Something stinks at MTA, and the agency's Inspector General is furious.
MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny announced the findings of an 11-month investigative report which found seven New York City Transit (NYC Transit) Track Inspectors were skipping inspections in addition to falsifying inspection reports and have been suspended. Track Inspectors and especially their supervisors, are among the most vital safety-sensitive members of the MTA who serve as an essential line of defense against dangerous railway conditions, costly repairs, and fatal accidents.
As a result of OIG’s investigation, following arbitration, all seven track inspectors were suspended, and six of the track inspectors received a final warning that similar conduct could result in termination and are prohibited from performing track inspections for five years. The seven track inspectors’ suspensions are worth approximately $145,115 total.
In addition to the investigation, the Office of the MTA Inspector General (OIG) performed an audit to determine how such widespread deception could occur without management’s knowledge. The audit revealed significant, systemic issues with how supervisors and managers at NYC Transit oversee the work of track inspectors. This lack of oversight contributed to exposing riders, MTA employees, and especially people on the street passing below the elevated tracks to significant safety risks.
“It is appalling that so many track inspectors, on so many occasions, skipped safety inspections, filed false reports to cover their tracks, and then lied to OIG investigators about it,” said MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny. “Management needs to utilize a technology that will ensure supervisors can verify when inspectors do their job – and when they do not.”
The OIG first opened an inquiry into the NYC Transit track division in January 2020 in response to news reports of track debris raining down on cars below the elevated tracks. Some of the debris was large enough to cause damage and injury. These events led NYC Transit to spend $15.9 million dollars to attach netting on the underside of elevated tracks to protect the public and employees.
Early on, OIG became concerned that inspectors might not be walking their assigned sections because in some cases, no reasonable explanation could be found as to why the loose debris had not been identified during the required twice-weekly inspections. OIG has investigated a number of MTA inspection units over the years and has repeatedly found inspectors, who work with limited oversight, absent from their duties.
OIG’s investigation revealed that seven track inspectors did not complete their assigned inspections but reported, and got paid, for doing so. OIG investigators also found that track inspectors used their personal cellular phones when they were supposed to be inspecting the tracks, altogether creating a safety hazard for themselves, other employees, and customers; and further illustrating their lack of attention to their duties. OIG’s audit revealed that track supervisors did not verify track inspectors’ walks, either in real time or after the fact.
Alarmed by the track inspectors’ behavior, the OIG transmitted its preliminary audit and investigative findings and recommendations to NYC Transit in December 2020, outlining the insufficient supervisory practices findings. Once aware of the OIG’s findings, NYC Transit swiftly charged the seven inspectors and instituted multiple procedures designed to ensure that workers conduct their inspections. The agency has also agreed to implement all of the OIG’s six audit recommendations to improve oversight of track inspectors. The OIG will continue to hold safety-sensitive employees accountable, and ensure the safety of MTA riders, workers, and infrastructure.
The OIG is releasing the finalized investigation and audit now that the employees’ arbitrations have concluded.
The OIG’s audit report, including findings and recommendations, is here: https://mtaig.state.ny.us/Reports/21-03.pdf.
The OIG’s investigative report, including findings and recommendations, is here: https://mtaig.state.ny.us/Reports/20-29.pdf.