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Aaron Gordon: Subway Commute Disrupted by Clogged Toilet

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@RR503 https://jalopnik.com/subway-commute-disrupted-by-clogged-toilet-1834841477

Subway Commute Disrupted by Clogged Toilet

Aaron Gordon

This morning, some New York City subway commuters experienced an all-too-common occurrence (although less so than it used to be): delays during rush hour. The reason given by the official New York City Transit Twitter account was that nature called upon the train crew. 

Indeed, New York City’s trains are operated by humans, and humans sometimes poop. Normally, when a member of a train crew has to number 2, they either hold it in until they get to the terminal—where they will then have enough time to take a bathroom break between train runs—or, if they absolutely cannot wait, hold the train in the station as they go to the nearest bathroom. (Yes, the New York City subway has bathrooms in stations. Yes, you should avoid them at all costs.) 

But today’s rush-hour delay was not an instance of a train crew needing to run to the nearest bathroom.

This delay was because of a clogged toilet.

You see, it wasn’t the train crew that needed to go to the bathroom, but the tower operator that controls the switches, and they couldn’t use the one in the tower.

To understand how one clogged toilet caused delays on five train lines, here’s a quick primer on how the subway works: Most of the subway lines intersect and overlap, moving between lines at particular junctions. For the lines in question (the A, C, E, F, and M lines), many of the switches, which move to send the trains on the appropriate track, are operated by humans in a control tower. And sometimes, those humans in the control tower have to poop.

Normally, tower operators needing to use a toilet is not an issue; there’s a bathroom in the tower they can use. (Sometimes, if your train is unexpectedly running local for no discernible reason, it may be because the tower operator had to retire to the throne for a minute so they put the switch to local service for the time being).

But, at the Port Authority tower, which controls the switches most critical to the C and E lines, has had a clogged toilet for three days, according to a source familiar with the stench, as well as screenshots from a Facebook group obtained by Jalopnik. So, in this case, the tower operator had to meander into the station itself to find relief.

Without a tower operator at the helm, trains can’t run up the local track (the C and E trains) due to the particulars of how that switch works. Further, there’s no one to send the northbound E’s to Queens instead of up 8th Avenue. That’s why NYCT had to divert trains while the tower operator hit the head, instead of merely announcing “delays” on the line, which is what happens when the crews on the train have to run into the station to answer nature’s call.

Maybe there was something in the water at the employee lounge though, because a train crew on the same line needed to run to the bathroom at Jay St-Metrotech in Brooklyn, according to the source and confirmed by screenshots viewed by Jalopnik.

Anyways, the lesson here is that New York City Transit employees are subject to the same indignities—if not more of them—than riders are due to the inadequacies of the bureaucracy to address our species’ most basic issues. Just ask the people working in the Port Authority tower, showing up to work to make sure you get to work on time... but also have to smell clogged shit for three days and counting. 

The MTA did not respond to a request for comment before publication. We will update this story if we hear anything back, including on the status of the Port Authority tower toilet.

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27 minutes ago, biGC323232 said:

There's always some new dumb shit with the (MTA)...

In this case, literally!

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You would think a big state agency with a massive war chest like that (MTA) to do some dumb shit.  I’m done. 🤔😂😂

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The bigger story here is the staffing situation in the system. We have towers run by one person controlling key interlockings here and elsewhere -- Hoyt Schermerhorn, for example. They need a break? Service dies. 

FWIW, this is yet another reason that upgrades to our dispatching infrastructure are necessary. 42nd St North still runs with an ancient GRS Model 5 interlocking machine and controls a tiny piece of territory. Centralizing to a master tower (as they plan to do for CBTC) gives you redundancy without having to pay someone to provide coverage for the small portion of each day that the primary Tw/O is not at their station. 

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Posted (edited)

Then, in this case, they can’t centralize quickly enough. It shouldn’t be that there’s only one person in a tower operating the interlockings under the current setup. Not just for pissing and shitting, but for other reasons, too. Otherwise, yeah, service dies. Same thing with the booth clerks. For upper-level MTA management to say, “Not our problem, just hold it in!” is both callous and stupid of them.

Edited by T to Dyre Avenue
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56 minutes ago, T to Dyre Avenue said:

It shouldn’t be that there’s only one person in a tower operating the interlockings under the current setup.

You can blame that on the (MTA)'s "reducing crews to cut costs" analogy.

