Food for thought: Lhota asks riders to eat neatly on subways in wake of Harlem track fire

MTA chief Joe Lhota is now a food critic — he says to eat carefully on trains or he may ban grub altogether.

At Penn Station on Tuesday, a day after a track fire in Harlem wrecked the morning commute, Lhota said riders need to do their part to keep trash and food out of stations, and off tracks where sparks can ignite them.

A friendly public service announcement or an outright ban will be a part of the MTA’s 30-day review.

A common sight on the cityscape, garbage collects near a set of benches on a subway platform in file photo. On Monday, a 30-foot-long trash stream strewn on tracks in a tunnel near the 145th St. station in Harlem made for a maddening rush hour.

“There have been a lot of recommendations about what foods are appropriate, what foods are not. I fully get it,” Lhota said.

He recalled a messy commute on a No. 2 train that had nothing to do with a signal malfunction.

“Someone got on with a Stryrofoam thing of Chinese food, it looked like, and there was a lot of rice,” he said. “Inevitably, the rice fell and it was all over the place. I want to avoid things like that a lot.”

The morning rush hour blaze was sparked by a 30-foot-long trash stream strewn on tracks in a tunnel near the 145th St. station. Lhota said riders need to do their part to keep trash out of stations to prevent their commutes from going up in flames.

Trash builds up around a mechanical signal at Manhattan’s Bowling Green station.

“Photographs show there were newspapers, as well as coffee cups,” he said. “It’s our MTA. We all have to band together.”

The MTA’s Operation Track Sweep, which sent hundreds of transit workers to haul out track trash, will be expanded, Lhota said. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has ordered a dozen portable vacuums and three vacuum trains to suck up track trash.

MTA Chairman and CEO Joe Lhota speaks to the media at Jamaica Station in Queens earlier this month. On Monday, he said he is considering a public service announcement in stations about not dropping food or litter onto subway platforms and tracks or a ban on eating on trains.

Lhota also said the subway used to be plagued with thousands of track fires a year — 5,800 in 1981. Since July 2016, there have been 698.

“The goal is no fires, plain and simple,” Lhota said.

As for the throngs of commuters who packed themselves into nearby No. 1 train stations after the Harlem track fire, Lhota said he spoke with NYPD Transit Bureau Chief Joe Fox about managing such immense crowds.

“We need to make sure the police who were there need to help us with traffic flow,” he said. “Pushing everybody down to the station is not the way we should do it.”

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