A bipartisan group of House members from New York are raising concerns about Chinese involvement in building New York City subway cars, zeroing in on the potential that the new train cars could be hacked or controlled remotely.
The group of 15 lawmakers, led by Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.), wrote a letter to the New York City Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) recently to “raise concerns regarding the safety and security” of New York City’s transit system following MTA’s decision to allow a Chinese-owned company to design new rail cars for the city.
“As you may be aware, critical infrastructure systems around the country have been increasingly targeted in recent years as part of coordinated hacking attempts and other forms of systematic interference, often stemming directly from foreign governments,” the lawmakers wrote.
“These actions are part of comprehensive efforts to undermine U.S. economic competitiveness and national security, and we have serious concerns regarding MTA’s involvement with some of those same foreign governments and the protections in place to ensure that our subway systems remain safe and secure,” they added.
In 2018, MTA announced that the winners of its “MTA Genius Transit Challenge” would include the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC), which proposed an investment of $50 million of its own funds to develop a new subway car in New York City. The challenge was announced in 2017 in order to upgrade the subway system.
While the members acknowledged that “no U.S. companies currently manufacture transit railcars,” they stressed that they have “serious concerns regarding the intimate involvement of a Chinese state-owned enterprise in these efforts.”
They specifically pointed to concerns around rail cars being built that would include Wi-Fi systems and train control technology that could be susceptible to hacking or other cyberattacks and asked that MTA respond to questions around how it planned to ensure the cybersecurity of its rail cars.
The letter from the House members comes after Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on the Commerce Department last week to “thoroughly investigate” CRRC.
“Given what we know about how cyberwarfare works, and recent attacks that have hit transportation and infrastructure hubs across the country, the Department of Commerce must give the green light and thoroughly check any proposals or work China’s CRRC does on behalf of the New York subway system, including our signals, Wi-Fi and more,” Schumer said in a statement.
CRRC, which is the world’s largest passenger train manufacturer, is also planning to bid on building Metro cars for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) in Washington, D.C. Reuters reported earlier this month that the company plans to bid on a WMATA contract to build new Metro cars that is worth more than $500 million. The company is also involved in building rail cars in Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago.
While CRRC did not immediately respond to comment on this story, it said in a statement after winning the MTA challenge that “we look forward to introducing CRRC’s design philosophy focused on accelerating the pace subway vehicles are procured and deployed to the New York transit system.”
The Chinese company’s involvement in the D.C. Metro system is an issue that has raised concerns among Senate Democrats who represent Virginia and Maryland, particularly in light of recent Trump administration moves against Chinese telecommunications companies involved in the roll out of fifth generation wireless technology, or 5G.
Last week, Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) introduced a bill that would renew federal funding to WMATA, but also prevent WMATA from using those funds “on a contract for rolling stock from any country that meets certain criteria related to illegal subsidies for state-owned enterprises.”
All four of those senators previously raised cybersecurity concerns about WMATA allowing a Chinese company to build rail cars, suggesting that the bill would ban funds for contracts with Chinese companies.
In January, the same group of senators sent a letter to WMATA asking for details on how the transit agency planned to “ascertain and mitigate” any involvement of a foreign country in building new rail cars, and how it planned to defend rail cars against potential cyber espionage.
“Many of these technologies could be entirely susceptible to hacking, or other forms of interference, if adequate protections are not in place to ensure they are sourced from safe and reliable suppliers,” the senators wrote.
MTA’s private ‘deep cleaners’ skirt safety standards in push to beautify subway stations and cars
Eight-foot flames shot out from a gas-powered generator powering high-pressure cleaning hoses at a Brooklyn subway station last week — an example of safety risks and cut corners on the MTA’s “deep cleaning” of subway stations that is part of the Subway Action Plan.
Workers scrambled to shut off the generator, one of six set up on the eastbound platform at the Clinton-Washington station on the C line in Clinton Hill in the accident witnessed Tuesday by the Daily News.
Crews were calm as they put out the fire — the generators had caught fire before during station cleaning, workers said.
The accident is an example of the safety risks and cut corners that have come with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s “deep cleaning” program paid for by the $836 million Subway Action Plan.
The contractor, WRS Environmental Services, is one of 21 outside firms commissioned by the MTA to aggressively clean 106 stations this year.
