The MTA never works better than when in crisis mode. When something bad happens, crews are diverted to solve the problem, and issues can be resolved quickly. For an agency known to drag its heels, intentionally or not, on long-term planning problems, it’s refreshing to see it spring into action when push comes to shove.
We saw this play out this past weekend when, on Friday at 10:30 a.m., an F train derailed in Queens. By the Friday evening rush hour, Transit had restored local service, and although trains were taken out of service along parts of the line on both Saturday and Sunday mornings this weekend, the MTA anticipates a normal rush hour with both express and local service by 5 a.m. Monday. Workers had to re-rail and then remove an eight-car train and repair around 500 feet of rail while inspecting nearby infrastructure to ensure trains can operate safely.
Meanwhile, the MTA shared some findings over the weekend that indicate the focus of their investigation as well as their safety record. First, it appears as though operator error was not to blame. While the 1991 Union Square derailment that led to four deaths was due to the result of a drunk motorman, officials have all but cleared the F train’s crew of wrong-doing. Rather, the derailment happened at a spot that has become the focal point of efforts to combat broken rails.
According to the MTA, the rail that snapped, leading to this derailment, was manufactured in November and installed this past March. It’s not clear if it was installed incorrectly or if it contained a defect. It will, Transit said, be sent for metallurgical testing. We’ll see what comes of that.
Overall though, it’s not surprising that this rail broke. As what the MTA describes as its effort to reduce derailments to zero, workers map broken and defective rails to identify where large-scale replacement and hardening efforts should occur. During the presentation on this topic to the MTA Board in February, Transit targeted the Queens Boulevard corridor as one of five problematic areas, and the MTA has plans to install 23 miles of continuous welded rail to reduce broken rails and noise and vibration issues. That project, unfortunately, isn’t due to start until 2015 when funding is in place. (The other areas include the 7th Ave. IRT from Dyckman south, the 8th Ave. line from 207th to Jay St., 6th Ave. between 59th and Jay St., and the Astoria line from 57th St. to the phantom stop/11th St. Cut area in Queens.)
It is also important to keep numbers in perspective. The MTA says it has experienced 17 mainline derailments in the last decade, and for a system that runs 8000 trains per day, the derailment rate is less than half the national average. As recently as 1980, the MTA reported 20 derailments in one calendar year. Still, as deferred maintenance re-enters the picture and as Queens subway riders climb aboard their express trains in the morning, tensions will be high. These derailments are bad news, and we don’t expect them. That’s why, of course, they garner so much news coverage. But they serve as a reminder why New York City needs a fully funded and fully supported capital plan for the MTA. Anything worse puts everyone in danger.
After the jump, a video of MTA workers rerailing the F train.