Investigators: Human error caused widespread NYC subway blackout

A sign notifying commuters of nightly MTA subway closures due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts hangs on the Wall Street Station in New York City on May 28, 2020. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Sept. 10 (UPI) — A power outage that disrupted New York City subways and stranded thousands of passengers last month was likely caused by an easily preventable human error, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday.

An investigation into the Aug. 29 incident in which a widespread power outage affected all of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s numbered lines and L trains found that its root cause was human error, not a “power surge” as originally thought, the governor said.

“The teams worked expeditiously to identify the source of the problem and recommend improvement,” Hochul said in a statement. “I am directing mitigation steps to ensure riders are not interrupted by these causes ever again.”

Investigators determined the loss of power was triggered at the New York City Transit Rail Control Center and “was the byproduct of a manually-activated power-off switch on one of the building’s power distribution units.”

Initial results showed that someone may have accidentally pushed the emergency shut-off button “since a plastic guard that would prevent accidental activation was missing.”

The outage caused trains across the city abruptly stop in their tracks and necessitated dangerous and frightening evacuations of hundreds of passengers through darkened tunnels. More than 80 trains were effected, including five trains that were stopped between stations, forcing about 550 passengers to evacuate through the tunnels.

The blackout lasted for more than an hour because of “internal organization and process flaws” and its effects were made worse due to the rail control center’s lack of a power distribution monitoring system, investigators found.

“Such a system would provide visibility of the status of key electrical components in the power distribution system,” the report said.

“The report tasks the MTA with immediately reorganizing how we maintain and manage key systems that support the [control center],” MTA Acting Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber said.


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