Repair and maintenance of critical city subway signal equipment was routinely neglected, state audit says
Oct 17, 2018
Repair and maintenance of the city’s critical subway signal equipment has been routinely neglected, according to a damning report from the state controller’s office released Wednesday.
State Controller Thomas DiNapoli’s audit of signal work from 2015 through Oct. 31, 2017, shows that work was often pushed off for days.
“Faced with staff shortages, MTA put off inspections of one of the most critical components of the subway system,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “Transit acknowledges that malfunctioning switches and signals are one of the main causes of train delays and badly in need of repair, but it gave short shrift to preventative checks that could save riders aggravation and inconvenience.”
The audit on signal equipment in two locations — the No. 6 Parkchester stop in the Bronx and the Howard Beach station on the A line in Queens — found that more than a third of maintenance, inspection and testing tasks were done outside the repair cycle.
Of 1,280 tasks between 2015 and May 16, 2017, 450 of them were completed late. While most were no more than 10 days late, 83 jobs took longer than that to be finished.
Supervisors told the controller’s auditors that they lack resources and that strict safety precautions that have to be enacted before work begins often slow the pace of maintenance and repairs.
Meanwhile, staff in an East New York, Brooklyn, facility charged with repairing and maintaining signal-related equipment had problems completing work on time.
About half of the 55 maintenance tasks for new technology devices were late, some by more than a year. One device that was supposed to get maintained every 200 days hadn’t been looked at for longer than two years as of Oct. 31, 2017, when the controller’s staff reviewed it.
And eighty-six percent — 60 jobs out of 70 — of maintenance tasks by compressors that pump air to track equipment were completed late.
NYC Transit President Andy Byford wrote in response to the audit that transit officials have focused on fixing these maintenance delays by filling vacancies and tracking equipment with a new asset management system. Byford’s response was included as part of the controller’s final report.
There were 28 fewer signal-related major incidents in the 12-month period ended in August, compared with the corresponding previous time period. Major incidents are malfunctions that delay at least 50 trains.
Byford highlighted the work and hiring in the Subway Action Plan, the short-term $836 million repair program launched last year that aimed to stop the transit system from collapsing further.
NYC Transit has added 123 positions to the signal division, including 32 spots for the roving teams that are dispatched to fix malfunctions.
“This audit reports on prior processes that have long since changed and predates major improvements in signal maintenance, and also ignores a significant path forward for millions of transit riders,” MTA spokesman Shams Tarek said Wednesday. “The Subway Action Plan started last year has dramatically increased signal maintenance and repair, stabilizing and beginning to turn the tide in reliability, and President Byford‘s Fast Forward Plan, if funded, will bring about the complete overhaul of the entire signal system.”
The planned staffing under that plan, however, has shrunk, with 1,419 fewer workers budgeted for next year, including 133 signal maintainers, according to the controller.