Investigators are focusing on human error as the primary cause of the Thursday, December 4th subway train collision and derailment in Manhattan, which resulted in more than two dozen injuries and commuter disruption.
The trains collided at a junction point slightly north of the 96th Street-Broadway station.
In Friday’s briefing, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials detailed how an unruly passenger’s activation of emergency brakes on the 1 train triggered a chain of events leading to the incident.
According to the NTSB, the control center instructed the crew to evacuate passengers and deactivate the brakes on the first five cars of the stalled train.
During its relocation to a Bronx rail yard, the disabled train, partially brakeless, was struck by another northbound 1 train transitioning from express to local tracks.
MTA officials have largely dismissed the possibility of mechanical or signal malfunction, pointing instead to human error.
NYC Transit President Richard Davey said, “The passenger train, we believe, had a green light – a signal to proceed – and it was going from the express track to the local track; the train that was out of service didn’t have the signal. As a result, it bumped into the train.”
The Transit Workers Union (TWU) shifted its attention to management decisions.
TWU Local President Richard Davis stated, “From my speaking to the vice president and the people who responded to the scene, it was management that was controlling the train.”
While the NTSB has yet to confirm a specific cause, Chair Jennifer Homendy urged caution against prematurely blaming the train crew, stating, “We’ll look at that as part of the investigation, but I would urge people to be cautious about just blaming, especially, you know, blaming the train crew, we don’t know. We’ll look at what actions were taken.”
The NTSB also highlighted systemic issues, noting human error as a symptom of broader design flaws in the system.
They questioned the absence of cameras and data recorders on the disabled train, essential tools for swift investigation and safety enhancement.
Despite a 2015 recommendation to the Federal Transit Administration to mandate these safety features, no action was taken.
The collision caused injuries to at least 26 individuals and extensive damage to trains and tracks, with a full investigation expected to take weeks.
The aftermath disrupted service on the 1, 2, and 3 lines, leading to widespread commuter confusion and delays during rush hour.
Despite the challenges, limited services on the 1 and 3 lines resumed from the reopened 96th Street station, although disruptions continued south of the station to 42nd Street.