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Oh, I do. You get what you pay for. Without automation in place, you still have to operate things manually and you need people to do that. It’s one thing to try to stay within a budget. But that’s not what they’re doing here.

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On 5/17/2019 at 7:08 PM, RR503 said:

The bigger story here is the staffing situation in the system. We have towers run by one person controlling key interlockings here and elsewhere -- Hoyt Schermerhorn, for example. They need a break? Service dies. 

FWIW, this is yet another reason that upgrades to our dispatching infrastructure are necessary. 42nd St North still runs with an ancient GRS Model 5 interlocking machine and controls a tiny piece of territory. Centralizing to a master tower (as they plan to do for CBTC) gives you redundancy without having to pay someone to provide coverage for the small portion of each day that the primary Tw/O is not at their station. 

But right now, it’s a necessary cost - crewed redundancy.

There should never be one person in the tower - the position is too critical. Might behoove to have one of the token booth people trained to run switches as backups, or run towers in two person teams.

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37 minutes ago, Deucey said:

But right now, it’s a necessary cost - crewed redundancy.

There should never be one person in the tower - the position is too critical. Might behoove to have one of the token booth people trained to run switches as backups, or run towers in two person teams.

No contest here.

TSSs are, IIRC, trained to operate towers, but their availability for those duties is of course contingent on their proximity to the tower in question, which is to say I'm unsure how much we can rely on them. 

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16 minutes ago, RR503 said:

No contest here.

TSSs are, IIRC, trained to operate towers, but their availability for those duties is of course contingent on their proximity to the tower in question, which is to say I'm unsure how much we can rely on them. 

So then why not Station Managers? They’re next to switches. Why not cross-train them for filling in gaps?

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1 hour ago, Deucey said:

So then why not Station Managers? They’re next to switches. Why not cross-train them for filling in gaps?

That would be too logical. Use stations staff in operational capacities...hell would freeze over! 

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Posted (edited)
On 5/18/2019 at 11:57 PM, RR503 said:

That would be too logical. Use stations staff in operational capacities...hell would freeze over! 

Station Agent is one of the avenues to promote to Tw/o but...lets be honest, Tw/o takes some skill cashiering does not. Sometimes a warm body isn't good enough. Anyway, Transit would sooner obsolete and remove them. Once Tap pay comes out, it's only a matter of time. There will be a few ambassador roles and then they position will shrink away.

That said I don't think they're the solution to this issue, you can't really pull the Station Agent during rush hour at 42nd, of all places, the tourist spots are where their services are used the most. 

P.S, the real solution to this problem is to fix the toilet and not wait a week and force people to pee in a can or poop on the tracks so they don't get in trouble.

Edited by Jsunflyguy

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Posted (edited)

The problem with centralizing is that it has a staff reduction.

Most Master Towers are covered by two people operators (during peak periods) and a Dispatcher/ATD. During normal operations, that's fine they can manage. The problem is during a disruption all the fleeted signals need to be open to use and suddenly those 2 or 3 choke points to manage change to a completely unfamiliar area and may increase to 4 or 5. Of course then the phone will ring with people trying to give you information, and others calling you with "whats going on" and what to put out in a tweet, etc.

All while the radio is exploding because of course when TA bought the NX panels, putting in train description boxes. So of course instead of waiting for the punch you have to remember which train is which (or constantly call them) the workload rises exponentially in a disruption, so it becomes quite difficult to problem solve and it gets reduced to whack-a-mole because the tools for situational awareness are not present. 

I'm not really a fan of Master Towers.

The Computer Aided Dispatch Console at RCC are better, for situational awareness. The downside is that you're in an operational center and that means Management can "manage" you...😆

Edited by Jsunflyguy

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1 hour ago, Jsunflyguy said:

Station Agent is one of the avenues to promote to Tw/o but...lets be honest, Tw/o takes some skill cashiering does not. Sometimes a warm body isn't good enough. Anyway, Transit would sooner obsolete and remove them. Once Tap pay comes out, it's only a matter of time. There will be a few ambassador roles and then they position will shrink away.

That said I don't think they're the solution to this issue, you can't really pull the Station Agent during rush hour at 42nd, of all places, the tourist spots are where their services are used the most. 

P.S, the real solution to this problem is to fix the toilet and not wait a week and force people to pee in a can or poop on the tracks so they don't get in trouble.

