Shutdown chaos on New York subway caused by accidental ‘power off’ button

More than 80 trains disrupted on half of the city’s subway lines

Justin Vallejo
New York
Friday 10 September 2021 22:08
Investigation into subway disruption

A power outage that left hundreds of New Yorkers stranded on the subway for hours was most likely caused by an MTA worker pressing the “Emergency Power Off” button by mistake.

An investigation into the 29 August shutdown found a “strong possibility” the button was pushed given a missing plastic guard that was supposed to prevent accidental activations from happening.

The ensuing chaos led to more than 80 trains being affected, with service disruptions for several hours on the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 lines and the L train beginning shortly after 9pm local time on a Sunday night.

The findings were released on Friday by Governor Kathy Hochul, who ordered the investigation of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) by two outside engineering firms.

Investigators concluded before the button was pushed there was a power dip lasting several milliseconds at 8.25pm, followed by the discovery that several pieces of mechanical equipment at the New York City Transit Rail Control Center stopped functioning.

As control centre staff worked to get the equipment back into service, someone pushed the emergency button at about 9.06pm, It caused all electrical equipment connected to one of the power distribution units at the centre to lose power.

MTA acting chair and chief executive officer Janno Lieber said the agency will immediately reorganise how it maintains and manages the key systems that support the control centre.

Power was not restored until 10.30pm, with officials adding that restoration of service was delayed because passengers on two of the stuck trains walked out onto the tracks rather than waiting for rescuers.

The incident was blamed on a mix of human error and structural failures that included a lack of guidelines

Officials blamed the loss of power on human error and the failure to restore power for 84 minutes to inadequate organisational structure and a lack of guidelines.

Ms Hochul said in a statement that it’s their job to restore New Yorkers’ confidence in a fully functioning subway system.

“I am also directing the MTA to review all operation control centres across the entire system to identify any further potential weaknesses and provide assurance in preventing a situation like this from happening ever again,” she said.

“We will deliver the modernization, enhancements, and reliability that riders deserve.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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