Skip to main content

Fakery on the Subways

A pair of raids at MTA locker rooms in the past week have turned up evidence that subway workers are continuing the widespread practice of faking signal inspections.

Empty NY SubwaySo begins a piece over at Transportation Nation

…authorities opened a locker in a crew room at the Times Square subway station and found hundreds of photo-copied bar codes from subway signals. A signal inspector can scan bar code copies with a hand-held device to falsely report that inspections have been done throughout the system–without ever going out into the field. A 2005 report by the MTA Inspector General said some workers claimed to be walking the rails and inspecting signals when, in fact, they’d been on vacation.

Regardless of how “antiquated” the system is, how is it possible that management has no idea the day or week of the inspection that the employee is not actually even at work, but is on vacation? What have all of the signal inspectors been up to when they are supposedly at work? Do they have a secret “man cave” filled with pool tables, leather couches, coke machines and dial-in pizza? How will the union defend these guys?

Now, I have nothing to do with New York, subways or even unions at the moment, but this article struck me as a perverse parody of what we expect from society and how we have come to place so many rules and requirements around safety without an adequate consideration of the actual risk or how the standards are going to be maintained.

We reasonably expect that signals on the train line we are riding are being checked, but perhaps the current inspection regime is too stringent, and experience tells these inspectors that the failure rate is low, or that the train drivers pick up on the signal failure in most cases, and report it for repairs. If there have been no serious accidents involving subway signal failure and these guys have been scamming the system for years, that tells you that something is wrong with the inspection system as designed. Perhaps there are ten times too many employees – that is possible in some unionized environments – and the inspections could be carried out at a lower frequency. Perhaps the increased inspections were used as a bargaining chip by the union against upgrading the safety systems, hence reducing employees – now that really backfired. Or perhaps it is actually impossible to meet the inspection targets set by management with the staffing available, so the employees decided that they would come up with the compromise.

Then again, perhaps these guys were just really lazy, cheating the system that, admittedly, has holes big enough to drive a subway train through. If someone died as a result of this failure to inspect, we’d likely find out all the statistics and new standards would be introduced – and as I’m sure you are aware, regulatory requirements rarely retreat.

Railyard for NYC #7 subway lineWith a threat of criminal legal action on the employees and supervisors, against a practice that seems to have been a conspiracy for many years, even before the introduction of the barcodes, one has to wonder what else in our cities and safety systems is being compromised by lax management and corrupt, lazy  practices?

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

One thought on “Fakery on the Subways

  1. I have not had anything to do with train lines, but I would assume that checking that the signals are working is an extremely important task, which could put the safety of the thousands of commuters at risk. I can understand that there may be a problem with the checking system itself, but having devised an alternate system so that not only do you not have to perform the task but not even show up to work is extremely lazy. I would hope that these people would be disciplined and an investigation undertaken to ensure it does not happen again.

Comments are closed.