In May, over 1,000 people were rescued after a Brooklyn-bound F train derailed in Woodside, Queens. It came out soon after that the area where the incident occurred, near the 65th Street station, had been marked as a "critical rail break" area; it was the location of 205 broken rails between 2005 and 2012, the second highest in the city during that span. Now, the MTA has released its official report about the derailment, concluding that the derailment was the result of a lot of overlooked defects in the track that had gone unnoticed for around a year.
They write in the report:
The report uses prior inspection reports to identify several minor defects in track components present at the point of derailment. Individually, none of them was capable of causing a derailment, but the combination of defects in one location was the most likely cause of the derailment. New York City Transit has changed its inspection protocols to ensure rail defects are appropriately identified and repaired.
The eight-car F train derailed just after 10 a.m. on May 2nd as it traveled toward Manhattan on the express track south of the Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue station, under Broadway at 60th Street. "A 7-foot, 11-inch section of a 19-foot, 6-inch-long rail fractured beneath the train as it traveled at approximately 40 miles per hour, causing six of the eight cars to derail," they explain in the report. "Thirty customers and two employees reported minor injuries, and the damage was valued at more than $2 million."
The defects with this particular track included a broken plate, broken fasteners and a deteriorated tie, all of which should have been prioritized for repairs. The report concludes that the "Division of Track personnel did not identify, document and correct the track defect at that location, either during regular inspections or when the two prior broken rails were replaced. They also did not adequately investigate the underlying causes of the broken rails." The MTA will take disciplinary action against three maintenance supervisors and an inspector for their role in the incident.
The Transport Workers Union, Local 100 disputed the MTA's findings, arguing that the blame should be placed on the MTA for purchasing defective rails made in China, not the workers: "The MTA’s accusation that track personnel are to blame is scapegoating of the highest order. The issues they claim caused the derailment are minor," the union said in a statement. "The real culprit here is defective rail. Since the F train derailment, track inspections have discovered at least 100 more cracked rails from this lot of new Chinese rail. Our advice: buy American steel to insure the integrity of the system."
An MTA spokesman responded, saying, "This claim is absolutely false and was utterly disproven by a careful scientific probe by an independent firm...These rails were made in the United States of America and showed no signs of any flaws whatsoever."
The Straphangers Campaign also released a statement about the report's findings:
The MTA report issued today puts the blame for an F train’s derailment back in May 2nd squarely on MTA New York City Transit track supervisors, as well as a failure to follow track repair protocols. Thirty customers and two employees were injured in the accident. A thousand people were evacuated.
Transit video show that track supervisors fouled up, with subway personnel failing to replace defective track for at least a year. Transit officials have responded by changing “inspection protocols to ensure rail defects are appropriately identified and repaired.”
Will this result in better detection and prevention of track defects? Only time will tell.
The accident is a reminder how much time and money takes NYC Transit - $180 million a year - to keep tracks safe. It is money well spent.