Call it Metro schadenfreude: As New York’s subway woes worsen, Washingtonians offer sympathy


Transit advocates hold a rush-hour rally outside New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in June to protest train delays and MTA shutdowns. Now that New York’s subway system is having major problems, commuters in Washington feel their pain after experiencing SafeTrack. (Kathy Willens/AP)

When Washington Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans arrived at the panel’s general meeting last month, he carried a copy of the New York Post featuring a characteristically provocative front page recounting the latest troubles of that city’s subway.

“For F’s sake,” read the headline, with a clever insertion of the orange symbol for New York’s “F” train. “Fix the subways!”

Evans used the headline as an opportunity for reflection on his own troubled transit system.

“Not that misery loves company . . . but I think this is another indicator that every one of the six subway systems throughout America is struggling with the same issues,” Evans said. “We’re not alone in this.”

Evans, it seems, is suffering from the affliction affecting many in the region: an acute case of subway schadenfreude — a slightly perverse sense of satisfaction in watching the failures of the nation’s premiere transit agency.

A look at the recent state of affairs at New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) will probably ring familiar to D.C.-area commuters. In the last several months, chronic breakdowns and track problems have caused rush-hour meltdowns and lengthy, widespread delays. Late last year, protections for workers became a major cause for concern after one longtime employee was struck and killed by a passing train in a tunnel.

Two weeks ago, a derailment in Upper Manhattan may have been caused by equipment left on the tracks, resulting in at least 30 injuries. And soon thereafter, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) declared that the MTA was in a state of emergency and pledged an additional $1 billion to the MTA’s capital budget to expedite improvements.

Suddenly, Metro isn’t looking so bad, right?

“Some of these stories about what’s going on in New York — you could take out the proper nouns and insert ‘Washington’ and they’d make sense,” said Zachary M. Schrag, a historian at George Mason University and author of the seminal Metro tome, “The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro.” “So I guess that’s somewhat of a consolation.”

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