The MTA inspector general released a report last week that found that a group of workers tasked with inspecting elevated tracks to prevent falling debris treated their duties “like a no-or low-show job.”
The months-long investigation was launched after a series of incidents in 2019 of large debris falling from the elevated subway tracks in Queens. Many of those incidents took place on the 7 train in Sunnyside and Woodside, but similar reports also stemmed from the N-W line in Astoria and the A line in Richmond Hill at the Lefferts Boulevard Station.
In response to the persistent falling debris, the MTA committed to spending $325 million on protective netting across the city’s elevated subway tracks in its 2020-24 capital plan.
Over the span of 6 months, the OIG conducted surveillances on at least 37 days and found problems with 20 inspections, or nearly 54 percent of those observed. The audit found that seven MTA track inspectors failed to perform duties and then falsified inspection reports that they said they had done.
“The OIG’s observations raise alarm about the diligence with which the Inspectors approached their work, due to distractions or their complete absence from the tracks, thereby creating significant safety risk,” said MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny in her executive report.
After Pokorny uncovered the negligent behavior of the seven inspectors in December, they were then suspended without pay and faced disciplinary actions.
In addition to revealing falsified track inspection reports, the OIG investigation looked at MTA-issued cell phone use of the inspectors, and found that based on the amount of text messages they were sending out in some cases, they could not possibly have been attentive to the work.
Beyond the surveillance of the inspectors conduct on their routes, the OIG conducted an audit to determine how such systemic negligence could occur without supervisors and managers’ knowledge. The audit revealed several insufficient supervisory practices, and recommended new oversight plans.
The recommendations, which were all accepted by the MTA, compel NYC Transit supervisors use an app to check the times and dates of inspections to make sure they’re reliable, conduct their own random checks, and create and enforce more rigid rules about MTA-issued and personal cell phones while on duty.
The MTA officials said the lack of oversight risked the safety of riders, MTA employees and people on the street passing below elevated tracks.
During the series of close calls in 2019, Queens Council members rang the alarms over subway debris like long wooden poles, large metal bolts and other hunks of metal that residents reported to their offices.
“Constituents bringing 7 train debris into my office weren’t making stuff up! It was unsafe, and the MTA needed to do more,” tweeted Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), one of the most vocal on the issue, in response to the report.