Probe Of Falling Subway Debris Finds “Widespread Deception” From MTA Track Inspectors

When chunks of the subway first began breaking off from the elevated tracks of Queens, the MTA initially deemed the plunging objects unfortunate isolated incidents. Then the debris kept falling — including a metal bolt, and a wooden beam that nearly impaled a motorist under the 7 train — forcing the agency to install nylon netting below some of the raised tracks in 2019.

Nearly two years later, the MTA’s internal watchdog has released a new report outlining the numerous failures that led up to the rash of falling debris. According to the MTA Inspector General, the transit authority failed to detect “widespread deception” on the part of track inspectors, who “treated their duties like a no-or low-show job.”

After skipping out on weekly inspections intended to identify loose infrastructure, many of the workers allegedly falsified reports, indicating they had done the inspections. Over the course of six months, more than half of inspectors surveilled by the watchdog failed to properly do their jobs.

“In light of the weak controls and the falling debris, the actual number of partial or completely absent inspections is likely higher,” the report reads.

The potentially deadly fraud went undetected because MTA supervisors do not verify the track inspectors’ walks, either in real time or after the fact, according to the report.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, whose district was repeatedly impacted by falling debris from the 7 train, said the report vindicated his constituents.

“We knew there was a system-wide failure to protect the people of Queens under the elevated 7 and other elevated lines,” Van Bramer told Gothamist on Thursday. “They had the ability to contain it, they just didn’t.”

In response to the findings, the MTA has agreed to implement more thorough inspection processes, including using electric sensors to identify the sections of track covered by inspectors. Seven employees have since been suspended.

“These inspectors violated the public’s trust, they were caught and immediately removed from service, and as the [Inspector General] points out, they are paying severe penalties for those violations,” MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan said in a statement. “NYC Transit has zero tolerance for any action that could impact safety – period.”

Previous investigations of MTA units have also found a persistent lack of oversight that has allowed inspectors to shirk their duties.

Rachael Fauss, a senior research analyst who studies the MTA for Reinvent Albany, said the agency should invest in a dashboard system to more effectively monitor the work that’s being done in the system.

“It shows that that there needs to be more of an approach from the management level of MTA to better track performance of the inspectors,” Fauss said.