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2 Track Supervisors Suspended Following Subway Derailment In Harlem

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Two track maintenance supervisors were suspended Wednesday, a day after following a subway derailment in Harlem that officials said appears to have been caused by human error, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said.

As CBS2's Dave Carlin reported, service on the A, B, C and D lines resumed Wednesday morning with delays after crews worked through the night to finish repairs for the morning commute.

But commuters were still fuming. Some riders crammed onto some of the trains, admittedly nervous about getting on board.

"Yea, very concerned about it," said Harlem Ernesto Antelo.

"I'm a little afraid, I gotta be honest," said passenger Madelaine Quezada. "Hopefully, everything goes smooth and not a lot of delays again."

Others were just plain furious.

"Down, down, down -- it is messed up," one woman said as she put her thumb down.

The two track maintenance supervisors were suspended without pay by the MTA after the agency said human error caused a piece of loose replacement track stored nearby to partially derail an A Train.

It was a terrifying moment for the hundreds on board as the packed downtown A train derailed just before 10 a.m. Tuesday, taking it off the tracks before slamming into a wall at the 125th Street station in Harlem.


"The train just started like banging against the walls of the tunnel," said passenger Greg Sheir. "It was going up and down, sort of like a runaway roller coaster."

"The train just started like banging against the walls of the tunnel," said passenger Greg Sheir. "It was going up and down, sort of like a runaway roller coaster."

There was chaos and confusion as many riders began to panic, not knowing what was going on. Some were concerned the train cars may have become engulfed.

"Smoke, fire coming out of the sides, sparking everywhere," said passenger Edgar Gonzalez.

More than 30 people were hurt, though none seriously.

"I used to think that the subway was safe, and now I kind of have my doubts on that," said Logan Chin of SoHo.

MTA officials now believe it was a piece of replacement rail being stored on the tracks that was not properly secured that caused the train to go off course.

"Storing equipment in between tracks is a common practice employed by railroads across the country to accelerate rail repairs,'' MTA Chairman Joe Lhota and Interim Executive Director Ronnie Hakim said in a joint statement. "The key to this being an effective and safe practice is making sure that the extra equipment is properly bolted down, which does not appear to have happened in this case.''

Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen said the motormen had no warning.

"It actually felt like an earthquake to the train crew," he told WCBS 880's Alex Silverman.

Samuelsen says the section of rail in question was shorter than the typical 39-foot segments, lighter and easier to shake loose, even if it had been secured.

"The amount of traffic in the New York City transit system creates massive, massive vibrations on the railroad tracks. It had the ability to pop a properly secured rail out of place," he said.

He said it's well-known that these sections of rail, awaiting pick up by a special piece of equipment, can cause derailments.

"People realize this," he said.

The union also said the MTA acted too quickly and should have waited to learn more from the investigation before disciplining anyone.

A source with knowledge of the investigation says there are protocols for handling smaller pieces of equipment and those protocols were not followed in this case, Silverman reported.

But regardless of the cause, transit advocates say a change is needed and long overdue.

"The delays were bad enough. The breakdowns are frustrating," said John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance. "But derailments -- people feel unsafe on the subway, and that is unacceptable."

Raskin said some are now haunted by replayed scenes of broken metal and glass, with people hurt – or left to swelter, stuck in place underground, as was the case on an F Train earlier this month.

"I don't trust them to fix the things that need to be fixed, like what just happened," said Solange Roussetzki of Harlem.

"If you underfund a public transit system by billions of dollars, eventually it's going to melt down," Raskin added. "That eventually is now."

Raskin said gaining trust starts with Gov. Andrew Cuomo getting the MTA much more funding. Carlin asked Raskin what specifically needed to be funded.

"We need a new signal system that is safer and more reliable. We need new subway cars that can handle more people. We need better communication with riders," Raskin said. "Fixing the subway is not rocket science. We know the technology we need."

Meanwhile, in wake of recent problems, including Tuesday's derailment, Mayor Bill de Blasio told WCBS 880 and 1010 WINS that the MTA must focus its resources to fix the subway system.

"The important thing is to get to work on solutions," de Blasio said. "There's a lot of work to be done on the MTA, and we're going to be constantly focusing the attention of everyone on the things we need to do to address the immediate problems at the MTA. I keep saying to everyone the subway system is the number one thing the MTA does, but historically the resources haven't always reflected that fact. We need to focus resources on the subways, that's where the need is greatest."

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