For years, the MTA has been running multi-weekend repair surges on the #7 line, where they turn all the trains around at Queensboro Plaza and run shuttle buses from there to Vernon-Jackson, Hunterspoint Avenue and Court Square. Last night at a town hall organized by City Council member Jimmy Van Bramer, MTA representatives said that they would have to do it again.
Joe Leader, the Chief Maintenance Officer at the MTA, explained to us that the cars currently used on the #7 train are wider than the streetcars that originally ran through the Steinway Tunnels to Manhattan, so they take up almost the entire tunnel. Unlike other subway tunnels, in the Steinway Tunnels there is no room for maintenance workers to stand while trains are passing through. Because of this, it is necessary to shut down at least one tunnel completely for any work.
As the tunnels have not been maintained on an ideal schedule since they were dug in 1907, leaks have developed and the tunnels have regularly been flooded, leading to a buildup of “muck” and debris around the rails. Since the New York subways use the rails to “return” power (actually to draw electrons from the substation to the train, which are then sent back along the third rail), the muck can short this out, reducing power to the trains, which was a major cause of the delays and outages last year.
In October, Leader said, workers shut down the subway for a weekend and cleaned 4000 feet of track in each tunnel, removing over 8000 bags of debris. They then power-washed the floors to clean out any remaining muck. Crews also repaired signal boxes, replaced sections of the old third rail and hooked up the old ones as a “fourth rail” to return power more directly.
This year, for eleven weekends between January 21 and April 2, and then for five weekends between October 6 and November 17, the MTA will shut down train service from Queensboro Plaza to Times Square. In between those times they will run trains express in one direction between Queensboro Plaza and Willets Point. There is also a plan to renovate the platforms and replace the windscreens at the #7 train station at Court Square.
I’ll say more about this soon.