Metropolitan Transportation Authority - New York City Transit


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Metropolitan Transportation Authority – New York City Transit
Signal Maintenance, Inspections, and Testing

Issued: October 17, 2018
Link to full audit report 2017-S-6
Link to 90-day response

To determine if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s New York City Transit (NYCT) performed signal maintenance, inspections, and testing in compliance with federal, State, agency, and manufacturer standards. The audit covers the period January 1, 2015 through October 31, 2017.

NYCT Department of Subways’ (Subways) Maintenance of Way division has six operating subdivisions; among them, Electrical is responsible for Power and Signals. Subway track is divided into sections for maintenance purposes. As of February 22, 2017, the signal system included 44,536 signal devices divided among 122 section locations. NYCT employs Signal Maintainers, who are responsible for the maintenance, inspection, and testing (MIT) of the equipment at their assigned section locations. As of April 2017, Signals had a monthly average of 1,257 hourly employees responsible for these tasks.

Maintenance of signals is critical in preventing subway delays. On much of the current system, if a signal malfunction occurs, a portion of the track must be shut down until the signal is fixed. Depending on the location of the signal, this can result in significant delays for commuters.

Each section location has a logbook that Signal Maintainers use to record MIT information (e.g., work performed). When work is completed, information from the logbook is entered, usually by a Signal Supervisor, into the Integrated Signal Equipment Information System (iSEIS) database.

In 1991, Congress directed the Federal Transit Administration to establish and administer a program providing for the State-conducted oversight of the safety and security of rail systems not regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration. Under Code of Federal Regulations Section 49, Part 659, the primary responsibility of the State is to designate an entity – other than the rail transit agency – to oversee the safety and security of a rail fixed guideway system.

In New York State, it is the Public Transportation Safety Board (PTSB) that reviews and approves NYCT’s System Safety Program Plan (SSPP), which outlines when MIT is required. NYCT is required to review the SSPP annually, and any modifications must be submitted to the PTSB for review and approval. According to Subways officials, maintenance ensures the reliability and availability of train service, while inspections and tests ensure safety within the subway system.

Key Findings

  • We sampled devices at four section locations (Pelham, Howard Beach, Compressors, and New Technology-East New York). We found that Signals did not always perform MIT of its signal equipment within the required intervals. For example, at Howard Beach and Pelham, 450 of the 1,280 MIT activities (35 percent) required from January 1, 2015 to May 16, 2017 were not done within the required intervals.
  • Maintenance Supervisors are required to inspect all of the devices within their section locations annually or as directed by Signals management. For the 51,603 annual inspections with complete information that were performed from January 1, 2016 to May 16, 2017, we found that 39,194 (76 percent) were done late. In addition, we identified 2,345 devices that were on the Signal Device Master List but were not inspected by a Supervisor during this period.
  • Despite staff shortages, in some cases poor communication resulted in unnecessary work being performed. For example, NYCT is required to review the SSPP annually, and any modifications must be submitted to the PTSB for review and approval. However, NYCT did not update its SSPP for at least one of the Task Codes we examined. According to Engineering division officials, this task was phased out during 2011 and 2012; however, it was not designated as “Not Applicable” until the June 2017 SSPP. As a result, based on data in iSEIS, the task was performed 108 times by Signal Maintainers from August 2015 through April 2017 despite staff not being available for regular maintenance.
  • Signals does not have an inventory system to account for all of the equipment (units) it maintains. Keeping track of assets through an inventory system helps organizations maintain the assets and helps ensure sound procurement decisions. NYCT’s assets represent a significant investment. For instance, we selected three device categories and estimated (based on data from NYCT) the value of this equipment to be approximately $235 million. For example, signal relays, which are reported at an estimated 350,000 units in the SSPP, come in different types and cost per unit. Using the lowest unit price provided by NYCT, the potential total cost of the units was $175 million (350,000 × $500). NYCT officials advised us that they are developing an Enterprise Asset Management system to manage their inventory; however, the process will take about three years to complete.

Key Recommendations

  • Review and allocate resources to ensure that all signal devices are maintained and tested in accordance with applicable procedures and standards.
  • Improve the monitoring of MIT activities by Signal Maintainers and Supervisors to ensure that NYCT’s power and signal systems (including switches) are checked as required.
  • Document and communicate changes and updates to the SSPP internally and to the PTSB in a timely manner.
  • Develop a perpetual inventory system for signal maintenance equipment.

Other Related Audit/Report of Interest

State Government Accountability Contact Information:
Audit Director: Carmen Maldonado
Phone: (212) 417-5200; Email:
Address: Office of the State Comptroller; Division of State Government Accountability; 110 State Street, 11th Floor; Albany, NY 12236