The Little Pump Trains That Could, but Didn’t

Good morning. It’s another wet Wednesday. We’ll look at how the subway system prepares for heavy rain, the kind that didn’t hit New York yesterday despite the predictions. We’ll also look at a question for would-be lawyers in New York that some say should not be asked.

Credit…Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

There were a couple of subway trains that weren’t late on Tuesday — they did not run at all. And officials of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority were happy.

The trains were so-called pump trains that can pull as much as 5,000 gallons of water a minute from flooded subway stations. It’s tempting to say they are reverse fire trucks, taking in water instead of spraying it out, but they do not chase flames and smoke. Perhaps they are more like the giant vacuums that the insurance company sends in if you have a flood in your basement. (And a good insurance policy.)

The transit agency has five of them in its fleet. They are painted yellow, like all work trains on the subway. They once carried passengers; now they carry pipes and hoses along with machinery to drive water from car to car to a hose that reaches up to ventilation shaft and out of a tunnel. They are frightfully noisy. The Daily News, writing about pump trains after Hurricane Sandy, likened the sound of their diesel engines to “a tank rolling through a village in a World War II movie.”

You did not hear that sound on Tuesday because the storm that prompted a travel advisory from the city parked itself over Connecticut and New Jersey, and the pump trains stayed put, fueled and ready but not needed.

The potential for scattered flash floods in New York lasted until late afternoon, the National Weather Service said, but Central Park recorded only 0.18 inch of rain, a fraction of the drenching amounts reported in Connecticut, where the ground was parched after a couple of weeks of drought conditions. Some 5.85 inches fell in Norwich and 4.76 inches in Newtown. Nearly 3.5 inches fell in Waldwick, N.J.

Still, transit officials were worried, because the city’s underground lifeline is vulnerable to water. As my colleagues Winnie Hu and Anne Barnard wrote last year, when storms flooded parts of the subway system, transit work crews routinely stop leaks. The subway tunnels reach through underground springs that were supposed to have been plugged up long ago, but sometimes they bubble up.

The transit agency says it pumps out 13 million gallons a day, and that’s on a dry day. It does that without the pump trains, which are rolled out only when there is extreme weather — more severe than on Tuesday, at least in New York City. The daily pumping is done by 289 “pump plants,” hidden rooms that collect water from the track drainage system.


Tuesday’s storm system is not gone yet. Expect pockets of rain as it moves away. The sky will remain mostly cloudy during the day with temperatures in the low 70s. At night, the air will be damp and mild with showers or drizzle in spots, with temperatures approaching the mid-60s.


In effect until Sept. 26 (Rosh Hashana).

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How much should would-be lawyers have to disclose about the past?

Credit…Mary Inhea Kang for The New York Times

A single question could keep Dylan James from becoming a lawyer, and it’s not even on the bar exam.

It’s Question No. 26 on the application that would-be lawyers have to fill out after they take the dreaded two-day test, with its 200 multiple-choice questions and its six essay questions.

Question No. 26 is not a multiple-choice question, but it is not exactly an essay question, either. James, above, is a second-year student at the CUNY School of Law. He hopes the question will be dropped.

It asks prospective lawyers to list their criminal records — their complete criminal records, even juvenile cases or convictions that were sealed or expunged. James, 30, used a gun to steal from an acquaintance when he was a senior in high school. He spent about three years in prison in Florida for armed robbery.

Question No. 26 has drawn criticism: Legal experts say it’s probably illegal to require the disclosure of cases from applicants’ teenage years, or convictions for which they were later cleared. Critics say it could limit diversity in a field that has struggled to diversify. White people represent more than 80 percent of lawyers nationally; the ranks of Black lawyers have thinned out slightly in the last 10 years.

State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan, introduced a bill in the spring that would limit the criminal record question to unsealed convictions of adult offenders.My colleague Troy Closson, who covers law enforcement and criminal justice in New York, says that the administrative board of the state’s court system has also been asked to take up the issue.

The courts’ administrative board rejected appeals for changes to the question in 2018 and 2021. The group — led by the acting chief judge, Anthony Cannataro — meets this month, though it has not signaled whether it will take up the issue. Lucian Chalfen, a courts spokesman, said in a statement that the question “continues to be under review.”

It’s not unusual for licensing applications to ask about felonies, misdemeanors, and pending criminal cases — the applications for bus drivers, registered nurses, social workers and teachers in New York all do. But only the application for lawyers demands details on sealed convictions, juvenile cases and arrests.

The idea is to determine whether an applicant is of “good moral character.” Among lawyers who favor keeping Question No. 26, one concern is that candidates could slip by despite serious wrongdoing. Rape cases, for example, often have lower chances of ending in convictions.

Some officials put the question of what to do about Question No. 26 in a larger context: they say the public’s trust in fundamental institutions has slipped so much that assuring the integrity of lawyers matters more than ever. Others maintain that many people of color have long lacked faith in the system, and that the legal profession’s established rules should be rethought to regain their confidence.

“It should be an individualized process that really homes in on the totality of a person’s character, with no automatic disqualifiers,” said Jonathan Lippman, a former chief judge of the state’s highest court. “In some cases, maybe there are certain things we don’t have to know.”

Metropolitan Diary

Q60 bus

Dear Diary:

An older woman boarded the Q60 bus at one of its stops along Queens Boulevard. She was pulling a plum-colored suitcase and a striped tote bag behind her.

“I’m going to Florida,” she announced to no one in particular as she walked down the aisle. “By myself! I don’t care. I hate how cold it gets here. I’ll deal with the humidity.”

I thought it was a bit odd for her to be grousing in the middle of July about how cold New York could be. In any case, I think she found a seat.

“Florida — that’s where I’m going,” I heard her say emphatically from the rear of the bus.

I was sitting in one of the single seats near the window. Two other older women were standing near me, talking matter-of-factly about a friend’s dog that had to be put down. They pursed their lips and shook their heads in a rueful manner.

Another older woman who was sitting near the driver held her right arm high above her head and waved. I couldn’t tell whether she was saying hello or goodbye or that she needed help.

— Robin Eisgrau

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero, Francis Mateo and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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