The history of who’s in charge of NYC subways

Bobby Cuza at NY1

The latest front in the ongoing feud between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio has been the question of just who is responsible for city subways. But as NY1’s Bobby Cuza explains, while the personalities may have changed, the subway system has been a political football since its inception.

Thursday, Gov. Cuomo and the MTA sought to shift responsibility for the ailing subways to the city.

“For anyone to say, ‘Not my problem; it’s the state’s problem,’ they don’t know the law,” said MTA Chairman Joe Lhota. “They don’t know the history.”

But history says the MTA is a creature of the state.

Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and Mayor John Lindsay broke ground together on the Second Avenue Subway, but years earlier they jockeyed for control of the agency.

Rockefeller prevailed in 1968, bringing the subways under the umbrella of the newly-formed MTA.

“He had a great idea: he took over the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, with all its tolls and bridges, tossed Robert Moses overboard, and he merged the Long Island Rail Road, what was then Metro-North, part of Amtrak, and the New York City subways into the MTA,” Mitchell Moss of the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation.

Originally, the subway was privately-owned and operated. But the city-owned IND line opened in 1932, and under Mayor La Guardia the city assumed control of the entire system in 1940.

The problem, then and now, was that the subways lost money. Yet, raising fares was politically unpopular.

So in 1953, the subways were removed from political control and given over to a new independent entity called the New York City Transit Authority.

That governance structure — a board of political appointees — essentially remains today.

But the governor gets the most appointees, picks the MTA chairperson, and has at times exerted considerable control over the agency.

“The state is really operating the system,” Moss said. “These are unions which are under the state’s domain, and the financing is the state’s responsibility.”

The city, meanwhile, has been virtually powerless over the subway’s day-to-day operations for 50 years.

One exception was the 7 line extension, which was financed by the city and pushed through by Mayor Bloomberg, who took a ceremonial ride in 2013, well before the extension actually opened.

Cuomo, of course, put himself front-and-center when the Second Avenue Subway opened. He’s been less eager to claim responsibility for recent breakdowns.

Comments o Mark Tomlonson’s History of NY Central

July 21, 1958 The New York Central begins carrying mail between Chicago and Detroit in special “Flexi-Van” containers. The vans designated for mail are equipped with side doors. “Flexi-Van” service is expended to Boston and St. Louis.
Comment: Too little and too late.

July 22, 1920 William K. Vanderbilt dies. His son, Harold S. Vanderbilt inherits half of his father’s fortune and takes the family seat on the New York Central Board.
Comment: See the story on Robert Young taking over the NY Central from the Vanderbilts:

July 22, 1942 The United States begins compulsory civilian gasoline rationing due to World War II. The rationing will cause rail ridership, which has been in a steady decline since 1916, to markedly increase. This increase will cause many railroads to invest heavily in new passenger equipment after the war.
Comment: AGAIN, Too little and too late.

July 23, 1966 In a combination publicity stunt and test of how track functions under high speeds, a New York Central jet powered Rail Diesel Car hits 183.85 mph near Stryker, OH. Some of the data obtained from the test will be used in the design of the Metroliners.

July 20, 1906 The New York Central & Hudson River Railroad tests the first electric locomotives in New York City.
Comment: They were first tested just West of Schenectady in Scotia, NY

July 20, 1948 The Chicago Railroad Fair opens to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Chicago railroads.
Comment: See full story on rail fair:

July 17, 1938 The Wheeling & Lake Erie ends passenger service.

July 17, 1957 The New Haven and the New York Central test EMD’s FL-9 locomotive, capable of running from its own diesel prime movers or from a third rail.
Comment: New Haven liked them and bought; then they ended up on NY Central

July 17, 1957 The New York Central ends its “Travel Tailored Schedules”, returning to head-end equipment leading long, slow trains. Alfred J. Perlman has designed the new policy to drive away passengers and make train discontinuance easier.
Comment: Nobody likes “long, slow trains” especially express and mail shippers

July 15, 1979 The Kent-Barry-Eaton Connecting Railway starts operations between Grand Rapids and Vermontville on former Grand Valley/MC/NYC/PC/CR trackage. It is the first railroad in the U.S. operated by African-Americans.

July 12, 1903 The New York Central and the Rock Island open LaSalle Street Station in Chicago. The new station gives the New York Central an edge over rival Pennsylvania, still operating in an antiquated Union Station lacking in passenger amenities.
Comment: find out more on Chicago stations

July 7, 1853 The ten railroads linking Albany and Buffalo file papers with the Secretary of State of New York forming the New York Central. It becomes the largest railroad in the U.S. in terms of mileage, capitalization and net worth. (Some sources say May 17)
Comment: Read about Erastus Corning