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NYC’s subway derailment in Harlem was caused by ‘human error’: MTA

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A loose piece of replacement rail on the tracks is to blame for the incident

New York City Transit Woes Continue As Subway Car Derails, Injuring 34 Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In the aftermath of yesterday’s subway derailment in Harlem, which injured 34 and mucked up much of the subway system, MTA officials have released some details on how, exactly, the incident occurred. According to the New York Daily News, the MTA says “human error” is to blame: a piece of replacement rail that was being used in repair work, and was not stored properly, triggered the derailment. It’s unclear why it was on the tracks to begin with.

The incident led to chaos underground: Paul Navarro of the TWU told the Daily News that “the train was peeled open like a can opener,” as a result of hitting a wall after jumping the tracks. Riders on the train were evacuated, but passengers on other stalled trains took matters into their own hands; many exited trains themselves and walked on the tracks, leading first responders to go below ground and lead them to safety.

Yesterday’s derailment continues to affect commutes this morning, though things are slowly getting back to normal. As of 9 a.m., service has been fully restored to the A, B, C, and D lines, though “extensive” delays are—unsurprisingly—to be expected.

Notably absent from the site of the derailment were Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, though Cuomo issued a statement around 5 p.m., about seven hours after the incident occurred. “While the investigation is ongoing, this morning's subway derailment is an unacceptable manifestation of the system's current state,” Cuomo told the Daily News. “New Yorkers deserve better.”

Per the Daily News, De Blasio (who does not have the power to fix the subways) did not respond to questions about the event.

But the New York Times’s Jim Dwyer points out that after what he calls a “derailment crisis” in the 1970s and ’80s, the MTA did step up and proactively address those issues by creating a state safety board, whose purpose was to “identif[y] causes like broken tracks, motors that dropped out of trains, concrete crumbling into the roadbed and misaligned switches.” He continues:

In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, as service was improving, transit officials combined engineering and mechanical investigations to unearth persistent problems — say, the same electrical flaw or a part that wore out before its expected life span. Cars would be scheduled for maintenance before those weak points failed.

That sort of comprehensive investment into the subway system, Dwyer argues, is necessary to get the transit system back on track and prevent incidents like Tuesday’s derailment—not an obvious statement, but one that bears repeating nonetheless.