The agency has dedicated $200 million of its Subway Action Plan money to station and train car cleanings. The spending includes $16 million to hire outside firms to aggressively scrub stations.
The decision to bring in outside cleaning firms nearly sparked a union picket earlier this year. Transport Workers Union Local 100 and MTA bosses came to a compromise: the agency could bring in outside crews to intensely clean the batch of stations, and two union workers would be on site for the cleanings to learn new techniques.
MTA spokesman Max Young said the work aimed to get stations to a point of cleanliness that in-house crews could maintain moving forward.
“Besides cleaning the stations through the Subway Action Plan, the MTA has begun to incorporate some of the independent contractors’ means and methods so we can reinforce this work every few days and keep these stations clean,” Young said.
But the Daily News found that some of those means and methods skirt basic safety standards.
Sixteen workers cleaned the Clinton-Washington station last week — compared to three or four workers usually assigned to the MTA’s unionized mobile wash force.
The contractors scrubbed areas like light fixtures and vents, where in-house crews normally do not hit.
Those workers were using heavy duty “citrol” chemicals to complete the clean. The fumes from the solvent mixed with the intense exhaust from the gas generators and the vapor from hot, pressurized water. The combination made the underground air difficult to breathe.
Workers were wearing minimal protective gear. Some didn’t have face masks.
Gov. Cuomo has repeatedly chided the MTA’s in-house cleaners over the last six months, alleging they only use Tide detergent to clean the subway stations.
The governor is correct when he says that that Local 100 workers use detergent — Procter & Gamble sells a heavy-duty version of Tide to clean floors and industrial sites.
But the workers also use bleach solutions, power washers, scrub brushes and, in some cases, the same types of Citrol degreasing solutions the private companies use, union officials say.
WRS executive Mike Rodgers repeated Cuomo’s use of the Tide jibe last week. Rodgers hopes to get more work from the agency.
“Nonunion contractors are a scourge to the safety of the system,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “We’ll clean with any chemical they issue us to clean with as long as we can do it in a safe manner.”
Samuelsen thinks the MTA got the short end of the deal with the private contractors, and called the move to hire them a “political stunt.”
Outside contractors have also been brought into subway train maintenance facilities to clean cars inside and out.
FleetWash, the contractor hired to do exterior cleaning, uses strong chemicals that are not allowed to be dumped into city sewers. FleetWash pump the runoff from its work back into waste tanks in their trucks and hauls it off for disposal.
The company leaves the outside of subway cars, roughly 3,000 so far, sparkling and shiny. They do this by using a high-powered pressure washer to blast them with a highly concentrated phosphoric acid solution, which over time can corrode the cars’ stainless steel exteriors.
“It has a very high acid content,” a high ranking MTA source said of FleetWash’s cleaning mixture. “It’s not meant to be used regularly.”
The MTA has train car washing facilities at eight of its subway depots that automatically blast cars with water and cleaning solutions, but are unable to fully remove years of built up rust and grime.
FleetWash CEO Anthony DiGiovanni said the treatment should be applied to subway cars every few months. The company’s contract expires in early July.
Private contractors who clean cars’ interiors use safer chemicals. Imperial Cleaning Company, one of three contractors brought in to clean 3,000 cars, uses standard soap, mops and wipes for the floors and seats, and off-the-shelf Bar Keepers’ Friend to polish steel grab bars.
Imperial Cleaning supervisors said it takes a full day for 16 of its workers to clean a 10-car train. Before the Subway Action Plan was launched, the MTA deployed just one or two workers to clean each train.
Some riders may notice cleaner cars and platforms — but surveys show straphangers believed they were already up to snuff. Recent MTA surveys say 85% of straphangers find the appearance of stations and cars acceptable.
While cleaner environments will have minimal impact on subway service, agency officials hope the outside contractors’ work will set a new baseline for cleanliness.
“These intensive cleanings were necessary because many of the stations have not been thoroughly cleaned in decades,” said Young. “The deep cleaning also helps in maintaining the structural elements of the station.”
Crews are currently testing out new cleaning equipment and techniques that supervisors hope will keep the stations clean without the safety risks that come with the private contractors.
Cars to be banned from most of 14th St. in Manhattan starting July 1
Cars will be banned from most of 14th St. in Manhattan starting July 1 as New York City launches its first official “busway,” Department of Transportation officials said on Monday.
