to install a temporary column stabilizing the tracks. 

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