The unprecedented, widespread MTA shutdown began as of two hours ago, because of the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene. 1010Wins has been asking listeners: "What do you think: better safe than sorry, or total overreaction?" Two MTA insiders answered that question for us, one of whom came down critically on the MTA's plans: "This is the worst case of overreaction I've ever seen. Its going to be rainy and windy tomorrow."

The insider, who is a retired former employee of MTA NYC Transit, further said: "If the storm is as bad as they say it is, shutting down the most vulnerable sections of the subway might make sense at midnight on Saturday. But the whole system? I don't think so."

Transit historian Peter Derrick, who worked for the MTA from 1982 to 1996, was also dubious about the reaction, but gave more credit to the MTA management:

I also have my doubts as to whether they needed to shut the whole subway system down, but leave it to transit management to have made the right decision on this, since they know much more of the details than I. One key concern, as mentioned in a Times article this morning, was flooding of the subway yards, possibly affecting 200 trains, which is probably about 2000 cars (of a total of about 6000). All of the forecasts I have heard recently say that we will be getting lots and lots of rain, even if the winds might not be so bad.

According to the Encyclopedia of New York City, there have been three other major hurricanes that have produced significant damage to NYC, two of which led to some (but not total) transit shutdowns:

  • On September 3, 1821, a hurricane passed the city near Jamaica Bay destroying thousands of trees—high tide was nine feet above normal, a record for the time, and there was flooding in The Battery (later, Battery Park) and much of downtown Manhattan.
  • On September 21, 1938, the Long Island-New England hurricane dropped 4.05 inches of rain, with wind blowing at 35 MPH, and gusts of 80 MPH. Tidal surge was nine feet in the East River, causing flooding, and the subways stopped running for a time, with widespread power outages.
  • Then on November 25, 1950, the Appalachian wind storm with gusts up to 90 MPH hit Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, and high tides closed LaGuardia Airport.

Update: Derrick added one more comment about the MTA shutdown: "The more I think about it, I believe that the shutdown of the MTA system should have happened about 6 PM today, not at 12 Noon."