Project Management Institute

PM in crisis management at NYCTA

recovering from a major subway accident


Showcase Project

Stephen Nacco, Manager, Employee Communications, Customer Services Department, NYCTA


Command: Are you at 1133 Woodlawn?

Conductor: Yes, 1133 Woodlawn.

Command: And you're just north of 14th Street on two track?

Conductor: Yes.

Command: All right. Do you have a problem, sir?

Conductor [inaudible]

Command: Say it slowly, Do you have a problem?



Editor's Note: This brief communication set in motion a very short but intensive project effort of a type which is becoming more and more important in society as people become more dependant on technology to facilitate their work, pleasure, sustenance, and their very existence. Organizations experience the same dependency in a magnified manner. Their ability to respond quickly, precisely, and effectively in a crisis can determine their existence,

Inherent in technological approaches to solving society's problems and meet societal needs is risk. Most risks are minimal in terms of consequences to human lives. Some have significant consequences to humans-generally thought of in terms of safety issues.

The New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) has enjoyed a remarkable record of safety as they move five million customers per day in and around New York City with very few incidents. Nevertheless, they consciously prepare for the rare but unfortunate event in an effort to minimize the impact; not only on those directly involved, but also on the millions of people who depend on them for daily services. This preparation is evident in the incident of recovering from the accident on the Lexington Avenue Line-train # 2333—at Union Square Station.

The sampling of events which happened in the first few hours, even minutes, provides a sense of how quickly this large organization responded. The experience of managers in using modern project management provided the framework for this quick and effficient response.

It is interesting to conjecture about the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) which was embodied in the minds of the managers. From the chronology, it is clear that the first level breakout is oriented by phase. The first phase was clearly to respond to the needs of those directly in harms way—to get them out of further danger, provide the injured with appropriate medical care, remove the bodies of those fatally injured, and ensure that no victims remained in the debris.

The second phase, which began almost simultaneously, was to secure the area to minimize risk of other threats to life or property-starting with immediately disconnecting power in the area to prevent electrical injury and stop any trains which might be moving into the area. They also had to provide emergency lighting and ventilation and secure the area from non-relevant traffic-both pedestrian and vehicular.

Concurrent with these two steps was setting up and activating command facilities and a structure to coordinate all of the activities; decision for which had previously been established.

The fourth phase focused on removing the elements of the accident which hindered rescue, clean-up and repair. The cars remaining on the tracks were removed and debris on adjacent tracks was collected on flat cars and removed.

As these phases progressed, the project moved into the fifth phase-removal of major damaged equipment, often with primitive tools. The work space was limited due to the use of heavy-duty equipment such as large cranes.

Phase six was the repair of facilities in the most expeditious manner possible to return the cars to productive use-restricting that use to slow speeds to minimize strain on the temporary structures and equipment.

Phase seven involved tesing to ensure that all elements were operational. Trains ran through the effected areas under the close supervision of the Engineering, Operations, and Safety personnel.

After all seven phases were completed, the clean-up phase returned the premises to the best possible state to permit reasonably normal operations.

Having completed these elements, the facilities were returned to T&S Control to resume the NYCTA's primary mission of moving people throughout New York City.

Two additional elements must be included to complete the picture. First, note must be taken of the roles and contributions of the National Transportation Safety Board and the New York Public Safety Bureau who investigated causes and concerned themselves with the well being of all others involved. There were the New York City Police and Fire Departments, the health care emergency personnel, and all the others who responded to the crisis, facilitated rescue of wounded and trapped, and assisted in the the clean-up and restoration of services.

Secondly, separate from the immediate project, NYCTA Operations was responding to provide temporary service via alternate routing and surface transportation to minimize the impact on the riding public.

It should also be noted that the manner in which this project was executed had an impact, not only on those directly involved, but also on the thousands of employees of the NYCTA. Regardless of their regret that such a tragic incident occurred, they were clearly appreciative of the expeditious manner in which service was restored.


About 40 Transit Police officers at Union Square's District 4 office heard the crash and ran to assist passengers at the smoke-filled scene. Along with the city's EMS and the NYPD's Emergency Service Unit, workers from the Transit Police's Emergency Medical Rescue Unit helped get people out of the train and then provided medical assistance.

