Uhhh, Did Tesla Really Help New York City Avoid a Massive Transit Shutdown?

Tesla was weirdly and surprisingly drawn into the strange, wild world of New York City politics on Thursday. That’s thanks to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who threw reporters for a loop when he said he reached out to Elon Musk’s Tesla for advice on repairing the city’s troubled transit system.

The conference itself was to discuss an announcement that the city would no longer shut down a major transit artery for more than a year to complete needed repairs. Instead, the city will attempt to keep the line open using an innovative new engineering technique that, until very recently, had apparently eluded city’s own planners. The announcement itself was a surprise — the shutdown has been in the works for years and many residents even moved house — but so was the implication that some of this new engineering input may have come from Tesla.

“I called up Tesla and I said, here’s the question: We’re trying to move subway cars, get them closer together,” he said. “Do you have any ideas? You’re talking about flying cars, we’re just talking about moving trains.”

It wasn’t really clear at all whether the governor took any of Tesla’s advice, and neither his office nor Tesla responded to a request for comment. We do know that this new plan is being announced just a few weeks after Cuomo surveyed the train’s tracks with a group of transit experts in mid-December.

The tour and subsequent meetings yielded results in the form of this newfangled engineering plan, which Cuomo said has only been implemented in Europe, and never during a restoration process. The governor was a bit vague in his description of the proposed strategy.

“They have proposed a new design to use in the tunnel,” he said during Thursday’s press conference. “It has not been used in the United States before to the best of our knowledge…It uses many new innovations that are new to the rail industry in this country.”

The artery in question is known as the Canarsie Tunnel, which allows the L Train to pass under the river that separates Manhattan and Brooklyn, the second and third largest boroughs. This tunnel was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, resulting in floodwater surges that wrecked tracks and communication infrastructure.

The tunnel reconstruction was announced in 2016 and was at one point scheduled to last for 15 months costing an estimated $477 million. This prompted many locals to re-locate to other neighborhoods not reliant on the L train, which about 250,000 people use each day.

Cuomo’s change-of-plans shocked residents, especially since the line had already commenced overnight and weekend closures in preparation for the big shutdown.

Tesla’s role in this new plan remains unclear, though the remark would definitely seem like a non-sequitur if Tesla was entirely uninvolved. Then again, the governor is not known for the subtlety of his overtures to technology companies whose operations he would like to lure to New York.

Last year, for example, he sardonically offered to change his name to Amazon Cuomo if it would help the City’s bid to host Amazon’s “second headquarters.” A flattering phone call and press mention simply to grease Tesla’s wheels, whether he or his deputies used any of their advice or not, seems hardly out of the question.