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MTA Mulling Subway Food Ban After Track Fire, Lhota Says

By Maya Rajamani | July 18, 2017 2:47pm | Updated on July 19, 2017 8:57am
 MTA Chair Joe Lhota speaks to reporters at Penn Station on Tuesday.
MTA Chair Joe Lhota speaks to reporters at Penn Station on Tuesday.
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DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani

MIDTOWN — The MTA is investing in new cleaning equipment and considering launching a program focused on foods that are “appropriate” to eat on the subway following a track fire sparked by trash that suspended two train lines Monday.

Nine people were injured and B and C trains were temporarily suspended after the blaze broke out near the 145th Street A/B/C/D station on St. Nicholas Avenue early Monday morning, FDNY officials said

MTA Chair Joe Lhota on Tuesday blamed trash on the tracks for the fire, leading to questions about straphangers eating food in the subway system and how that relates to garbage on the tracks. 

“These fires all start with trash being thrown down there,” Lhota told reporters at Penn Station Monday morning. “The goal is no fires, plain and simple.”

In response to a question about the possibility of banning food in the system, Lhota told reporters to wait for the 30-day “reorganization plan” the agency is working on following Cuomo’s “state of emergency” declaration for the MTA.

“We’re drafting it right now, and there have been a lot of recommendations about what foods are appropriate, what foods are not,” he said.

The MTA is considering implementing an “education program” aimed at teaching passengers which foods should and shouldn’t be eaten on the subway, he said, noting the agency hasn't made any decisions yet.

Additionally, the MTA is currently testing out two “portable vacuums” used to remove debris from the tracks and has has ordered 12 more of the devices to allow for more frequent track cleaning, Lhota said.

Last year, around 680 track fires broke out in stations around the city — an approximately 90 percent decrease from the number of fires that broke out in 1981, he added.

“We need to get to a point where there’s no trash in the system,” he said, adding that the MTA will also be investing in train-based vacuums that can clean the system overnight.

That could mean replacing trash receptacles that had been removed from platforms due to overcrowding, Lhota acknowledged.

Regarding the food issue, Lhota said he recently saw a passenger on the 2 train get on and start eating Chinese food from a Styrofoam container filled with “a lot of rice."

"Inevitably, the rice fell — it was all over the place," he said.

Packaged items like protein bars, on the other hand, make less of a mess in the transit system.

“Some things work, some things don’t,” Lhota added.