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MTA track inspectors suspended following agency watchdog report on falling debris in western Queens

A new report finds MTA inspectors to blame for falling debris from the 7 line subway tracks in Woodside and Sunnyside. (Photo courtesy of Councilman Van Bramer's office)

For years, Sunnyside and Woodside residents have been terrorized by falling debris from the 7 train that looms over Roosevelt Avenue as steel parts and wooden beams cause pedestrians and motor vehicles to avoid the roadway altogether.

On Monday, May 31, the Office of the MTA Inspector General released the findings of a nearly yearlong investigation into the falling debris from elevated subway lines across the city, revealing that seven inspectors skipped mandated inspections and falsified reports. Those seven inspectors have been suspended following the investigation.

This lack of oversight contributed to exposing riders, MTA employees and especially people on the street passing below the elevated tracks to significant safety risks, according to the report.

“It is appalling that so many track inspectors, on so many occasions, skipped safety inspections, filed false reports to cover their tracks and then lied to OIG investigators about it,” MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny said. “Management needs to utilize a technology that will ensure supervisors can verify when inspectors do their job — and when they do not.”

The OIG first opened an inquiry into the NYC Transit Track division in January 2020 in response to reports of track debris raining down on cars below the elevated tracks. Some of the debris was large enough to cause damage and injury.

(Photo courtesy of Councilman Van Bramer’s office)
(Photo courtesy of Councilman Van Bramer’s office)

These events led NYC Transit to spend $15.9 million to attach netting on the underside of elevated tracks to protect the public and employees.

“As we have been saying for months, including during discussion of this investigation at board meetings, there is nothing more important to us than ensuring the safety of the riding public,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said. “These inspectors violated the public’s trust. They were caught and immediately removed from service, and as the MTAIG points out, they are paying severe penalties for those violations. NYC Transit has zero tolerance for any action that could impact safety – period.”

Upon learning of the investigation, the MTA immediately conducted an inspection surge with inspectors walking all 665 miles of main line track in order to ensure safety. The agency also created and implemented a new inspection process involving constant real-time oversight by supervision.

The report did not find a direct connection between specific track defects and the workers’ failure to conduct inspections.

Sunnyside Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, an outspoken critic of the MTA and a candidate for Queens borough president, has been listening to constituent complaints for years on the issue.

“The MTA Inspector General’s report shows what we’ve known all along, that the conditions under the 7 line were incredibly dangerous and unsafe,” Van Bramer said. “The MTA must do better along all elevated lines to assure the safety of not just their passengers, but the safety of anyone who passes under an elevated structure.”

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