The MTA’s ‘Ghost Trains’ Were Nothing More Than a Power-Generating Exercise


Subway trains resumed service at 9 a.m., and a Sunday schedule was expected to be in effect by noon. But while most of New York was asleep, many so-called “work trains” continued to run throughout the subway system, confusing some and angering others.

But Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials say that running the trains was necessary to keep the lines open.

“It’s normal process,” MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast said during a press briefing this morning.

Amanda Kwan, an agency spokeswoman, explained that while passenger trains were suspended, work trains ran with special de-icing scrapers to keep electrical currents running along the subway system’s third rail. “Some of them look like garbage trains,” she said. “Some of them look like modified passenger trains.” Keeping power on the third rail allowed the MTA to get service up and running more quickly this morning, Kwan added. The third rail is located alongside the track and serves as the electrical conductor for the entire line.

An article in the Brooklyn Paper dubbed the trains that continued to run “ghost trains,” and quoted an anonymous MTA source who said Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision to shut down the entire subway system was a misguided and potentially dangerous “political decision.”

“The underground lifeline should be open,” the source said. “I think it’s [a] horrible, purely political decision, not based on anything that’s needed. It seemed like cutting out a necessary lifeline unnecessarily.”

The same article describes a Twitter exchange between a New York Post reporter and an MTA data scientist named Samuel Wong, who also took public exception to Cuomo’s decision.

“Not a good plan from the governor,” said MTA data scientist Samuel Wong, lamenting that many workers would be stuck overnight. “The startup procedures will be fun.”

Kwan said those sentiments don’t reflect the position of the department. “The whole reason we shut down service was to keep our customers safe and our workers safe,” she said.

When asked how MTA workers got home last night if the trains weren’t running, Kwan laughed. “They’re not [home],” she said. “We have crews standing by at our depots and terminals. We kept some of them overnight. We have space in our depots and terminals for them to rest.”

Kwan says the MTA’s rest stations for workers include bathrooms, couches, and chairs. And along with those stations, she says, the authority has provided extra “ad hoc, localized storm centers” throughout the system.

But some stranded transit workers didn’t have time to use the facilities. Rather than lounging around the stations while stranded, many simply picked up double shifts and worked overtime spreading salt, running de-icing trains, and preparing the subway system for passengers this morning.

“Everyone’s working right now,” said Kwan, at 9 a.m., as service resumed. “We’re opening the gates.”