The MTA's Inspector General released a report last month titled "IMPROVING STRUCTURAL INSPECTIONS AT MTA NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT." And with an all-caps title like that, you just know it's important to pay attention. In fact, that's the whole point of the report: that more attention needs to be paid to the neglected parts of the New York City subway station in order to provide a safe ride for the millions of travelers who use public transportation. The Inspector General writes that in order "to safeguard riders and employees" there must be regular inspections of "NYC Transit structures for defects. These inspections are also vital to the agency’s proper management of its limited resources for maintenance and capital repair." So, this makes sense—inspect subway stations in order to both ensure safety and maintain an efficient budget. Isn't this the standard? Isn't this what's done? Unfortunately, no. The report continues, "Our audit of structural inspection practices, though, finds that NYC Transit has not inspected some critical support structures on a regular and timely basis, and in some cases has not inspected certain critical structures for decades." Decades? DECADES??? Oh, cool. I will never feel safe again.
Although the official report doesn't say that all riders are in imminent danger and that we should all avoid the subway until things there get fixed up lest we fall to our deaths as the F train we take every morning plummets from the trestle of the Smith/9th St station (the highest elevated station IN THE WORLD), the report also doesn't say that we're not in imminent danger. Some of the problems the independent auditors found include the facts that "although annual inspections of elevated station supports are required by NYC Transit’s guidelines, the appropriate in-house unit has not been conducting such inspections" and "while NYC Transit previously agreed to implement our recommendations to regularly inspect hard-to-reach station ceilings in accordance with our earlier related report, it has not yet done so. Indeed, these inspections are currently two years behind schedule, with inspection consultants not yet even hired." Also, "NYC Transit has not been inspecting abandoned sections of stations that provide structural support for the active sections of the stations; agency officials did not even
have an inventory of these abandoned structures." Yeah, I will definitely never feel safe again.
But is there anything positive about this report? Well, Thomas Prendergrast, the new head of NYC Transit (replacing mayoral candidate, Joe Lhota), did issue a response that is reassuring in the sense that he seems amenable to implementing the recommendations, stating, "We are in agreement with the substance of your findings and all recommendations and are taking a number of actions with respect to the structural inspection process at NYC Transit." But, I mean, we'll see. Although the Inspector General says that he feels "encouraged by NYC Transit’s response," I am still sort of in shock that these inspections and safety measures hadn't been taking place the whole time. Ignorance is bliss, I guess. But also, ignorance is ignorance. And don't you want to be informed? Don't you want to know not just the fact that several subway lines are compromised, but which stations are actually in the worst shape? All I have to say is, sorry if you live off the D. Stay safe out there.
J/Z; Cypress Hills station
Located on the Brooklyn/Queens border, this J/Z has been found to have "deteriorated columns and beams in the structure that supports the tracks and signals." There was also evidence of "75 platform girders with severe deterioration in their top flanges," which might "not pose immediate danger, but were nevertheless serious and should be corrected as part of a future capital project." The photo above shows what a deteriorated flange (the horizontal component of the girders that support elevated platforms) looks like. But while that picture looks really scary, the report reassures us that these deteriorating flanges "did not compromise the safety of NYC Transit’s riders or its employees." So that's a relief. But, what's not a relief is the fact that this station had actually been inspected but these problems were overlooked and not reported! It turns out that the inspection team that the MTA hired did not think it was totally necessary because these support beams were only of secondary importance. Luckily, this audit by the Inspector General has prompted the MTA to promise that a new inspection will take place and that inspecting "the elevated station platform supports are a required part of the annual inspection."
A/C/J/Z/L; Broadway Junction station
So, remember the horrific bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007? 13 people died and 145 more were injured. The bridge that collapsed was a truss bridge ("a truss is a rigid framework of straight components connected at their ends and arranged in triangles, and is generally used to support a bridge, roof, or other structure) and, following this disaster, "NYC Transit used a consultant to inspect all of its truss bridges in 2008." So, that's good anyway. Truss stations are pretty safe. But what about all the other elevated stations? Were they also inspected in 2008? NO. NO, THEY WERE NOT. In fact, "none of the ten elevated, non-bridge structures more than 35 feet above street level has gotten up-close inspection since 1997. For five of the ten structures, we could not determine how many years before 1997, if at all, they were last inspected." One of those stations is the incredibly busy, incredibly high-up Broadway Junction Station. Are there plans to inspect these stations? Sure! The plan is that inspectiosn should start this year. But, probably they will not. The Inspector General is very skeptical because getting the approval for the "master plan," which involves budgeting for repairs, can take an incredibly long time, and while the idea was proposed in 2011, a master plan has still not been submitted. Thus, the report notes, "It seems unlikely, therefore, that inspections will begin in 2013. As with the ceilings discussed above, NYC Transit cannot accept failure to perform these inspections in regular and timely fashion, because such failure increases the risk that safety-related structural defects will go undetected and unaddressed." Yikes.
D/N; Stillwell Ave Bridge
This isn't a stop, exactly, but the Stillwell Avenue Bridge carries both the D and the N train over the Coney Island Creek and yet it does not get regularly inspected. The report notes that because this bridge "is not a truss bridge, NYC Transit does not plan to include it among the bridges inspected every five years." "However," the report continues, "this bridge passes over water and MOW Engineering inspectors do not use boats during their annual inspection, making it difficult to impossible to properly inspect the bridge’s underside." Again, scary! But easily remedied, right? Just start inspecting the damn thing. In fact, the MTA has agreed, based on this report's recommendations, to do just that. So, that's a relief.
D; 9th Ave station
The 9th Avenue stop on the D is an incredibly busy stop which is inspected regularly. So, great, right? No problem here. Well, except, surprise! The currently in use station is actually located above and supported by another, now defunct station which never gets inspected because it is not in use. And, this no longer-in-use, lower level station, which "supports the upper, active level of the station, including its platforms and tracks...is deteriorated in that it has dozens of 'A' defects" ("A" defects being the most severe class of defects). Furthermore, the MTA's team of inspectors "has known for decades that the structure was in need of repair but had not corrected the conditions" because it claims "that while the structure was in need of immediate repair, in his judgment structural collapse was not imminent because it was 'overengineered.'” Luckily, the independent auditor does not accept this line of bullshit, and made a firm recommendation that this station's problems need to be remedied and the MTA says that they will comply with the request.
And, hopefully, they will. Reading this report was pretty much a terrifying experience because it was a reminder of how much we take for granted the fact that our infrastructure is basically sound and that we can make it to work without our subway derailing. For a city that invests so much in the subway when it comes to posting inflammatory ads about teen pregnancy, it would seem that it could do better at protecting people while they're on the subways, forced to stare at those ads and those trite Poetry in Motion posters. I mean, we pay enough for our Metrocards to assume a baseline level of safety. Seriously. We pay way more than enough. Those last fare hikes were insane. Do better, MTA.
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