The MTA’s most important and expensive pieces of equipment – subway trains – are stored in yards that lack adequate fire safety measures, an MTA watchdog reported Friday.
The MTA’s Office of the Inspector General found that fire alarm systems, which should be in visible public locations, were stored in closets or storage rooms. It also found that regular inspections of fire safety equipment were not being performed. And much of the fire suppression equipment was made decades ago, meaning that many replacement parts are no longer available, according to the probe.
“We acknowledge more work needs to be done; that is why we are currently expanding our fire safety checklists, updating our policies, protocols, and instructions, and evaluating our use of vendors,” New York City Transit President Richard Davey wrote in response to the findings.
The inspector general's office visited several train yards in 2020 to examine fire alarms and suppression equipment. Inspectors found enough problems that they launched an audit of 35 facilities where trains, maintenance equipment and electrical relays are stored, including the 207th Street Yard, Corona Yard, Coney Island Yard, Westchester Yard and two electrical substations.
Inspectors found that only four out of 31 fire alarm systems automatically contacted the Fire Department. And 21 of the systems were located in “unoccupied rooms such as closets, storage rooms, or electrical rooms and were not immediately visible,” the report noted. During inspections, 10 of the alarms were actively signaling “trouble conditions,” but no one on-site was aware the alarms were triggered, according to the report.
"Transit yards are the workhorses of the system, and while critical, these facilities are very old," the MTA's Acting Inspector General Elizabeth Keating wrote in a statement. "Fire safety training and testing is essential to keeping NYCT's sprawling system operating and employees safe."
Like much of the subway system built over 100 years ago, the train yards were constructed in a different era, with different standards. For example, the 207th Street yard was built in the 1900s. Water pressure from the standpipes there complies with requirements from that time – but does not meet modern standards.
The inspector general's office made 13 recommendations to the MTA. The agency agreed with nine of them and said the four other recommendations were already in place. Most of the suggestions involve training workers or maintaining fire safety checklists that are regularly reviewed. The agency agreed to implement the recommendations this year.