Two engineering firms confirmed that human error caused New York City railway transit to experience power outages, leaving commuters trapped underground.
In the early evening of August 29, Con Edison, the electrical powerhouse of New York City’s Rail Control Center (RCC), which operates New York City Transit (NYCT), failed, leaving commuters trapped in darkness for nearly three hours. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul ensured a proper review of the causes of the system collapse to mitigate future electrical failure. Two engineering firms published their investigations.
“New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in a fully functioning subway system, and it is our job to restore that confidence. We will deliver the modernization, enhancements, and reliability that riders deserve,” Gov. Hochul said.
In the findings, firms WSP and HDR agreed that the electrical power outage was due to human error. An unidentified employee pressed the “Emergency Power Off” button, and investigators believe this because the plastic protector cap that houses the switch was missing. WSP’s report stated that the emergency generator did not activate because the initial power dip at the start of the outage only lasted a few milliseconds. During the brief power dip at 8:25 p.m., the system worked as intended. After going through the logs, they believe that the cause of the power outage was the “‘Emergency Power Off’ button being manually activated.” It’s unclear if the incident was accidental or on purpose because there is no video evidence.
Further, electrical system logs were inaccurate, as was the model drawing, which is different from the real-life system. These records delayed navigating the diagram to restore power. The second firm, HDR, found a lack of defined procedure and no clearly defined team leadership delayed power restoration. Also, no power distribution monitoring system exists. Therefore it took workers longer to find the cause of the power outage and to act accordingly.
Both findings suggested establishing clear operating procedures and enacting an organized management for a clear, direct command line to avoid delay of restoration efforts. They also suggested installing additional cable connections to feed the electrical load in case of issues from one cable connection. Lastly, setting up a management grid system for personnel to monitor RCC electrical system operations. WSP also suggested redrawing the electrical circuit diagram to reflect the actual equipment accurately.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has had two leaders this year. Janno Lieber became the acting board chair and CEO of the MTA on July 31, and Sarah Feinberg was the interim president for 18 months.
Lieber and Gov. Hochul held a press conference after the subway was back up and running after Hurricane Ida.