NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The Metropolitan Transportation Authority was warning customers Friday that service shutdowns are possible as Hurricane Sandy gets closer to New York.
The agency announced that the potential for high winds and heavy rains early next week could make it unsafe to operate subway, buses and railroad lines.
“Our first priority is always safety, and the MTA is taking no chances with the safety of our customers, our employees and our equipment,” MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota said in a press release. “We are hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. Whatever happens, we’ll be ready.”
The last time the MTA suspended service system-wide was during Tropical Storm Irene last August.
So far, no service has been suspended in advance of the storm, but the MTA said its hurricane plan calls for “an orderly shutdown of service before the arrival of sustained winds of 39 mph or higher. “
During a press conference Friday afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said everyone should plan to go to school and everyone should plan to go to work on Monday. The mayor added the city will issue another storm update on Saturday.
“If it is a regular rainy day, the MTA will continue to work — they run rain or shine,” Bloomberg said. “If it becomes a significant storm…with winds more than 39 mph… then the MTA may suspend service, but it is too soon to tell.”
“We live on the shore – that is why forecasting weather is very hard to do,” the mayor added, when asked about the storm’s track. ”It is likely to hit somewhere between Virginia and Massachusetts.”
The MTA did cancel planned subway service changes for construction projects this weekend, with the exception of changes planned for the 7 and J lines. They are scheduled through Saturday only.
Crews were inspecting and clearing drains and pump rooms throughout the subway system as well as checking and cleaning flood-prone areas, officials said.
Crews were also prepared to remove trains from outdoor yards, cover subway ventilation grates vulnerable to flooding and move buses that normally park in low-lying depots to higher ground.
Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road personnel were stockpiling material, clearing culverts, ditches and swales of debris and getting together pumps, cranes, generators, and other equipment, officials said.
The MTA said crews will be prepared to remove gates from LIRR crossings in advance of the storm if necessary, to protect them from high winds. Service must be suspended if crossing gates are to be removed.
The MTA was also taking precautions at its bridges and tunnels. Drains were being cleared, construction areas were being secured, backup generators were being put in place and response vehicles were being readied to help motorists who may become stranded.
Speed and vehicle restrictions may be put in place depending on the severity of the storm. officials said.
Click here for more information and to monitor any further changes of MTA service.
NJ Transit said by Monday morning, widespread cancellations or delays could be announced.
“What we would encourage our customers to do is to number one have a plan, to think ahead so see what would happen if there was an interruption in service. Number two, to monitor news outlets such as Channel 2, number three, to monitor NJTRANSIT.com for the latest information,” said spokesman John Durso, Jr.
Meanwhile, Some U.S. airlines were giving travelers a way out if they want to scrap their plans due to Hurricane Sandy.
JetBlue, US Airways and Spirit Airlines are offering waivers to customers who wish to reschedule their flights without paying the typical fee of up to $150. The offers cover passengers flying just about anywhere from Latin America to New Hampshire.
Most other airlines are monitoring the storm and plan to update passengers later Friday. The airlines have only canceled a handful of flights so far, nearly all of them in and out of Florida and the Caribbean.