In a Heat Wave, Don't Expect the MTA to Cool Subway Platforms

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Safety bumps on a platform's edge look like proverbial fried eggs on a hot day in the subway. (Susan NYC/flickr)

Every summer, as the heat builds and the atmosphere in the subway acquires the texture of a hound dog's mouth, straphangers wonder why stations aren't air conditioned. If train cars are reliably cooled, the thinking goes, why can't something be done to cool customers while they wait for them?

The MTA answer: "Unfortunately, air conditioning of subway stations is not feasible due to the open nature of their construction and the impossibility of cooling an infinite space."

Spokeswoman Marjorie Anders explained that the system is open, in part, to cool it: the movement of trains pushes hot air from the tunnels out through vents in city sidewalks. 

The exception is Grand Central Terminal, which has air conditioning in the Main Concourse, an enormous central space through which 75,000 to 100,000 passengers pass daily. Anders said seven huge cooling towers on the terminal's roof work in tandem with dozens of temperature sensors to keep the hall cool. She said that's easier to accomplish at the start of summer because "the building isn’t heat-soaked yet. The concrete, limestone and marble are still cool to the touch."

Ms. Anders spoke via phone from an office at the MTA's Midtown headquarters, which had been darkened, she claimed, to save energy. She said that though the Main Concourse is air-conditioned, the gigantic underground train shed at Grand Central Terminal, which holds its 123 tracks and 46 platforms, is not.

Ushers keep doors between the terminal and the platforms closed when trains aren’t actively boarding or unloading. And conductors on the trains only open one door per car when a train is in Grand Central.

The MTA is also coping with the heat wave by reducing the speed of subway trains and  reducing electrical usage by shutting down several substations that supply power to the system's third rails. That means subways are moving a little bit slower.

The authority says it cuts back on power during heat waves between noon and 6 p.m. at the request of the New York State Power Authority.

On subway lines, passengers may notice reduced elevator and escalator service, to conserve energy. Some contracts with energy providers require the MTA to reduce power consumption during heat waves.

The MTA will also be running trains at reduced speed on Metro-North's New Haven Line, which is powered by overhead catenary wires that droop in extreme heat. "Trains are slowed so that pantographs — arm-like apparatus on the roof of the trains that draw the power from the catenary — do not get ensnared in catenary wires," a spokesman said.


More in:

Comments [4]

Scott from Woodstock, NY

Fine, how about this one.
PLEASE just buy and use more FANS!

Jun. 21 2012 04:39 PM
RickJohn57 from Kings Park

I can see the cost to benefit calculation of avoiding air-conditioning the vast majority of platforms. But MUCH more could be done. Air CAN be moved to keep people cool. Install some of those huge fans to make some fresh airflow on underground platforms. USE air conditioning in those small sealed off waiting areas.

There are perfect places where air conditioning CAN be used. I was waiting for a train in Jamaica last night and saw/appreciated a completely closed off on-platform space with the only benches. BUT when got inside it was a HOT BOX!!! I needed to sit for 45 minutes.

Closed off waiting spaces like the ones in Jamaica were apparently designed for the cold winter months. AT LEAST the design could utilize the heater's fans to move the air with the heaters off. The fans should be on a separate thermostatically controlled circuit so one thermostat turns on both heat and fans below freezing and the other thermostat turns on the fans above 80 degrees.

Why not use (and create) spaces to shield people from ALL types of harsh weather?

Jun. 21 2012 10:30 AM
Adarsh from Manhattan, NY

Actually, it is possible. There are subway stations around the world that are cooled. For instance, consider how the JFK airport airtrain works. In fact, it makes more sense and is more effective if the stations are cooled.

Jun. 21 2012 09:55 AM
Eli from Astoria

As much as cool stations would be amazing one can immediately see that it is not possible. I can only imagine the cost involved or if it is even possible on an engineering level.

Jun. 21 2012 09:37 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.


Latest Newscast




WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public


Supported by