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Apparently, there is an entire staff of MTA employees whose job it is to inspect the subway’s signal system, several of whom have falsified multiple documents claiming they’d inspected various signals when in fact they hadn’t.
That said, the MTA — and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office — assures the Voice that at no point was the public’s safety at risk because the the agency has a “fool-proof plan” to ensure that the signal system is safe, regardless of whether it’s ever inspected.
Naturally, we wondered “then why the fuck is there an entire staff of people whose jobs it is to inspect the signal system?”
MTA officials wouldn’t speak on the record about what this squad of “safety” inspectors actually does, and — after a long laugh — the agency told us “that’s an interesting question” before providing us with an explanation of how the “fail safe” system actually works (which you can see below).
Regardless, two New York City Transit subway maintenance supervisors –and eight NYCT subway signal maintainers — were indicted today for falsifying MTA records to reflect inspections of equipment that were never completed.
No MTA managers have been charged with any crimes.
The way management determines whether signals have been inspected is through the scanning of bar codes on various pieces of equipment. Basically, inspectors have to physically travel to the equipment, check it, and then scan the bar code to prove they were there.
However, according to the D.A.’s Office, “between January 2009 and December 2010, eight NYCT subway signal maintainers made at least 33 false entries in logbook reports documenting inspections of equipment. A search revealed that Anthony Pellegrino (a 29-year-old signal maintainer) was storing barcodes in his locker, which, under MTA rules and regulations, should only be found on subway track equipment. By keeping these barcodes in his personal locker, Pellegrino was able to attempt to evade rules designed to ensure that subway equipment is inspected and maintained.”
In other words, Pellegrino allegedly kept bar codes in his locker so he and his buddies could claim they inspected pieces of equipment without having to actually get off their asses and do it.
Again, however, authorities maintain that “the deceitful activities underlying the charged crimes do not impact public safety.”
So, if not to prevent a catastrophe, why do these jobs exist? Best answer: to prevent the possibilities of subway delays.
Here’s how the MTA says the “fail safe” safety plan works:
The signal system is designed on a “Fail Safe” principle. This design
characteristic of the signal system acts to ensure that a fault or
malfunction of any element affecting safety will cause the system to
revert to a state that is known
to be safe. Electrical circuits and electromechanical devices called
relays are interconnected to provide the “logic” of the system. This
logic enforces safe train separation by controlling the signal aspects
and the mechanical stop arms. These circuits are
designed on the closed circuit principle meaning that, if the energy
source to the relay is lost, the relay will de-energize and open the
relay contacts causing the affected signals to default to the safe state
(red aspect) with the associated mechanical stop
arm positioned to engage the car-borne tripcock of any approaching
train. Therefore, the most likely consequence of not performing
maintenance and testing activities will be an increase in “fail safe”
failures that result in delays, e.g. T/Os encountering
red signals, Rapid Transit Operations (RTO) personnel being unable to
establish a route at interlocking areas, etc.
Let’s assume these allegedly awful municipal employees earn $60,000 a year (which, given the MTA’s rather generous pay scale, is probably a fairly conservative estimate). This means the city has dished out $600,000 this year alone to pay people to do a job that only prevents delays that could only potentially happen (if the “fail safe” safety system corrects an error), and that do nothing in terms of adding to public safety. And those are only the employees who got caught sucking at their jobs — the exact number of all “signal maintainers” is unclear.
Additionally, the alleged fraud was uncovered by a “long-term investigation conducted jointly by the MTA Inspector General’s Office and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office,” which included “the examination of thousands of pages of signal inspection records, dozens of interviews of current and former Signals Division personnel – from signal maintainers to the Chief Signals Officer – and an extensive review of MTA signal maintenance procedures.”
In other words, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office devoted a whole lot of time to digging into a problem that did nothing but have the potential to make people late. Well, that and pay people taxpayer money to fail to do a job that probably doesn’t need to be done in the first place.