MTA Chairman Jay Walder gave transit reporters a good story this afternoon. Then, within hours, his press office had taken it away.
At the end of an informal briefing about budget cuts, a reporter asked Walder about the city and state comptrollers deciding to audit the way the MTA disrupts service--usually on weekends, late at night, or in the middle of the day--to allow for track work to proceed. Walder began by saying he welcomed the audit, and then continued to talk for about 10 minutes on the topic.
In short, he wondered whether the problem wasn't that the MTA's service changes weren't disruptive enough--in the sense that if a longer stretch of track were put out of service, contractors might be able to get more done quickly and make the pain short and intense rather than long and drawn out.
Walder also made clear that, while no decisions were made, line outages were seriously under consideration. He said Tom Prendergast, the head of New York City Transit, came to him recently and asked Walder's permission to study shutting down lines to make construction work easier. Walder said he gave his permission but hadn't received a report back.
That was at about 2 p.m. Around 6, WNYC got a call from an MTA press officer who said shutting down "entire lines" was not under consideration. Instead, the MTA is seriously considering shutting down "a major segment" of certain subway lines.
Of course, the MTA already shuts down parts of subway lines all the time. So there's not much news there. No controversy, no drama, no clear message to fit into a headline or 45-second radio story. Just a lot of split hairs over what "major segment" means.
Walder had, however, given the impression he really was talking about enitre lines. No tape recorders were allowed, so we can't go back and check -- or replay -- his exact words. But he described how in London, where he used to work, they would shut down the entire Jubilee Line--because it has only one track in each direction, and no option to divert local service to express tracks or vice versa. "No service on the Jubilee Line," was the way the announcement was worded, Walder said. (That's a lot simpler than, "the downtown 4 will be running local from Union Square to Brooklyn Bridge. No Number 4 service from Brooklyn Bridge to Utica Avenue.")
"It's a fair question," he said at another point, whether it makes sense "to shut down a line."
Did Walder misunderstand what Prendergast was doing? Had the study already concluded that entire lines shouldn't be jeopardized? Was the press office killing an idea that had seen the light of day? It's not clear.
From a subway operations point of view, it may not make much difference whether the entire line is shut down or just part of it. Why would you want to work on the entire 31 miles of the A line all at one time?
But from the media's point of view, the advantages of shutting down an entire line are enormous.
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