A large portion of New York City’s troubled subway system ground to a halt in the middle of Friday rush hour, leaving thousands of commuters stranded as seven train lines were forced to suspend service for over an hour.
Thousands of passengers were stranded on station platforms and trapped in tunnels between stations for over an hour on one of the hottest days of the year when a still-unexplained computer failure took out a huge chunk of the city’s subway system during the evening rush hour on Friday. The glitch severed the connection between the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) Railroad Control Center and the signal system controlling six of the numbered lines and the crosstown shuttle at 5:50pm.
“We do not yet know what the root cause this failure was,” MTA President Andy Byford told a press conference, adding that the problem was not believed to stem from a loss of power or the hot weather. While MTA representatives hastened to assure media that in the absence of a loss of power trains trapped between stations remained air-conditioned, habitual subway riders know that not all train cars have working air conditioning, and the doors between cars are often locked, preventing overheated passengers from seeking cooler pastures elsewhere.
Police were dispatched to stations and platforms to “manage the extreme crowding,” and the MTA advised passengers to use the lettered train lines instead. Service finally began resuming at 7:16pm, though residual delays persisted through the evening. An investigation is reportedly underway.
City politicians were livid. Mayor (and Democratic presidential candidate) Bill deBlasio decried the MTA’s lack of preparation for the hot weather, while comptroller Scott Stringer called the delay “completely unacceptable.”
The MTA wasn’t the only system ensnared in the night’s transportation nightmare. At the same time, a “track condition” held up PATH trains, a separate system that connects Manhattan with Jersey City and Hoboken across the Hudson River. Long Island Rail Road trains were also running with delays due to “switch trouble.” It is not known whether the systems’ problems were related.
The mysterious failure came less than a week after an unexplained “significant disturbance” knocked out power in Manhattan, plunging 73,000 homes into darkness from west Midtown to the Upper West Side for hours. Energy company Con Edison is investigating what caused the meltdown, having ruled out grid overload from excessive power usage in the hot weather.
New York’s subway is known for its decaying infrastructure, featuring frequent delays, aging trains, dangerous stairways, and chronic budget shortfalls exacerbated by institutionalized corruption. In one notorious example in 2017, a train stalled for nearly an hour with no power in the height of summer, turning into a dark and sweaty nightmare as passengers began stripping off their clothes in a desperate attempt at relief.