MTA Power Failure Caused By Someone Who Accidentally Pushed Wrong Button, Report Says

Last month when hundreds of commuters were stranded and every numbered line and the L went offline for an hour, the MTA was quick to point the finger at Con-Edison, which had experienced a brief power surge that night. But a review by two independent engineering firms finds that someone at the MTA’s Rail Control Center, the nerve center of the MTA, just pushed the wrong button.

It turns out the button’s plastic cover was missing, which may have made it easier to accidentally press this vital power supply button, according to two independent reviews.

While the power outage on August 29th was just over an hour, about 550 passengers on stranded trains had to be evacuated, a process that took four hours.  The process was made more challenging when passengers on a couple of trains self-evacuated, which required the MTA to check all the tunnels to ensure everyone was out. 

“New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in a fully functioning subway system, and it is our job to restore that confidence,” Governor Kathy Hochul, who ordered the independent review of the incident, wrote in a statement Friday. “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.”

The independent reviews were conducted by two firms, HDR and WSP, which came up with similar findings and recommendations.

While the source of the power outage was identified as one person that pushed a power button, the reason it took 84 minutes to restore the power was more of a systematic failure.

“Inadequate maintenance organizational structure at the RCC (Rail Control Center). Lack of a direct line of command and guidelines on prioritizing restorative activities lead to uncoordinated power restoration action,” the HDR report found. “Lack of a proper power distribution monitoring system, providing visibility of the status of key electrical components in the power distribution system,” was also to blame, the report found.

The interim chairman of the MTA, Janno Lieber, agreed with the recommendations and agreed to carry out short-term and long-term changes.

“The agency will also install additional cable connections to improve power redundancy in the building, as well as a more comprehensive Building Management System that will provide detailed visibility into the status of the building’s electrical distribution, mechanical, and security systems,” Lieber wrote in a statement. “I want to thank Governor Hochul for really digging into these issues with us and helping to identify lasting solutions.”

Lieber was chosen by Governor Cuomo to lead the agency’s day-to-day operations, while former interim Transit President Sarah Feinberg was to lead the MTA board, but the state legislature never approved that change, so Lieber is currently the board chair and CEO of the MTA.

Hochul has pledged to clear out Cuomo loyalists who were named in the Attorney General’s report on harassment from her administration. Lieber was not named, and so far appears to have an amicable relationship with Hochul, appearing together several times since she took over as governor last month, from the MTA power outage, to post-Ida recovery press conferences. 

Next week, the MTA board will meet for the first time since Governor Cuomo left office.