On March 6, a rusted metal plate fell from the elevated track onto the street below near 62nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue. The plate struck a moving car, cracking the windshield. No one was injured.
According to the MTA, the plate does not support any train or station loads, but is used to add “lateral stiffness” to the trestle.
The incident occurred just two weeks after a wooden beam fell from the 7 train just three blocks north, cracking another car windshield.
Last Wednesday on the steps of City Hall, City Council members representing the entire 7 train line blasted the MTA for not doing enough after the initial incident. They called on the agency to act before someone is hurt.
“It’s like Groundhog Day,” said Speaker Corey Johnson. “The MTA has stood by idly for far too long while the elevated 7 train infrastructure has crumbled before our eyes.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the district, called the incidents a “public health crisis” and an emergency. He said residents don’t feel safe.
Although the MTA went up and down Roosevelt Avenue to make sure everything was structurally sound, Van Bramer said they should have put protective netting or emergency scaffolding.
“The only reason people haven’t died yet is luck,” he said. “The next time something falls, it might not crack a windshield, it might crack somebody’s head open.”
Other elected officials say the problems with 7 train infrastructure date back further. For almost a decade, Councilman Daniel Dromm said he’s been trying to get the MTA to repaint the structure, which had not been painted in 38 years.
In April 2017, District 9 International Union of Painters and Allied Trades collected samples of paint chips that fell from the trestle. Samples showed lead levels at 244,000 parts per million, which is 48 times the “acceptable” level of 5,000 parts per million.
Dromm called not only for repainting –– a project the MTA began in May 2018 from 72nd to 104th Streets –– but also lead abatement.
“Mothers are walking underneath there with children in carriages, vendors are underneath there selling food,” he said. “That dust is permeating the air.”
Even Mayor Bill de Blasio called the incidents “unacceptable.” His staff has already communicated with the MTA, he said, and they expect to a see a solution “immediately.”
Danny Pearlstein, communications and policy director for the transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, said the crumbling infrastructure is “terrifying.”
“The subway system is now over a century old,” he said. “It’s showing its age severely.”
Riders Alliance has been pushing the state to pass congestion pricing, which Pearlstein believes will bring reliable, accessible and safe transit.
“We need a safe subway,” he said. “We need to invest in our transit system so we have one.”
MTA Chief Safety Officer Patrick Warren said in a statement that they have inspected the area in detail, and “have determined it is safe.”
“The safety of our riders, employees and neighbors is paramount, and this was an extremely serious incident that we are taking aggressive action on,” Warren said. “We’ve launched a full-scale investigation and will be inspecting the entire system.”
An MTA spokesperson said they are investigating what caused the metal piece to come loose. Specifically, they are focusing on this type of connection plate.
The agency is evaluating whether a truck striking the trestle a day earlier could have contributed to the incident.
Warren said the MTA will use a combination of “internal resources and outside experts” to complete the investigation in approximately a week.
The MTA also completed a visual investigation of the entire elevated system at the end of February. The spokesperson said they were looking for unused construction support platforms.
All tracks are inspected on a weekly basis by personnel on foot, the spokesperson said. Elevated structures are inspected annually.
“We’ve been in close communication with elected officials whose constituents have been impacted by these events,” Warren said, “and we will work in collaboration with them on this urgent issue.”
Johnson said the incidents were a “sad but perfect metaphor for the MTA’s problems.” Specifically, he said, it highlights the agency’s lack of accountability and urgency.
At his State of the City address, Johnson proposed municipal control of the subway and bus systems.
“Accountability is 150 miles north from here,” he said. “It’s insulated from accountability by a governing structure that is designed to deflect accountability, rather than act on a daily basis.”