Saving the subway during Sandy

A pretty compelling read in the NY Times Magazine about the efforts to save the Subway system during Sandy last year. The thing I found most interesting was the institutional memory of the system, and how critical that was to the success of the effort:

The most important thing you won’t be able to see in the next hurricane is the experience that a disaster brings with it. It is not as eye-catching as an experimental tunnel balloon, but Sandy showed that experience is the system’s most vital asset, the experience of people who knew how to deal with the giant pumping and breathing and excreting 660-mile-long passenger-rail system that shuttles a fleet of underground trains a cumulative 341 million miles a year. If a storm bigger than Sandy comes, nobody knows for sure what will happen, even with Slosh maps. But the M.T.A. will draw on the experience of those who have been through some version of it before.

Longtime transit employees like to say that in the ’70s, when transit had very little financing, the Stock Exchange didn’t open some days because the subway couldn’t get the workers to the floor. Back then, as after Sandy, what kept the system going was the passion of beleaguered employees — train nerds, really.

“There is a hypothetical R.C.I. in the field today,” Calandrella says, referring to a road car inspector, “who remembers having to fix five trains a day at each station in one location. There is not somebody with five years of experience who knows how to do that.”

Institutional memory, tribal knowledge, and shared culture are huge factors in overall success, and it’s nice to see that called out on something as big as saving the NYC subway system.

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