New York City

Nightmare Crowds, Blacked-Out Trains as Track Debris Shuts Down 1, 2, 3 Service in Most of Manhattan

Commuters tweeted photos and video of jam-packed platforms at Grand Central at 168th Street, where at least one user described throngs of people so deep no one could move

What to Know

  • Debris on the tracks at 50th Street caused a rail condition that paralyzed subway service in Manhattan Thursday
  • Thousands of riders were stranded on jampacked platforms, describing crowds so thick they couldn't even move
  • One Twitter user shared photo of a blacked-out train, saying she and others had been stuck with no lights or electricity for 20 minutes

Debris on subway tracks in Manhattan caused some sort of rail condition that created an abject nightmare for riders on nearly a half-dozen lines Thursday, with service on the 1, 2 and 3 lines completely knocked out in much of the borough as the peak commute got underway.

The MTA initially said around 7:30 a.m. the debris was on the tracks at 72nd Street, then later said it was on the tracks at 50th Street. Some trains were initially rerouted, but within an hour, the service changes had become dire.

Ronnie Hakim, the agency's managing director, told News 4 it appears a third rail protection board splintered, causing debris across both the express and local tracks. It's unclear why that happened, but full repairs were expected to be completed Thursday evening, she said. 

The MTA apologized for the commute havoc on Twitter through its verified @NYCTSubway account, but riders did not appear to be appeased.

Commuters tweeted photos and video of jampacked platforms at Grand Central at 168th Street, where at least one user described throngs of people so deep no one could move. Twitter user @akboehme shared jarring photos of the 168th Street station, writing, "#MTA I get it -- there are major infrastructure issues that you guys are working against. BUT this is ridiculous."

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Another Twitter user, @Sarahehenkel, shared video of a black-out train. She said she and other commuters had been stuck underground for about 20 minutes with no lights and no air conditioning near 86th Street. 

Mayor de Blasio, who has been at odds with the state on how to fund an $836 million subway stabilization plan MTA Chairman Joe Lhota announced in July, used Thursday's nightmare to tweet a link to his plan, which would involve implementing a tax on the wealthiest 1 percent of New Yorkers.

"Same service, different day," the mayor's office tweeted.

Lhota had highlighted quicker response times to subway problems as part of the stabilization plan, and on Thursday, Hakim maintained that crews responded speedily. 

"Five minutes later, we are on the scene. Seven minutes later, our Combined Action Team was on the scene," said Hakim, referring to the crews dispatched to deal with mechanical and track issues on the subway. 

It was the second time in less than a month track debris caused epic subway chaos. In late August, poorly secured trash on a southbound refuse train at 14th Street caused a single train to get stuck twice -- once in Manhattan and once in Brooklyn -- prompting a series of subway disruptions during a Wednesday morning rush. 

The agency blamed "operator error" for the ensuing nightmare that stranded thousands upon thousands of riders, left others in what customers described as "knee-deep" crowds on platforms and caused hours worth of delays. 

The MTA promised appropriate discipline in that case, saying in a statement at the time that, "New York City Transit and the MTA have zero tolerance for worker errors that cause service problems. Appropriate disciplinary action will be taken as necessary pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigation."

Longtime critics say leaders in charge of the MTA need to pour resources into the problems.

"Governor Cuomo has done a good job creating immediate fixes but we need a long-term plan and the funding to make it all happen," said John Raskin of the Riders Alliance. 

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