- Associated Press - Monday, March 23, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - Responding to public outcry over deteriorating subway service, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said Monday it is launching an internal review to examine how to cut down on delays.

The unusually harsh winter caused ice buildup on rails, higher rates of equipment failure and more track fires from the salt and debris on the tracks, MTA officials said. But they acknowledged at a committee meeting that bad weather was not an excuse for poor service.

New MTA data shows only about 74 percent of subway trains arrived at their terminals at the end of the line on time, compared to 80 percent last year. And total delays rose 36 percent to nearly 43,000 per month, compared to about 31,600 per month last year, the data shows.

“We recognize our service is not where it needs to be,” said Joe Leader, senior vice president of the subway system. “And we are committed to improving our riders’ experience.”

Nearly 13,000 delays in January were caused by overcrowding, and only a small fraction - about 2,800 - were directly attributed to inclement weather, according to the data.

NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said he has asked the MTA’s subway team to compile a report on what went wrong and expects the results within a month. But he cautioned that the delay numbers are not an accurate measure of how long riders are stuck on the platform waiting for trains because the MTA sometimes holds trains at a terminal to prevent them from bunching together.

According to another MTA metric, wait times actually went down 1.5 percent, said MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

The spate of unusually bad service comes at an inopportune time for the MTA, which implemented fare increases Sunday, part of a series of scheduled price hikes to help keep the agency financially solvent.

Last week, commuters dealt with multiple track fires and rail problems on several trains that caused lengthy delays during rush hour, problems that have become seemingly commonplace in recent months. On one freezing day in February, ice built up on the third rail in Queens, causing a power failure that led to a complete shutdown of service on the 7 train.

In January and February, trains were often delayed during morning rush-hour because the MTA had to store subway cars underground overnight 19 times. That created delays the morning after, when engineers had to search for their cars underground, officials said.

Making matters worse, there were 102 track fires in January - compared to 78 in January 2014 - partly because cleaning staff were diverted from their regular duties to deal with problems caused by the weather.

“While this system is, in some places, 110 years old, we can do better than where we are today,” Bianco said.

The MTA is trying to address some of the weather-related issues. Third-rail heaters have since been installed at the station where the rail froze, Leader said.

But officials cautioned that the majority of delays were simply caused by overcrowding. Subway ridership is at an all-time high, with about 6 million people cramming underground on the busiest days.

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