Subway Derailment in Manhattan Injures Dozens Top News

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Subway Derailment in Manhattan Injures Dozens Top News

One passenger aboard the southbound A train, Michelle Ayoub, said she was afraid she would die when the train suddenly lost control as it approached the 125th Street station. She had been frustrated by subway delays but until now had not worried that there was any danger.

“I never thought it was not a safe system,” she said. “I guess now I’m thinking that. I really don’t want to get back on a train.”

The cause of the accident was under investigation, but Joseph J. Lhota, the newly named leader of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subway, said the train careened off the tracks after its emergency brakes were activated. Asked about the safety of the system, Mr. Lhota said he wanted to “rebuild the confidence” in the agency.

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Subway passengers milling about on the tracks after their southbound A train derailed and crashed into a wall between 135th Street and 125th Street in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Credit
Enrique Garcia

“We transport millions of people every day,” Mr. Lhota told reporters. “We want to do it safely, and we want to do it as quickly and as efficiently as we possibly can.”

It was unclear if the derailment was related to the system’s dilapidated infrastructure. A preliminary investigation found that an “improperly secured piece of replacement rail” that had been stored on the tracks was the cause of the derailment, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said in a statement issued late Tuesday.

In 2015, a G train derailed in Brooklyn, injuring three people, when pieces of a crumbling wall fell on to the tracks — an accident subway officials said amplified the need for infrastructure improvements.

On Tuesday night, local A train service was restored between Columbus Circle and 168th Street in Manhattan, but C train service remained suspended in the area. Crews were working to remove the derailed train from the express tracks and to bring back normal service on Wednesday morning.

The damage from the accident was so severe — with about 200 feet of track and signal equipment damaged and mounds of concrete shorn from the walls — that restoring service became a laborious task.

The derailment comes amid other transit problems throughout the region, including the need to make urgent repairs at Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan — the nation’s busiest railroad station, where two trains recently derailed. State officials have predicted a “summer of hell” when several tracks are taken out of service, starting July 10.

Riders aboard the derailed subway train relayed harrowing accounts of the train’s being violently jolted and then plunged into darkness. For several frightening minutes, as smoke filled cars, passengers did not know what had happened.

Kelly Kopp, 48, a photographer who lives in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, said there was chaos on board as passengers struggled to find a way off the train.

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Joseph Lhota, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman, went to the scene of the derailment.

Credit
Karsten Moran for The New York Times

“People were screaming; people were throwing up because the smoke was so thick,” Mr. Kopp said as he stood on a street corner above the 125th Street station. His shirt was covered in dirt from when he climbed off the train into the tunnel.

When the train derailed, Mr. Kopp saw sparks from what looked like an explosion.

“I thought, ‘This is it,’” he said. “I thought, ‘We’re going to burn alive in here.’”

There were about 800 people in the subway tunnel after the accident, and it took more than an hour for all of them to get out, according to officials.

Mr. Lhota said the smoke and fire reported by riders was the result of garbage on the tracks that was set ablaze in the crash. Asked by reporters how fast the train was going when it derailed, Mr. Lhota said that would be examined as part of the investigation.

For Mr. Lhota, who is days into a job he has held once before, the derailment was an inauspicious beginning. He had planned to unveil the new South Ferry subway station in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning but instead traveled to the scene of the derailment. The South Ferry station was flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the authority had just completed $369 million in repairs to bring it back to service.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who controls the subway and has come under heavy criticism for the continual problems, has vowed to take emergency action to improve the system since it became clear that the antiquated infrastructure was failing. Mr. Cuomo did not visit the derailment site, as he did when a Long Island Rail Road train derailed in January; his office said he traveled on Tuesday morning to Albany, where he called a special legislative session to begin on Wednesday.

Mr. Cuomo released a statement on Tuesday night, saying that under Mr. Lhota’s leadership, he hoped to address the “fundamental issues plaguing the transit system.”

“While the investigation is ongoing, this morning’s subway derailment is an unacceptable manifestation of the system’s current state,” Mr. Cuomo said. “New Yorkers deserve better.”

Photo

Firefighters near the subway station at St. Nicholas Avenue and 125th Street after the derailment.

Credit
Karsten Moran for The New York Times

Tony Utano, the vice president of Transport Workers Union Local 100’s Maintenance of Way Division, said that at least 100 members were working to bring service back.

“It’s a serious derailment, with quite of bit of damage to signals and some structural damage to the walls,” Mr. Utano said. “Our members are working as fast and safely as possible to bring the system back to normal.”

Photographs that the union provided showed signals ripped from their moorings and switches heavily damaged. The metal cladding on one of the cars was shorn off, creating a gash several feet long. Chunks of concrete were torn from the walls.

Surveying the damage after the crash, Keyvan Chamani, 28, said it was amazing no one was more seriously injured. He was sitting on the train watching YouTube videos on his phone when “everything went crazy.” His first thought was that there had been an explosion. But it soon became clear that it was an accident, he said.

A door, only feet from where he sat, was torn off as the train crashed into a wall.

He said that people were having trouble breathing and that some passengers opened windows. But that caused more smoke to pour in, he said, so they closed the windows again.

“I was getting panicked,” he said.

Kirk James, 42, was traveling from Washington Heights to New York University, where he is a professor, when the train seemed to “brake really hard,” he said. Many people were thrown to the floor, and in those first few minutes, he said, there was no announcement about what had gone wrong. People from another car began shouting that they saw and smelled smoke.

“They were trying to break the glass to come into our car,” he said. They succeeded and huddled in that car for a brief period, afraid to open the door for fear that there might be a fire outside.

After nearly a half-hour, he said, he saw people leaving the cars and walking toward the 125th Street station, and he joined the procession, eventually emerging onto the sunlit street to join many other shaken riders.

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Subway Derailment in Manhattan Injures Dozens Top News

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