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Schumer wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars




Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling for a federal probe into a plan for a Chinese government-owned corporation to design new New York subway train cars.

Schumer told the Associated Press in a statement Sunday that he requested that the Commerce Department conduct a “top-to-bottom review” after train-manufacturer CRRC won a contest to design the cars.

CRRC has previously been given contracts in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, according to the AP.

Government officials and security experts have reportedly warned that allowing a Chinese-state company to design U.S. transit systems could leave it vulnerable to cyberattacks and cyberespionage and sabotage.

Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) spokesman Max Young told the AP that it has “robust” safety standards.

“The MTA has robust, multilayered and vigorously enforced safety and security standards, but we support efforts of government agencies to bolster that work,” he said.

CRRC said it would invest $50 million to develop the train cars after it won the bid.

A spokesman for CRRC Sifang America, the company’s Chicago subsidiary, told the AP that most of the train parts it plans to use are made by American companies.

Spokesman Dave Smolensky told The Hill in a statement that the company “fully supports Senator Schumer’s efforts to ensure the nation’s transit systems meet the highest cybersecurity standards and we are eager to address any concerns the Senator may have regarding our U.S. operations.”

“A review will demonstrate to lawmakers there are no examples of a passenger railcar manufacturer, including CRRC, installing any type of malicious software or exposing a transit system to any type of cyberespionage,” he added.

Smolensky said that it is “not possible” for CRRC to put malware into the cars.

The Hill has reached out to Schumer’s office for additional comment.

Relations between the U.S. and China have become strained in recent weeks after the countries failed to reach an a trade agreement and instead pledged to raise tariffs on each other in an escalating trade war.


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MTA’s private ‘deep cleaners’ skirt safety standards in push to beautify subway stations and cars




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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.


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Cars to be banned from most of 14th St. in Manhattan starting July 1




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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.


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MTA’s initial round of Subway Action Plan money is spent — but more cash is on the way




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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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