Transit Shutdown Likely If Hurricane Irene Hits New York

08/26/2011 10:52 am ET | Updated Oct 26, 2011

By Andrew Grossman, Wall Street Journal

New York City’s mass-transit system could shut down for much of the weekend if Hurricane Irene arrives as is currently predicted, Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Jay Walder said Thursday evening.

The transit agency, which runs the city’s subways, buses and several commuter trains, can’t guarantee the safety of riders and employees if sustained winds reach above 39 miles per hour, Walder said. Even a weakened Irene would bring winds in excess of that speed, making it likely that the MTA will start shutting down service Saturday morning. There could be lingering delays and service outages into Monday’s morning rush hour.

It takes at least eight hours to shut down the nation’s largest mass-transit system, Walder said. The MTA’s network of rail, subway and bridges stretches from Long Island’s East End to the Hudson Valley and up the Connecticut coast.

The subway system is especially vulnerable to flooding. On an average day, 13 million gallons of water are pumped out of it.

Walder said the MTA, which owns the nation’s largest bus fleet, would work to help carry out any evacuations ordered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo before shutting down.

An early shutdown would be unprecedented, Walder said. The announcement comes after the agency revamped its foul-weather planning in the wake of last December’s blizzard, which left the city paralyzed.

During that storm, the transit agency stumbled and didn’t stop service ahead of the snows. As a result, some passengers got stuck on subway trains between stations for extended periods. Buses were stuck across the city for days. As a result, service resumed slowly.

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