Why New York's subway system should be a model for others

Among the recent tragedies of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is the public transportation sector. The New York subway system is the largest subway system in the United States and the fifth largest in the world. It is also arguably one of the most efficient. It took a 13.2-foot storm surge to force its shutdown. Seven tunnels were flooded and all 650 miles of the subway system were shut down for a week.

Now, only one week after the storm, 80 percent of the subway system has been restored. Just three tunnels remain flooded and all major lines are reopened. The amount of damage inflicted on the other tracks must be assessed and the problems fixed before they are reopened.

Over eight million people rely on the public transportation system in New York, so a speedy return of the transit system is crucial. Now, though most lines are running again, the trains are passing less often and are significantly more crowded during rush hour.

However, the astoundingly prompt recovery of this system should be noted by all major cities with a public transportation system upon which a large percentage of the population depend. Had it happened to most other cities, they would not have fared as well as New York.

Courtesy of Paul Lowry/Flickr

The fact that took just one week for New York City to reopen 80 percent of its subway system is incredible. It might be difficult to comprehend what a triumph this is until a city with a less efficient public transit system goes through the same ordeal. Hurricane Sandy is unlike anything the New York subway has ever faced. In its 108-year-old history, it has rarely closed. The amount of damage from the corrosive sea water could have been disastrous and in any other city, it would have longer-lasting and much more costly effects.


Pumping out millions of gallons of water a day and working day and night to assess the situation, Mayor Bloomberg has managed this natural disaster with admirable efforts. New York’s speedy recovery should be a cautionary tale; hopefully other cities will now adjust for any future crises.