“I am calling on State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli to audit the MTA now!” Ydanis Rodriquez, City Council Transportation Chair told the Amsterdam News, shortly after Tuesday’s derailment, on the corner of 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem.
“There are unsecured spare rails all over the system,” revealed Roger Toussaint, president of New York’s TWU Local 100 from 2001to 2009. Speaking exclusively to the Amsterdam News, the director of Strategic Planning at TWU International Union from 2009 to 2012 charged, “Dozens of trains passed over the one in question. It gradually ‘walked’ its way into the path of the train.”
Wednesday morning, the MTA announced, “The two supervisors who were responsible for oversight of the work have been suspended without pay pending a formal review process [and final outcome of the investigation].”
Previously the MTA issued a statement saying, “There is evidence the rail was improperly secured, which is why we made the statement we did last night. There are proper protocols to ensure equipment is fastened and cannot shake loose and that equipment which is too small to be safely stored is never stored in between tracks. Those protocols were not followed, according to our preliminary investigation.”
By Wednesday morning, however, quicker than most people anticipated, repairs were done and trains were up and running for the most part. The incident had caused a massive commotion at 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, with 34 people injured, and the subway system experienced wide-ranging service disruptions.
MTA Chair Joe Lhota said at a news conference Tuesday that the incident occurred at 10:15 a.m., when the train’s emergency brake was pulled, resulting in two trains derailing. An investigation into what happened and the extent of the damage continues. Fire officials said that 17 people were being treated at hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries. Several passengers had to be evacuated from trains that were stuck because of the derailment. Train service was also tied up during the morning commute, leaving many straphangers stranded or having to look for travel alternatives.
As 125th Street Business Improvement District noted Tuesday, there was an “ongoing investigation by MTA and other government agencies [FDNY, NYPD, OEM and EMS].”
As the smoke cleared, literally, Rodriguez said, “With this latest incident, there is no longer any question over whether MTA is in a moment of crisis. What we need now is real leadership that focuses on the safety of riders and a comprehensive plan to upgrade our failing signal systems across the city. I am also calling on Comptroller DiNapoli to do a line-by-line audit of the MTA and their capital programs, to be sure that our dollars are spent in the most effective way possible, to ensure riders are safe and our system is functioning at an optimal level.”
He held a news conference Tuesday and called for “emergency repairs to the subway system and for the state to declare the system in a moment of crisis.”
Tuesday, though, nothing much was heard from Mayor Bill de Blasio, aside from a retweet about being briefed and monitoring the situation, and New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with whom the mayor is having a prolonged spat, was in town but also did not appear on the scene or make a public pronouncement.
“Governor Cuomo is in New York City,” said his press office.
When news of the derailment made its way around the city, it sparked the debate over who runs the MTA. Although Cuomo has the bigger hand over the MTA, the constituents hurt on the A-train are those of de Blasio. Other than acknowledging the incident on social media, through the “NYC Mayor’s Office” page on Twitter, he has not spoken in public about it. Cuomo’s last social media presence could also be found on Twitter, where he discussed the U.S. Senate’s health care bill Monday. Attempts to contact both the mayor and the governor were unsuccessful.
Toussaint told the AmNews, “Some three and a half decades and tens of billions of ‘investments’ later [much of which likely went to favored contractor friends], the MTA planners seem to be right back to the chronic safety hazards and unreliability they presumably set out to fix.”
“There should be no fares while they are fixing the service,” said one irate commuter, Rena Bless. “We’ve paid for it already.”
Stuck between Hoyt and Schmerhorn and Jay Street, passengers bemoaned the conductor’s mumbled message [not] informing them of what was going on, as he repeated “Maybe you can catch the G train to Queens, or the R at Jay street, where this train will be terminating due to a power outage.”
“Maybe you should give me my $2.75 back, or my unlimited as a matter of fact,” an annoyed rider said. As for apportioning blame, an MTA source told the AmNews, “They going to go after the supervisor whose crew placed that rail there and the track inspector responsible for walking that section. Critical is when was the rail placed there. The question to ask is, when was that work done? Could even have been the night before. If so, then the supervisor takes the fall. If before, then the inspector also does.”
Riders who had left home in plenty of time to get to their destination were now stuck on a stop-start train, with little information as to why. It unfortunately is the new normal. With an incident of Tuesday’s magnitude, it simply amplifies the myriad issues frustrated riders face on a daily basis with delayed, overpacked local-going-express and vice versa weekday stories. And then there is weekend travel with fast-track repair train cancellations and suspended services.
With 6 million riders every day on the subway system, being stuck in a tunnel in an overpacked subway train during morning rush hour is nothing new to New Yorkers, including a number of AmNews staffers. Reactions range from general acceptance of this new normal, with perceived shoddy upkeep of the system, to yet another unwanted byproduct of mass gentrification of communities in Brooklyn and in Harlem.
This Tuesday the A train stood for “Anguish,” as passengers were subjected to bucking train cars derailed by emergency break application, sparks and fires and walking through dark tunnels to escape an inadequately explained emergency. One passenger named Danny told the AmNews the train hit something, and he saw sparks fly outside of the window. “After it hit something, we saw sparks,” he said. “Shortly after, we smelled a strong gas smell. Initially people panicked a little bit then, and we realized we had to move. We didn’t know if the train was going to catch on fire. They cut the power off to the train, and then we saw smoke.” Danny said passengers pried the train doors open to get to another car, which was pitch black and also had smoke. “We had no idea where the smoke was coming from,” Danny said. “The MTA workers told us that we were lucky enough that two cars had pulled into the station so we wouldn’t have to trek through the tracks.” Observing the chaotic scene as firefighters stood at the top of the subway steps just above the derailment, Bronx mom Janice shook her head and told the AmNews, “They put us through this and still raise the fares. This all needs to be investigated. Somebody needs to be held accountable, and not the workers, those high-paid big bosses. Somebody’s ignoring big problems, but it looks like we are putting our lives at risk every time we take the train.”