Transit Police officers from Canal Street's District 2 soon arrived to help with the rescue, as did the city's Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Department. Says Transit Police Lieutenant Robert Wheeler of District 4, “The Fire Department's Rescue Unit brought fans to help clear the smoke. They also helped us make sure the tunnel roof wouldn't cave in on the train. They used steel cable to rope the wreckage to the support pillars. That way, we could get to people still in the train.”

The police and other rescue units led people on the last six cars through the tunnel to the 23rd Street Station. Those on the first four cars evacuated at 14th Street. Surface dispatched buses to transport people to outer-borough hospitals, as did the Red Cross, which also provided sandwiches' and juice for people at Union Square.


More than 20 members of the Transit Police and several city police and fire department workers needed to be treated for minor injuries and smoke inhalation. Some rescuers fainted from heat exhaustion, as the temperature in the tunnel exceeded 110 degrees.

Wheeler says, “A lot of people were performing heroically. Transit Police and people from city agencies were working hand-in-hand, risking their lives to save people. One example was Transit Police Officer Emanuel Bowser. He was riding the train when it crashed and was helping get people off until about 5 a.m., even though he had a broken arm and broken fingers. A lot of people like him were there doing an outstanding job.”


Few people who saw the crash site believed the TA would meet its goal of restoring Lexington Avenue line service by Tuesday, September 3, the day after Labor Day weekend. “Nobody had ever seen a derailment as bad as this, so nobody really knew how long it would take to repair such an extensive amount of damage,” said Rapid Transit's Senior Vice President Tom Prendergast.

The derailed train had ripped out 22 steel-girder support columns, used to hold up the tunnel ceiling as well as the street above the subway. Five subway cars were off the track, with two cars mangled beyond recognition. Two tracks and a third rail had been ripped out, and two sets of signals, two switches and the air compressor room destroyed. The street above had sunk a half inch; there was no electricity.


According to System Safety's Neil Yongue, the key to getting one of our busiest lines back in service faster than anyone thought possible was in establishing a firm chain-of-command. “Right from the outset, we coordinated our efforts to get people from all different departments to attain a common goal. The attitude wasn't, “You can't do this.” It was, “What can we do to get it done.”

Rapid Transit appointed Larry Gamache as the “Wreckmaster.” His job was to oversee all the work going on by different departments and divisions. “We set up team captains who'd have their groups working according to the overall plan. Our success was contingent on the skills and professionalism of the workers and the willingness of everybody to work in concert.”

Line-equipment electricians supplied electrical power for lights, fans and machinery from emergency AC panel boxes-and by running cables from the third rail at 19th Street down to the accident site. But workers had to wait more than 24 hours before they could begin the clean-up. Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board and other safety agencies needed to investigate the crash scene with the damage left intact.

While the investigations went on, Infrastructure workers set up a command center for the operations at the abandoned 18th Street station. To open the station from street level, they busted through the sidewalk with jackhammers.


The Materiel Division got workers the supplies they'd need, including steel beams, 15 timbers for support columns, two pieces of rail, 20 fans, water coolers, banker lights, portable toilets and an electrical generator. They issued emergency purchase orders for most of the supplies. But Materiel's Pat D'Ambrosio was particularly impressed by the civic spirit exhibited at an A&P near 18th Street. “The manager told us our workers could go in and get whatever food they needed, whenever they wanted. We'd just have to keep the receipts and figure out the charges later, after the work was finished.”


The bulk of the clean-up and rebuilding began at around noon on Thursday, August 29. That's when the clock started ticking to meet the goal of restoring service for Tuesday's morning rush. The work was conducted under the watchful eyes of System Safety workers, who monitored the air to make sure workers weren't being exposed to toxic fumes or doing anything that would result in injury. Says Yongue, “When you consider the number of people out there and the fact that they were being exposed to glass and sheet metal, the fact that them were no injuries is a tribute to their abilities as workers. They all knew what they were doing. It was a tremendous effort.”

Car Equipment's Joe Hofmann adds, “It's all about teamwork, how everybody can work together and look out for one another. That's the key to the job, and the reason you didn't see any injuries.”

We had more than 200 workers at a time on the job, 24 hours a day, banging and clanging, hacking at concrete ballast, lifting, wedging, cutting, drilling, welding steel. A hundred yards of tunnel full of people dark, close, dusty and hot. People sweating and pounding until their muscles ached, each working 12- to 16-hour shifts all through the ‘weekend, right through their RDOs and the Labor Day Holiday. Says Structures Maintainer Tony James, “If you think about the heat, it'll get to you. You just gotta forget about it and just think about the job-trying to get it done, no matter how tired you are.”


