NTSB cites subway radio glitch in Manhattan No. 1 train crash that injured 25

A radio glitch kept an MTA worker from alerting colleagues that their disabled subway train was about to smash into a passenger-carrying train beneath the Upper West Side, says a preliminary federal report on the Jan. 4 collision.

The just-the-facts account from the National Transportation Safety Board does not confirm the cause of the crash at the No. 1/2/3 station at W. 96th St. and Broadway in Manhattan, which resulted in minor injuries to 22 passengers and three MTA employees.

But the NTSB report is in line with media accounts — including in the Daily News — that faulty radio communication appears to have had a role in the incident.

Richard Davey, president of NYC Transit, said Thursday the NTSB’s findings so far are “beyond dispute — something that we certainly generally agree with.”

Around 2:11 p.m. the day of the crash, an “unruly passenger” pulled the emergency brake cord on the Bronx-bound No. 1 train as it rolled beneath the Upper West Side, the NTSB says.

Unable to reset the brakes on the 10-car train’s front five cars, the train operator offloaded its passengers at W. 79th St.

Another subway worker, a railcar inspector, arrived at the scene, but also was unable to get the brakes working again. So the MTA decided to take the train out of service, and move it to a yard in the Bronx at the northern end of the No. 1 line.

A flagger equipped with a handheld radio was stationed in the train’s front cab.

Because the brakes were disabled on the front five cars, the flagger’s job was to tell a supervisor in the disabled train’s sixth car about track signals, obstructions and other information about what was happening up ahead.

Davey said subway workers regularly move disabled trains in a similar manner. “We make this move approximately a dozen times a week without any issue,” he said.

The disabled train rolled northward from W. 79th St. at “restricted speed,” the NTSB said. The transit supervisor in the middle car was taking radio instructions from the flagger up front about when to accelerate or apply braking.

“The flagger said he lost radio communications with the transit system supervisor [in the sixth car] near the 96th St. Station,” the NTSB said.

“The transit system supervisor [in the sixth car] did not receive the flagger’s instruction to stop,” the NTSB said.

The radios were working correctly, Davey said — so it’s not clear why the flagger’s instruction didn’t reach the supervisor. That matter is under investigation.

The disabled train passed a red signal at the north end of the W. 96th St. platform as a passenger-carrying train passed in front of it at about 3 p.m., and the collision occurred.

Trip arms are located next to subway signal lights. When a signal is red, trip arms rise up from the tracks to activate the brakes of trains that are wrongly rolling past.

But because the brakes on the disabled train’s first five cars were out of service, the trip arm system was not able to stop the train, the NTSB said.

Neither train was equipped with “event recorders, cameras or other recording devices,” the NTSB said.

The NTSB is still probing the incident, and says “future investigative activity” will focus on how disabled cars are moved, radio communication procedures and “the lack of federal requirements for railcar event recorders.”

Requiring cameras and other event recorders is probably a good idea, Davey said. “As we buy new cars, it will be standard issue for sure,” he said.

After the crash, it took a full day before service was completely restored.