Nearly two weeks ago, reports of a “weird” fire at or near the Ravenswood power station tumbled across Twitter. Shortly after, a lot of subways went down, prompting evacuations, and the MTA was quick to blame Con Ed. But they were wrong.
By David Stone
No, the “weird” fire did not shut down the subways. An MTA gaff did.
As we reported at that time, new Governor Kathy Hochul immediately ordered an independent investigation, brushing aside the finger pointing in favor of finding the facts. It was an abrupt departure from the abrasive style favored by Andrew Cuomo.
And now, the investigations are complete, and the cause of the subway shutdowns was clearly within the MTA, according to a report in The Gothamist.
“While the source of the power outage was identified as one person that pushed a power button,” The Gothamist reported, “the reason it took 84 minutes to restore the power was more of a systematic failure.”
That’s right. In fact, a single person flipping the wrong switch took down multiple lines. Fixed within an hour, the error still caused a several hour shutdown because passengers on a couple of trains self-evacuated. The MTA swept the tunnels, making sure they were clear before resuming service.
Among the reports findings was a discovery that the switch lacked a protective plastic cover. This made the whole mess easier, but poorly set up policies added trouble.
No systemic method for pinpointing weak links exists. The absence of redundancy, in fact, left open a single point of failure. That’s a cardinal sin among engineers.
After reading the report showing that the MTA, not some weird fire at Ravenswood, was at fault, Hochul issued a statement:
“New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in a fully functioning subway system, and it is our job to restore that confidence. I am also directing the MTA to review all operation control centers across the entire system to identify any further potential weaknesses and provide assurance in preventing a situation like this from happening ever again. We will deliver the modernization, enhancements, and reliability that riders deserve.”
Amen to that and apologies to Con Ed.
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