Tom Prendergast, Senior Vice President, is a proven and dedicated Transit Authority professional. His expertise and knowledge of Transit Authority operations is a benefit to customers as well as other employees. Tom is in charge of 29,000 employees who work in five operating departments: Car Equipment, Electrical, Rapid Transit Operations, Stations, and Track & Structures. Prior to assuming his current post, he was chief electrical officer responsible for the sub-way system's electrical systems, including all power, signals and communications operations. He began his career at the Transit Authority in 1982 as an assistant director of safety for the Rapid Transit Department. In May of 1984, Tom was named assistant vice president, System Safety, and in January 1987 he was named general manager for the Staten Island Division of the Surface Transit Department, a post he held until November of 1989. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle with a degree in Transportation Systems Engineering. Before coming to the TA, he worked for the Chicago Transit Authority and in Washington, D.C., for the Urban Mass Transportation Administration.


The pictures show some of the work that went on down there: a group of track workers pushing a truck (a train's set of wheels) to get it under a wrecked car, Infrastructure workers raising temporary wooden support columns, Car Equipment burners slicing up the rear of the first car to make the pieces small enough to throw onto a flatbed work train, Electrical Systems' signal maintainers installing conduits for air compressors to operate the signals and switches.

RTO crews manned six work trains-crane cars and flatbeds--to help move out the cars and debris. “I personally saw us fill up eight flatbed cars,” says Track's Benjamin Everson.

Diesel trains pulled out the five cars that didn't derail. But getting out the first five cars, which weren't on the track, was a lot trickier.

Working alongside more than a dozen Authority Track workers were workers from Metro-North. Metro-North supplied a new hydraulic jacking system which could lift a 44-ton car, slide it sideways and set it back down on the rail.

The Authority's partnership with Metro-North proved to be another key to our success in meeting the Tuesday deadline. Gamache estimates that the Metro-North jack reduced by half the labor required for rerailing cars. He says, “Before the accident, Metro-North had been letting us test out their Hoersh hydraulic jacks, and Track's Chief Mechanical Officer Fred Smith was interested in purchasing one for the Authority. Based on the performance we got out of them, we found out they can really do the job.”

The fourth and fifth cars in the consist were jacked, rerailed and pulled off to the Bronx's Concourse Yard. Car Equipment welders and Infrastructure ironworkers carved up the remaining rear section of the first car and tossed it on the flatbed work train. They used a cutting tool called a “slice,” which shoots out a 7,000-degree flame.

Before the diesel train could drag the remaining cars out, Car Equipment workers needed to fasten supports to the crumpled remains of the first car's rear section and the third car. The moving job required Track workers to get a truck underneath the car and then have a diesel train pull it out slowly along the track.


While workers attempted to move the damaged cars, Infrastructure maintainers repaired the tunnel and roadbed. Masons cut out 35 feet of concrete and ties. Carpenters fabricated forms for new concrete, which was poured from a TA batching truck.

Ironworkers cut up the 22 damaged steel supports and carted them out on work trains. Materiel supplied the wooden timbers that carpenters cut into the support columns for Infrastructure maintainers to install.

Once most of the train was out of the way, Electrical Systems workers installed new signals and rebuilt the compressor room; Track workers installed new switches and track and removed a seriously damaged storage tank outside the compressor room; Power Distribution workers re-installed the third rail and reconnected the electrical cables.

All of this was accomplished between noon Thursday and 7 p.m. on Labor Day Monday, when the first test train operated along the line. Public Affairs invited the Media to ride on the train. The purpose was to show the world that the Lexington Avenue line was indeed back in service, ready as promised for Tuesday's morning rush.


The people underground who sweated and toiled to clear out the tunnel, repair the equipment and restore Lexington Avenue line service received a lot of public and media attention.

But equally important was the work conducted above ground to minimize customer inconvenience while the tunnel work was underway.

By noon on the day of the crash, Operations Planning had put in place its service plan. Says Operations Planning's Larry Gould, “What's really amazing is what Surface did. Have them tell you how they managed to get hundreds of shuttle buses on the Lexington Avenue line in such a short time.”

Surface did it by getting every available operator, manager, dispatcher and bus out to 86th Street. Chief Transportation Officer Quinto Rapacioli says, “We called up people on their RDOs and they said they'd come in and help out. All of our Manhattan and Bronx depots were providing buses and people.”

