On Friday I had drinks at Pianos with a lovely girl. We struck up a conversation with a man about five Jack and Cokes in the hole; six when we bought him another. He said he was a subway engineer. He’s been in New York about five months; before that, Singapore. I’d tell you a little bit more about him but he talked rather frankly about his work, and I’d hate to put him in a tight spot. He said he’s a part of what he calls “The Boys.” They are a fairly static core group of international engineers who travel around the world building subways. They’re in New York working on several projects, all of them hinged upon a successful New York City bid for the 2012 Olympics. We asked him, What happens if New York does not win the 2012 Olympic bid? Well, he said, The Boys go home. It’s basically all over. We’ll know by 2005. Even the Second Avenue subway? He shrugged. They’ll never win the bid without more transportation infrastructure, and if they don’t start now, they’ll never finish by 2012 if they do happen to win the bid. The Boys, he said, are the guys you bring in when you’re serious. The reasons you have to bring in outside talent are that the States are behind in the latest technologies, that New York is forced to deal with its existing infrastructure—a patchwork of mistakes and solutions too expensive to replace—and that the subway engineers in New York haven’t built a subway in more than 25 years. They think they know how to build a subway, he said, but they don’t. He also said that The Boys are used to all the games: they know politics, corruption, unions, and just general human cussedness. There are a few bright fellows in New York, he said, but it’s hard at first to tell who they are. So you keep an eye on them. One, two, three strikes: the losers, fakers, roadblocks and incompetents soon make themselves apparent, and so you simply work around them. What do they do, we asked him, if they’re supposed to be building the subways but are excluded? Well, we let them stare out the window, he said, because they’re not going to work with us. One of the transportation projects The Boys are likely working on is the long-planned, long-awaited Second Avenue subway line. Another is the Seventh Avenue connector which will bring the cross-town 7 line to a yet-to-be-built stadium above the Penn Station rail yards, which will include a drastic re-zoning of the west side, and much profiteering by developers. Some Hell’s Kitchen residents are already protesting what they see as lies, double-dealing and political log-rolling. This project is also known as the Hudson Yard plan and is linked to the impending federally-funded new Penn Station being made from the grand marble post office. There is also the East Side Connector (variably known as the East Side Access or the LIRR Connector) which will bring the Long Island Railroad into Grand Central through a tunnel to handle the double-decker trains. Also involved is the Sunnyside Yard Station Then there’s the La Guardia Airport Access Project, basically a subway spur, which with the East Side Access project has been allocated $1.7 billion for design. There are various plans, some proposing the spur connect from the N line, some proposing it connect from the 7, the results of NIMBY behavior. Another project is the World Trade Center transportation hub, which may end up being paired with the Fulton Street Transit Center which will connect the WTC PATH, E and N/R trains to the Fulton Street Station which already serves the 2, 3, 4, 5, A, C, J, M and Z. There may be something happening in New Jersey, as well, which could be connected to the 7 line extension, itself part of New York’s Olympic X transportation plan in the 2012 bid. There is some public confusion about what role may or may not be played by New Jersey Transit. Many of the plans being executed in New York City are part of a larger regional plan, but not always.
Posted May 13, 2003