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from the NYTimes:

Two of the city's subway lines - the A and the C - have been crippled and may not return to normal capacity for three to five years after a fire Sunday afternoon in a Lower Manhattan transit control room that was started by a homeless person trying to keep warm, officials said yesterday.

The blaze, at the Chambers Street station used by the A and C lines, was described as doing the worst damage to subway infrastructure since the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. It gutted a locked room that is no larger than a kitchen but that contains some 600 relays, switches and circuits that transmit vital information about train locations.

The A line will run roughly one-third the normal number of trains - meaning that riders who used to wait six minutes for a train might now have to wait 18 minutes - while the C train will cease to exist as a separate line, at least for the time being. The C will be replaced by the V in Brooklyn. Long waits and erratic service are likely to be the norm on the two lines, which have a combined ridership of 580,000 each weekday.

"This is a very significant problem, and it's going to go on for quite a while," said Lawrence G. Reuter, the president of New York City Transit. He estimated it would take "several millions of dollars and several years" to reassemble and test the intricate network of custom-built switch relays that were destroyed in the blaze, which officials believe began when the homeless person - who has not been found - set fire to wood and refuse in a shopping cart in the tunnel about 50 feet north of the Chambers Street station.

The flames quickly spread to a series of electrical cables. "Those cables short-circuited as a result of the fire, causing arcing as well as fire inside a relay room," said a Fire Department spokesman, Michael R. Loughran.

The fire underscored the fragility of the antiquated equipment that keeps the subways moving and of the sensitive nodes where that equipment is stored. Officials said they believed that there were only two companies in the world that were able to repair the signals. One is based in Pittsburgh, and the other in Paris.

An expert on the city's subways expressed amazement that a single fire in a confined space could have such a long-lasting impact. "It seems astonishing that a single signal room would be so central to the operation of the line that it would take five years to recover from," said Clifton Hood, a transit historian at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. "That's about as long as it took to build that entire line of the IND."

Homeless people have been known to frequent the Chambers Street station. As a policy, the police do not eject them from the subway system during freezing weather, and the fire was an indication of the extensive use of subway tunnels as shelter. An April 2004 estimate by the city put the number of homeless people in the subway in Manhattan and Brooklyn at 582, but advocates for the homeless say there are far more.
too bad i take only the B and D tho :p but yea that does suck. come to think about maybe thats why it took so long for the b/c to get to 135th
This could be an attempt by the MTA to push quickly for higher fares. Worse damage than on Sept. 11...maybe they are getting nostalgic.
That's what the MTA get for letting the homeless ride for free... You guys wanna meet up for lunch at Bo-KY??? embarassedlaugh.gif2
Bo-Ky?! Shiet.. my store is right around the corner.. I'm down girl! Yeah and this is pretty messed up.. It's going to affect a lot of people that I know.
I have't been to Bo-KY since last yr... oh I'm missing their flavor bawling.gif
yeah food is great there. I just had it the other day. My store is so close to it, so i order from them often. I know the owners.
dang and i live in south ozone park, i need the A!!!

C Train Is Back, Years Ahead of 1st Estimate

At first, the estimate was grim, a subway rider's nightmare. It could take up to five years to get the A and C trains running normally after a fire in an underground signal relay room last month.

Then the forecast improved: transit officials said it would take only six to nine months to fix the disruptions.

Now the estimate has come down once more. The new prognosis for restoration of most service on the subway lines?

Today. Just nine days and 15 hours after the fire.

The president of New York City Transit, Lawrence G. Reuter, announced yesterday that C trains would begin running again at 5 a.m. and that the A train would run at nearly its regular frequency, after what he called a herculean effort by repair workers toiling nonstop in 12-hour shifts since Jan. 23, when a fire at the Chambers Street station in Lower Manhattan halted the C and crippled service on the A, the third-busiest line in the system.

Peak-hour service on the two lines will be at 70 percent of normal frequency on Manhattan-bound trains and 80 percent on Brooklyn-bound trains, Mr. Reuter said, and service at other times will be close to normal, except for partial shutdowns on occasional nights and weekends as repairs continue.

With the revival of C service between 168th Street in Manhattan and Euclid Avenue in Brooklyn, the V train, which had replaced the C in Brooklyn, will resume its normal route between Forest Hills, Queens, and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The B train, which has run more frequently at peak hours to serve riders on the West Side, will return to its normal schedule.

The new timetable was only the latest episode in a bizarre chapter that began when the relay room, which transmitted vital information about train positions and movement, was gutted by a mysterious fire. On Monday, fire investigators said they had all but ended their investigation into the blaze, concluding only that the cause was "not ascertained."

Mr. Reuter's initial estimate that service on the two lines could be impaired for three to five years was met with bewilderment from riders, outrage from public officials, widespread attention from the news media and incredulity from historians, who noted that the entire first segment of the Independent Subway System, including the A and C lines, was built in seven years, from 1925 to 1932.

Mr. Reuter later apologized to the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, of which his agency is the largest component, for the incorrect estimate, and said that regular service could be restored in six to nine months.

Only on Monday night, Mr. Reuter said yesterday, did it become clear that C service could be restored far more quickly than expected. He added, however, that full or regular service would not return for at least three months and it could take several years to repair or replace the damaged equipment.

Borrowing relays from other areas of the subway system, officials said, signal engineers devised a "very basic, temporary automatic signaling" system that will permit trains to run with automatic signal protection.

That means workers will not have to clear every A and C train passing through the area around Chambers Street, as they have done since the fire.

"Some people might have called this a Rube Goldberg operation," Mr. Reuter said in describing the signaling system that will be in temporary use for at least several months. He later added, "The engineers are literally drawing it on backs of paper right now."

Mr. Reuter emphasized that he believed the trains using the temporary signaling configuration would be "just as safe as the rest of the system is now."

During peak hours, the time between trains will be about 5 minutes on the A line, instead of the usual 3 to 5 minutes, and 10 minutes on the C line, instead of the usual 7 minutes. In sum, 18 trains - 12 on the A line and 6 on the C - will operate in the peak Manhattan-bound direction during rush hours, down from the usual 26.

The handling of the fire's aftermath has been an embarrassment for Mr. Reuter, 54, who took over New York City Transit in 1996 after leading the metropolitan transit agencies in San Jose, Calif. and Washington.
od job at confusing riders," he said.
i hate public transportation...our trains here in Chicago are old and delapidated...they actually make announcements when the train is going to be on time rather than make them when it's late...people have just gotten used to it being late and take an earlier train just to get to work on time

the downtown trains (we call it the "L" for elevated) are much better since they're constantly running
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