I mean yes, different skill set, but if we don't want to pull TSSs and don't want to double staff...

And of course fixing the toilet is the solution, but understaffing towers is an issue that goes beyond these sorts of edge cases. Tower ops need breaks, and those breaks frequently interfere with service. I'll be sure to post next time Hoyt is left lined to local for 15 mins. 

59 minutes ago, Jsunflyguy said:

The problem with centralizing is that it has a staff reduction.

Most Master Towers are covered by two people operators (during peak periods) and a Dispatcher/ATD. During normal operations, that's fine they can manage. The problem is during a disruption all the fleeted signals need to be open to use and suddenly those 2 or 3 choke points to manage change to a completely unfamiliar area and may increase to 4 or 5. Of course then the phone will ring with people trying to give you information, and others calling you with "whats going on" and what to put out in a tweet, etc.

All while the radio is exploding because of course when TA bought the NX panels, putting in train description boxes. So of course instead of waiting for the punch you have to remember which train is which (or constantly call them) the workload rises exponentially in a disruption, so it becomes quite difficult to problem solve and it gets reduced to whack-a-mole because the tools for situational awareness are not present. 

I'm not really a fan of Master Towers.

The Computer Aided Dispatch Console at RCC are better, for situational awareness. The downside is that you're in an operational center and that means Management can "manage" you...😆

Yeah, saying centralization is bad because MTA doesn't know how to properly implement is a bit off. Master towers are understaffed and poorly equipped (see Dekalb or Murphy) but managing disruptions across decentralized facilities is even worse. First off, it isn't like MTA staffs decentralized towers properly either -- setting aside the above single person failure issue, most of the remaining non-critical local facilities are staffed rush-only, if that. That's why the entire (G) goes down if something bad happens on weekends, or why we can't use the crossovers at Utica, Lafayette or Bway Jct to reroute Fulton service most of the time, or why we almost never use 30th St interlocking for anything. Add in the communication and complexity issues intrinsic in managing traffic flows across six or seven independent facilities running with ancient US&S machines, and you have yourself a real problem. Managing disruptions without continuously tracked train IDs in an understaffed centralized facility may be bad -- and investments in master towers should absolutely include proper indication tracking -- but again, not so sure leaving what was there before is at all better. 

For whatever it's worth, the B division is slated to finally get ISIM-B up this year, which should somewhat aid in this issue of situational awareness. We'll have centralized track occupancy data and an operating theater to view it in. 

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Posted (edited)
13 minutes ago, RR503 said:

 

Yeah, saying centralization is bad because MTA doesn't know how to properly implement is a bit off.

We're speaking in the context of the MTA's current and past methods, that's not to say that its bad on its own merit. 

I'm not a fan of the TA's Master Towers for the reason I listed, there's nothing more to it than that. Point is that the implementation is always poor because every decision is made in the penny-wise, pound-foolish manner that follows every organization that constantly focuses on making numbers look good on reports rather than providing sufficient tools for success.

Those are the kinds of places that see someone in the Signal Department "always standing around" and decide that the department is overstaffed. Then after the reduction be shocked to find out that the signal department is 90 minutes away because  latent capacity gets misconstrued as inefficient. 

Edited by Jsunflyguy
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Jsunflyguy said:

We're speaking in the context of the MTA's current and past methods, that's not to say that its bad on its own merit. 

I'm not a fan of the TA's Master Towers for the reason I listed, there's nothing more to it than that. Point is that the implementation is always poor because every decision is made in the penny-wise, pound-foolish manner that follows every organization that constantly focuses on making numbers look good on reports rather than providing sufficient tools for success.

Those are the kinds of places that see someone in the Signal Department "always standing around" and decide that the department is overstaffed. Then after the reduction be shocked to find out that the signal department is 90 minutes away because  latent capacity gets misconstrued as inefficient. 

Oh, yes, there’s a lot not to be liked in MTA’s implementation of these sorts of programs. All the same, I still challenge whether they were a net negative. 

I think we have to be careful when discussing efficiency, though. The way the MTA deals with its issues in that realm (through those godawful PEGs and BRPs) shouldn’t obfuscate the fact that there is a ton of inefficiency within the agency. It just happens to be stuff you can’t lop off when convenient without more structural fixes, which seems to be a concept beyond their comprehension. 

Edited by RR503

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