An MTA worker accidentally pressing a button “most likely” caused the massive disruption of subway service for hours on multiple lines last month, an outside investigation ordered by Gov. Kathy Hochul found.
The reports, conducted by a pair of engineering firms, revealed that the loss of power at the New York City Transit Rail Control Center was caused by a manual off switch on one of the building’s power distribution units, according to a press release from the governor.
The findings suggest that the emergency push button might have been mistakenly pressed, since a plastic protector designed to prevent accidental activation of it was missing, according to the summary of the investigation.
The blunder late last month induced a shutdown and prolonged service disruption on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and L lines.
The governor vowed Friday to shore up liabilities with the aim of preventing similar service shutdowns from recurring.
“New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in a fully functioning subway system, and it is our job to restore that confidence,” Hochul said in a prepared statement. “I am also directing the MTA to review all operation control centers across the entire system to identify any further potential weaknesses and provide assurance in preventing a situation like this from happening ever again.
“We will deliver the modernization, enhancements, and reliability that riders deserve.”
Acting MTA Chair Janno Lieber said the MTA’s initial conclusions immediately after the disruption — that the backup electrical system had failed — proved incorrect.
In fact, the backup systems worked — but “building systems” at the MTA’s dispatching hub known as the Rail Control Center went dark, according to Lieber. Someone hit the wrong button, in an attempt to revive those systems, and the RCC lost its ability to communicate with trains in service.
“It appears that a button was pushed accidentally that was not supposed to be pushed,” Lieber said during an unrelated press conference Friday. “I have to say, I am deeply disappointed in this, and I say to our customers: This cannot happen. The Rail Control Center is the Holy of Holies of the subway system.”
According to the HDR report, the 84-minute loss of power was caused by “inadequate maintenance organizational structure at the RCC” as well as a “lack of a proper power distribution monitoring system.”
The WSP probe found that the shutoff was “most likely” due to “Emergency Power Off button being manually activated.” The firm could not conclude if the button was pressed on purpose or erroneously because there is no video surveillance system.
The reports comes after two subway trains on Aug. 29 got stuck in the Harlem River tunnel when a power outage caused service disruption along several lines, leaving hundreds of passengers to be evacuated. A Brooklyn-bound 2 train and northbound 3 train were traveling through the tunnel at about 10:40 p.m. when sources previously said transit power outage at the Rail Control Center disrupted service.
A total of 150 people were evacuated from the southbound 2 train and 250 were evacuated from the northbound 3 train, the sources said.
The next day, Hochul vowed to get to the bottom of an “unprecedented system breakdown” that caused a five-hour delay in subway service and one hour of complete shutdown of several lines.
State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Brooklyn) said Hochul’s swift turnaround of the investigation was a breath of fresh air, given disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration’s frequent blame-shifting and evasiveness.
“The fact that she turned the report around quickly shows she wants to look at this in a holistic manner and I commend her for that,” he told The Post. “It shows there was a higher level of cooperation from the MTA with the governor’s office — which is a big sea change from the prior administration, where they tried to double-talk their way out of everything.”
Lisa Daglian of the MTA citizens advisory committee commended Hochul’s team for promptly releasing the findings of the probes, saying straphangers should be comforted by the governor’s “quick and strong” response.
“To their credit, they did not put this out at 5 o’clock on a Friday. They put it out once the results were in, and the review was done quickly,” said Daglian.
“Riders should be assured that the quick review and strong response is a sign of steady hands that are prepared to get them to where they want to go, and find out the root causes of delays when they don’t.”