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Queens Chronicle

Snowbound A train riders sue the MTA

Straphangers in Dec. 2010 blizzard trapped for hours between stations

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Posted: Thursday, December 29, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:19 pm, Thu Jan 5, 2012.

Several passengers who were stranded on an A train subway during last December’s blizzard are suing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Numerous published sources say about 25 of the passengers filed suit in Queens Supreme Court seeking unspecified damages.

The blizzard of Dec. 26 and 27, 2010, shut down much of the city.

Roads and public transportation in many places came to a standstill as the storm dropped 20 or more inches of snow in some areas.

Many in Queens and other outer boroughs complained that the Department of Sanitation did not plow some roads until a week after the storm.

Mayor Bloomberg came under criticism for a breakdown in the chain of command while he was out of the city before and during the storm.

And the storm also, in the words of the MTA, “crippled the system.”

In a hearing on Dec. 6, New York City Transit President Tom Prendergast said operators simply forgot about the A train in the system-wide confusion, calling it “inexcusable.”

The passengers on the A train claim they were stuck for eight hours between stations with no heat, food or water, while other published reports place the time at closer to five hours. Attorney Aymen Aboushi of Manhattan, who is representing the passengers, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. In a statement issued Tuesday, the MTA did not address the issue of the lawsuit directly.

“In the aftermath of last year’s blizzard, we have implemented a series of changes to improve our performance in future storms, including creating protocols to suspend service in harsh conditions and assigning a rider advocate to ensure customer safety and comfort,” said an MTA spokesman.

On Dec. 6, the MTA described some of those measures, including the appointment of an emergency coordinator to run storm response and information sharing; establishment of a situation room to manage storm activities; posting more and detailed information on the MTA website, and adoption of “preemptive curtailment of service” when weather situations could make continuing operations untenable.

“The most important shift in agency thinking was moving away from the philosophy that we will deliver service until we can’t,” Prendergast said. “We learned from last year’s storm that at some point it was safer and more prudent to temporarily suspend service.”

Gene Russianoff, staff lawyer and spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, said they did not have any comment on the merits of the lawsuit. But he said some of the MTA’s adjustments are good or at least sensible ones, like the appointment of customer service advocates.

“They also are looking to buy some high-powered snow removal equipment,” Russianoff said. “Though some of it won’t be available until next year, which I don’t understand.”

He said the option of suspending service in a timely, orderly fashion is a good one to have, and that the blizzard likely played a role in the decision to shut down services during Hurricane Irene in August.

“They say they can’t really operate elevated trains when winds hit 35 miles per hour,” Russianoff said. “People aren’t going to ridicule you for having the salt and plows ready in the event you need them. Ideally, you won’t need to shut down the system. But there are probably times when that is the prudent thing to do.”

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