New York Governor Kathy Hochul visited the Bowling Green 4 and 5 subway trains in Manhattan on Monday morning with senior MTA officials to direct a review of a 5-hour system breakdown on Sunday night that caused extensive subway delays.
A full half of the New York City subway system “experienced an unprecedented system breakdown,” Hochul said, flanked by MTA acting chair and CEO Janno Lieber, and Demetrius Crichlow, the senior vice president in the department of subways.
At 8:25 p.m. on Sunday, Con Edison reported that a feeder lost power, causing a voltage dip as two power plants were offline. This temporarily interrupted power to subway signals and communications, severely impacting seven subway lines.
“When it tried to go back to normal, there was a surge, an unprecedented surge that resulted in the subway losing signalization and communication ability, and it lost that between its command center and the trains throughout the system,” the governor said. “This was unprecedented. The confluence of events that led to this has never happened before to our knowledge.”
Two backup emergency generators which are designed to operate automatically as a backup system were engaged, which enabled the system to remain fully operational.
Two backup systems seemed to have failed, which resulted in the loss of power to the MTA system.
The first failure involved the backup system which is designed to return to Con Edison power when it becomes available. However, the system failed, and it did not revert to Con Edison power in this instance.
A second failure in the system involved an alert system which is designed to inform MTA subway management of the failures. The system did not provide alerts, resulting in those managers believing that systems were operating properly when in fact batteries continued to energize the system for approximately 45 minutes.
At 9:14 p.m. the batteries, which are not designed to provide long-term power, ran out of power, causing the major service interruption.
Service was restored around 1:30 a.m. on Monday.
The trains affected were lines 1-7 and the L train. In total, 83 trains were impacted, including 5 that were trapped in between stations.
Around 150 people had to be rescued from a southbound 2 train and 250 from a northbound 2 train that were trapped in the Harlem River tunnel, the New York Post reported.
The 5 that were trapped between stations required the evacuation of hundreds of riders, and the rescue of several riders who left the trains and tried to take the risky route and leave through the tunnels, which delayed restoring service by about an hour.
There were no injuries reported among riders and transit workers, who were rescued by the FDNY and NYPD.
“We never, ever want riders to do that. It is dangerous and it caused a delay in the restoration of power. The tracks are dangerous,” Hochul stressed.
The governor vowed the situation would not happen again, and directed a review to find out the root cause of the system and communications breakdown, which will be a collaborative effort with the state and the city, including Office of Emergency Management.
Hochul singled out for praise the transit workers who were trapped on the trains, noting that with the communications down, conductors personally walked through the trains to keep the riders informed of the situation.
“Last night was unacceptable. If you’re one of those riders or people relying on safe transport, the system failed you. The MTA is the lifeblood of the city, and a disruption of this magnitude can be catastrophic,” she said. “I can only imagine how devastating this would have been for thousands of New Yorkers had this occurred during a morning commute like this morning.”
HDR is one of two engineering firms that will conduct an independent review of what occurred and will make recommendations for any systemic changes to minimize the likelihood this incident happens again.
Updated Monday, August 30, 2021 at 4:49 pm .