How Joe Lhota Got New York City’s Subway Running Within 72 Hours Of Hurricane Sandy

joe lhota impressive people mta subway

[credit provider=”MTA”]

November’s Hurricane Sandy crippled the east coast of the United States, especially wreaking havoc on New York City.Besides destroying homes and office buildings here, the storm caused seven of 14 subway tunnels to flood, effectively shutting down all public transportation in the city of over 8 million people.

Joseph Lhota, the former chairman of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) — he resigned just a few days ago in preparation for a mayoral bid — jumped into action after the storm and got the subways running again within less than three days.

Within 72 hours of the storm hitting, those parts of the subway least affected by Sandy were fully operational. By the end of the week, trains were back up and running between Manhattan and Brooklyn and Queens.

How did he do it? He prepared.

Before the storm hit, Lhota shut down the subways early enough that the MTA could move equipment to dry, safe ground and position its three specialised pumping trains in strategic locations. The MTA also took some preventative measures like covering subway vents, placing sandbags at stations and creating barriers at subway entrances.

“Some of what they’re doing borders on the edge of magic,” Gene Russianoff, the staff lawyer for a subway rider advocacy group, told the New York Times’ Matt Flegenheimer.

Not everyone in the region displayed such foresight. The New York Post’s Michael Goodwin notes that officials in Jersey made no such preparations and paid a steep price. PATH train service from Hoboken is still suspended and some New Jersey Transit lines have not been fully restored.

Another Lhota achievement: creating a makeshift subway service in one of the most devastated neighbourhood in the whole city, Far Rockaways, Queens.

Flegenheimer reported that Lhota secured 20 subway cars — 60 feet long and 80,000 pounds each — and  loaded them onto flatbed trucks on the mainland part of Queens. They were then driven over the Cross Bay bridge and placed on rails. This special “H” train was able to serve the more than 50,000 people living in Rockaways.    

Throughout the ordeal, Lhota made sure the MTA was posting details. 

He also famously began Tweeting updates himself:

lhota tweet

[credit provider=”Joe Lhota/Twitter” url=”″]

That kind of transparency for a city official cannot be taken for granted. Nor should his dedication. Flegenheimer reported some phenomenal details showcasing Lhota’s whereabouts in advance of the storm: 

Mr. Lhota spent Monday night at a hotel in Midtown, near the authority’s headquarters on Madison Avenue. He got in around 3 a.m. and returned to the office hours later. In between, he found a deli open nearby. He ordered an omelet.

Lhota has only been in the job for a year, but his leadership experience is extensive. Governor Andrew Cuomo plucked him from the Madison Square Garden Co., where he was serving as executive vice president for administration. He’s also served as the NYC commissioner of finance, and was the NYC deputy mayor for operations under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, as well as budget director.

Many are now urging Lhota to run for mayor, and it seems that Lhota is seriously preparing for a mayoral campaign — he stepped down as MTA boss just two days ago, so he can legally be a candidate under City law.He said the decision to resign from the MTA is “bittersweet,” and that “It’s been a privilege to serve this governor,” according to The New York Post.

A bid has already been endorsed by The New York Post, the head of the state’s Conservative Party and Giuliani himself.

Lhota may have already cleared his greatest hurdle — the commenters on, one of whom gave Lhota an A- for his performance:

To basically have much of the subway system and most of the LIRR/Metro North within 5 days after mega flooding and trees all over tracks and streets is nothing short of brilliant.