NEW YORK — The electricity that powers New York City’s subway system is delivered via an aging, overburdened network of circuits and technology dating back to the 1930s. That’s one reason why trains experienced 32,000 power-related delays over the past 12 months, according to state officials.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday promised that the system’s power provider, Con Edison, is now working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway system, on fixes and upgrades that will reduce delays substantially.
“Obviously we all know that the MTA and subway system in New York City is in crisis,” Cuomo said as he led reporters on a tour of the subway’s power system beneath Columbus Circle. “We’re doing everything we can to make a difference and make a difference quickly.”
He said the state’s utility regulator, the Public Service Commission, had directed Con Edison to take steps to reduce the number of power outages, including testing and repairing power substations, manhole equipment, cables, energy distribution rooms and signaling equipment.
“In the past, we have put Band-Aids over the entire system, because it’s an immense system, 600 miles of tracks, thousands of electrical devices all throughout the system, many devices decades old,” Cuomo said. This work, he promised, would be more comprehensive.
A full cost estimate for the work has yet to be produced, but Cuomo said “it will be in the tens of millions of dollars by the time it’s done.”
Some of the work, including installation of modern power meters and more advanced communications and monitoring technology, will be paid for by Con Edison. Other work will be paid for by the MTA.
Cuomo has been under pressure to reverse the decline of the aging subway system, which is enjoying its highest ridership level since the 1940s but has been plagued in recent months by overcrowding, equipment breakdowns and delays.
Cuomo and Con Edison Chairman and CEO John McAvoy descended into the subway tunnels Wednesday to view some of the electrical equipment responsible for many of those breakdowns.
Much of it is exposed to the dust, grime and humidity present everywhere in the subway system, which Cuomo said isn’t an ideal environment for electrical equipment in general.
Another major issue is that some electrical equipment has an outdated “fail safe” system that shuts the delivery system down, like a fuse, when there are small deviations in the power supply. Engineers then have to inspect the equipment in person before the flow can be restarted. In one room under the station, thousands of plugs buzz with electricity. If even one were to fail, the whole system fails, officials said.
Part of the work will include installing connection points where generators can be quickly plugged in to get parts of the system running when power is lost.
McAvoy said having more advanced monitoring devices in manholes will also give technicians near-immediate notifications of equipment or power-quality issues, enabling them to deploy repair crews potentially in time to avoid an impact on the train service.
Some of the work to perform upgrades or fix weak spots in the system will take six months. Other work will be done over a year, Cuomo and McAvoy said.