Through traffic will be banned on the street between Third and Ninth Aves. Cars making pickups, drop-offs and accessing local garages will get a pass.
DOT spokesman Scott Gastel said the restrictions would be in place from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will also launch its new M14 select bus service on July 1, hoping to speed up buses by eliminating 16 existing stops and requiring riders to swipe their MetroCards at curbside machines before they board. The new service will replace the M14A and M14D routes currently operating along 14th St.
Buses and trucks will be able to use a new priority lane along the street, and left turns will not be permitted on the affected stretch.
New high-tech cameras on MTA buses will enforce the 14th St. rules, but tickets for violations will not be issued until at least September. A bill working its way through Albany would lift the cap on automated traffic cameras in the city, possibly leading to more cameras on 14th St. and beyond.
Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said seven new NYPD bus lane tow truck teams will help enforce the new 14th St. rules.
“Clearly there’s no point in having a bus lane if you have it hopelessly blocked with people double parking, delivering,” said NYC Transit president Andy Byford. “You can’t park in the bus lane. It’s selfish.”
The changes are expected to be a boon for L train riders, who have dealt with 20-minute waits for trains beneath 14th St. at night and on weekends since the MTA started construction on the line on April 26.
The “busway” was originally planned for 14th St. as part of the city’s L train mitigation plan, but Mayor de Blasio pulled the plug on the idea when Gov. Cuomo announced in January a change in the scope of reconstruction work on the line.
In April, city officials changed course again, and said the program would run as an 18-month pilot.
Tom DeVito, senior director of advocacy at Transportation Alternatives, said the changes to 14th St. will help some 30,000 New Yorkers every day.
“It shouldn’t be long before this innovative, space-efficient, transit-first design for 14th St. is replicated on crosstown corridors across Manhattan and other major bus routes citywide,” DeVito said.
MTA’s initial round of Subway Action Plan money is spent — but more cash is on the way
Saving the subway isn’t cheap.
The MTA has spent all $836 million dedicated two years ago to fixing the city’s subways under the Subway Action Plan, the Daily News has learned.
But the upgrading effort funded by the Subway Action Plan — which includes fixing blocked drains, upgrading broken signal equipment and covering extra employee overtime — may continue for years to come, thanks to a surcharge on taxis and app-based car services that took effect in February.
State legislation passed in 2018 requires the first $362 million from the taxi and car service surcharge must go straight into the Subway Action Plan account. Next year, the fee will put $301 million into the account, and it will get another $300 million from the surcharge every year after.
The MTA is already spending the car service surcharge money. Officials would not confirm the precise amount that has been spent on the Subway Action Plan to date, but said it would be available in early July.
The influx of money has improve service and dragged the subway out of a crisis.
On-time performance for trains has hit five-year highs over the past few months, and the number of major incidents is falling rapidly, MTA data shows.
Those service improvements have been aided in part by NYC Transit President Andy Byford’s “back to basics” approach, including his program to increase cumbersome speed limits across the system.
Rachael Fauss, an analyst at good-government group Reinvent Albany, conceded that the hundreds of millions allocated to the Subway Action Plan is money well spent, but said much of it is too little, too late.
“The Subway Action Plan is a small component of the MTA’s overall capital needs,” said Fauss. “It came in at a time when the state hadn’t been properly investing in signal tech and state of good repair.”
Fauss pointed out the MTA cut $442 million for signal improvements from its budget before the subway was thrown into crisis in 2017. She said the money dedicated to the Subway Action Plan account only partly plugs that hole.
It’s unclear exactly how the money for the Subway Action Plan will be spent going forward. State law requires it be used for “operating and capital costs” like infrastructure improvements, but also allows it to pay for things like debt service or employee benefits.
The MTA remains in a Gov. Cuomo-declared state of emergency, which allows the agency’s board to quickly approve spending for a wide range of initiatives.
Cuomo spokesman Patrick Muncie said the executive order mandating the state of emergency would not be lifted until “major reforms” are implemented and “sustained funding” is secured. The governor “will evaluate the order at the appropriate time once there is substantive progress.”
MTA spokesman Max Young said the Subway Action Plan helped the agency “arrest the deterioration of the system,” and gave crews “critical new skills and techniques.”
“There is much more work to do,” said Young. “The continuation of key improvements under the Subway Action Plan will help us get there.”
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