Over 20 Injured As Trains Collide During Morning Rush
At around 8:20am on Thursday January 4th, two New York City subway trains collided between the Central Park West and Broadway stations on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. One of the trains derailed, resulting in over 20 injuries.
The incident occurred when a northbound R train struck the rear of a stationary A train waiting to enter the 96th Street station. The force of the collision caused the fifth car of the 10-car R train to derail and scrape along the tunnel wall.
First responders arrived quickly on the scene to transport injured passengers to nearby hospitals. The FDNY reported 21 minor injuries and 5 serious injuries. Most sustained bruises, but some riders complained of neck and back pain. All of the injured have since been treated and released.
Derailment Snarls Morning Commute
The derailment caused extensive disruptions across three major subway lines – the 1, 2, and 3 trains. With over 1.6 million daily riders, these lines are some of the busiest in the New York City transit system.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) suspended service along stretches of the 1, 2, and 3 lines for over 8 hours while crews worked to re-rail the train car and assess damage to equipment and tunnels. Many stations above ground remained open for free transfers, but platforms were dangerously overcrowded, forcing police to intermittently close access.
|South Ferry to 137 St
|Flatbush Av to Times Sq-42nd St
|New Lots Av to Times Sq-42nd St
Without access to vital north-south subway routes, the morning commute descended into chaos as residents and commuters struggled to find alternate modes of transportation. Buses filled up quickly and could not keep pace with demand. In some cases, commuters reported 2-3 hour journeys to get to work – much longer than their typical subway ride.
The disruptions also had a major economic impact on businesses across retail, hospitality, healthcare, and other sectors that rely on public transportation to shuttle employees to their jobs.
Cause Under Investigation But Likely Human Error
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has launched an investigation into the cause of the accident. The NTSB will interview crew members, release specifics about the speed of each train, and determine if there were any mechanical failures.
While the official determination will take some time, early signs point to human error rather than system failure. MTA officials revealed that preliminary data shows the R train disregarded multiple automatic signals that should have safely slowed it down when approaching a train up ahead.
“Initial investigation seems to reveal that existing safety systems worked as designed. The question is why those protocols were not followed correctly” said MTA Acting Chair Janno Lieber.
Sources say the R train operator may have been temporarily blinded by the rising sun glare as the train emerged from under city streets heading north. However, full results from drug and alcohol testing are still pending.
This theory does not preclude the possibility that faulty signals, track circuits, or train equipment also played a role. MTA maintenance logs show that 20% of track signals are currently out of service. Critics have accused the agency of overworking personnel and delaying critical system upgrades due to budget shortages.
Lingering Delays Amid Broad Subway Probe
By late afternoon on January 4th, the derailed subway car had been re-railed and moved from the area to allow limited service to resume. 1 and 3 trains are running again but skipping multiple stations near 96th street. 2 trains remain suspended between Times Square and Central Park North.
|Times Sq-42nd St to Central Park North
Extensive repairs are still needed to patch up tunnel walls scraped by the derailed train. Water damage has also shorted out critical track signaling equipment.
In response to the accident, federal investigators have opened a broad inquiry into the safety of equipment, signals, and procedures across the entire New York City subway system:
“We have concerns about safety on these ancient tracks and systems” said NTSB spokesperson Carl March. “Everything is so tightly packed under New York City that problems can spread fast”
He predicts full service may not be restored for 1-2 weeks as inspectors methodically rule out risks of secondary accidents. However, officials are trying to assure the public that critical transportation access will not be jeopardized indefinitely.
Governor Kathy Hochul has unveiled a $200 million aid package to accelerate maintenance projects and hire more subway personnel:
???We need all hands on deck to address urgent safety fixes ??? that???s why I???m immediately allocating emergency relief funding and calling in reinforcements from the state transportation department to support the MTA’s repair efforts around the clock.”
Financial Pain for Businesses, City Budget
The subway collision and subsequent system outage could not have come at a worse time for businesses still struggling from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Stores rely heavily on commuters and tourists who take the subway to shop and dine in New York City. Still dealing with high rents and inflation, many small businesses expressed worry they can not endure another economic shock.
If delays stretch longer than a week, the MTA estimates total losses to city businesses could exceed $100 million per day. Tourism levels may also decline if visitors worry about getting around efficiently using transit.
On top of economic impacts, the MTA had to pay costly overtime to hundreds of workers called in to help re-rail trains, shepherd passengers, and make repairs. They were already facing a 2024 budget deficit nearing $500 million. This accident will now force them to allocate additional resources towards safety initiatives and system hardening improvements.
City officials face difficult financial tradeoffs balancing safety upgrades while avoiding further cuts to service. Riders and elected leaders admit improvements are badly needed but remain frustrated about plummeting on-time performance and skeletal night/weekend schedules. How to equitably fund the region’s transportation needs continues to stir debate.
Check mta.info for Latest Alerts
As the investigation continues, commuters must stay patient using congested alternate routes or working from home if possible. Updated subway schedules and travel alerts are available from the MTA at mta.info or through transit tracking apps.
Officials know reliable public transit is the lifeblood of New York City. While turbulence lies ahead, the agency hopes to learn from this incident and emerge with a safer, more resilient transportation system.
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