Inspector General: MTA Escalator Wreck Could Have Been Avoided With Regular Maintenance

Joe Avellar
February 04, 2020 - 6:18 pm
Port Authority Escalator

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The MTA’s Inspector General released a scathing report Tuesday on the Transit Authority’s escalator maintenance program, noting a lack of work and accountability led to a dangerous accident in 2019.

The mishap happened in February 2019, when the top steps of an escalator at the Fifth Avenue-53rd Street subway station was shredded to pieces during rush hour.

While no one was injured, the escalator was full of straphangers at the time and left many “shaking.”

On Tuesday, MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny slammed the Transit Authority for failing to regularly inspect and maintain the moving staircase.

“You cannot have escalators wrecking with people on them — especially at rush hour in Midtown Manhattan,” Pokorny wrote.

She notes six months had gone by without scheduled maintenance on the escalator at the subway stop and parts just wore out over time until the escalator broke, endangering passengers.

Pokorny says the entire incident was avoidable.

Meanwhile, the superintendent responsible for that station and the maintenance of that escalator, tells investigators that his team was severely understaffed.

However, the inspector general’s report said memos that were supposed to document the justification for cancelling preventive maintenance work were prepared several months after the fact. These memos also misrepresented the history of “productive” work in order to justify the cancellations.

The MTA has hired more mechanics and helpers since the accident.

But, another factor contributing to the wreck is that no management report captures an individual escalator’s history of cancelled, delayed or incomplete preventative maintenance visits. This means that a manager can’t easily see the impact of a missed maintenance call.

The report says New York City Transit has issued a directive describing the circumstances under which preventive maintenance can be cancelled or deferred and established a new protocal so scheduled maintenance cannot be cancelled for an escalator that did not receive its preventive maintenance visit the prior month. 

The MTA says it has made great strides in improving its escalator operations, including the development of a special training class to help managers in the field run reports.

“As the Inspector General herself noted about the year-old incident, the MTA has already taken significant steps to overhaul our escalator maintenance program, revamping the process when it comes to the frequency of maintenance work," MTA spokesperson Andrei Berman said. "We have also taken a number of steps—among them a full review of how we compensate these difficult-to-find tradespeople—to examine how we can further improve our escalator operations.”

New York City Transit says they will implement all the changes recommended by the inspector general by the end of the year.