Audit Reveals Why Midtown Subway Escalator Buckled, Terrifying Rush-Hour Riders

"This is a very rare and troubling thing to see," the MTA said at the time

What to Know

  • Last February, a subway station escalator in Manhattan buckled at the top during a peak morning rush hour; no one was badly hurt
  • It was a terrifying sight to behold, though; straphangers said they were fearful their feet were about to be chewed to bits
  • A new audit from the MTA's Office of the Inspector General finds the escalator had worn mechanical parts that weren't noticed because maintenance visits were canceled or incompleted

Worn mechanical parts that went unnoticed were the reason a long, winding subway escalator in the heart of Manhattan buckled at the top during a peak morning rush last year, an audit from the MTA Inspector General says.

The audit released Tuesday says the worn parts on the escalator that snapped at the Fifth Avenue/53rd Street station last February weren't noticed because of "preventive maintenance visits which NYC Transit either canceled or did not complete."

No one was seriously injured, but commuters scattered, terrified, feeling they had nearly stepped into the teeth of disaster. 

Lyana Fernandez tweeted a photo of the escalator at the Fifth Avenue/53rd Street E and M station shortly after 9 a.m. that February 2019 morning. People's feet seemed perilously close to the part that was chewed up. 

Fernandez said she heard a loud crash as she was coming up the escalator "and saw this right in front of me. Could've shredded someone's foot." Hours later she said she was still shaking from the sight. 

The 22-year-old escalator, which was due for a full replacement under the next capital program, was last maintained four weeks prior to the accident; the cycle is every eight weeks, according to MTA officials. The system's safety mechanisms kicked in as they were designed to do.

The MTA at the time called it a "very rare and troubling thing to see," vowing to inspect all 231 escalators in its system beginning right after the incident.

Part of the problem, the Inspector General report says, though, is that no management report captures an individual escalator's history of canceled, delayed or incomplete preventative maintenance visits. To check the maintenance history of any one escalator, management currently has to compile and analyze data from two separate sources, the report says.

According to the report, NYC Transit responded to the Office of the Inspector General's findings last month and accepted all its recommendations. It also vowed to have them fully completed, developed and tested by year's end.

Contact Us