Even express buses, which normally go “light” back to Staten Island from Manhattan, were called in to Lexington Avenue shuttle service. Surface deployed field dispatchers up and down the line to keep the buses from bunching. Rapacioli adds, “We dedicated one of our consoles [at the East New York communications center] to the shuttles, so we could maintain good communications.”


Somehow, they had 120 shuttle buses operating between 86th and 23rd streets during rush hours, and about 70 during off peak. In addition to this, Customer Assistance doubled its staff and remained open until 11 p.m. to provide travel information to customers calling in questions. Within 24 hours of the accident, Marketing prepared service-change announcements (for the initial service plan and then for revised weekend service) for posting in stations throughout the system. From the first day right through the weekend, Station and Operations Planning personnel greeted customers at stations all along the Lexington Avenue line and helped them get where they needed to go.

What Neil Yongue found most memorable was the Authority's ability to pull together during a time of crisis. Says Yongue, “In my nine years here--and I go back to the red-tag era—it was the single greatest coordinated effort I've ever seen at the Authority. I've never been more proud to be a part of this organization.”

Transit Authority efforts to make the best out of a tough situation didn't go unappreciated. A New York Newsday editorial said the Authority “performed with intelligence and grace.” A New York Post editorial remarked that the Authority deserves “a pat on the back for getting the buses on line and for ensuring a full complement of police officers—to direct bewildered travelers to the buses and to keep the traffic moving.” And the New York Times wrote, “The dedicated men and women who worked tirelessly to put the pieces back together have earned the city's gratitude.”

Transit Authority employees aren't likely to forget what happened at Union Square. But when remembering the accident a year from now-or even 20 years from now—we would do well to remember the work, pride and dignity of the hundreds of workers who pitched in to get our services back on track.


To prevent accidents like the one at Union Square, Rapid Transit and System Safety have developed a series of safety improvements: some being implemented immediately and others over the next year. Electrical Systems has installed a new signal about 400 yards away from the switch to ensure that a tripped train on the express track would stop before getting to the local-track crossover. The Authority plans to identify and remedy potential signal and stopping problems throughout the system. Other measures include more careful review and evaluation of operating employees, perhaps to include random drug testing. By next year, the Authority also plans to step up signal modemization, install speedometers on trains and explore use of “black boxes” (to keep a running record of train operation, similar to what airplanes use).


A little more than a month … has passed since the August 28 derailment at Union Square. We were able to restore service on the line within a few days. What has proven far more difficult to restore, though, has been the public's confidence in our abilities and our own confidence in ourselves.

We as an organization are deeply saddened by the tragedy. But we cannot allow this isolated incident to diminish the accomplishments we have made and are continuing to make.

I've said it before in the press, and I'll say it again: The bus and subway system we operate is among the safest in the world. Our record for providing quality service for five million customers a day is unmatched. We have rescued a system from decades of neglect. We've won awards from the American Public Transit Association for the safety improvements we've made.

Regaining the public's confidence will not be easy. It requires us to continue giving our best effort, day in and day out—the sort of effort we saw in the aftermath of the Union Square when hundreds of employees from departments throughout the Authority joined together to take charge of the Union Square rescue and service-restoration efforts. Let's remember their teamwork, their pride, their sense of commitment and single-minded dedication as they worked around the clock, worked with purpose, united by their mission to restore service.

The public will believe in us if we believe in ourselves. Only by committing ourselves to success, day after day, will we be able to get back to the business of providing quality transportation service for our customers.

People need to know that every time they take a ride on our trains and buses, we'll get them where they're going safely comfortably and on time. You might not get them to admit it, but I suspect that a lot of them know what we know: That we get them there better than anyone else in the world.

We'll always remember what happened at Union Square just after midnight on August 28: the twisted steel of a derailed No. 4 train, the smoke, the rubble, the loss of life.

A month, a year, 20 years from now, let's also make a point of remembering the events following the crash: the rescue, the clean-up and the rebuilding, and how we as an organization rallied together to get one of our busiest subway lines safely back in service-faster than anybody thought possible.

Alan F. Kiepper, President, NYCTA

Alan F. Kiepper, President, NYCTA

From the October issue of “At Your Service,” the monthly employee newsletter of the NYCTA.



A week after the Union Square accident, NYCTA asked employees: What does the TA need to do to restore public confidence? They answered:

“Get the Press down here [in a tower] to see the kind of work we do. Look at our record. We do great work. People should consider our record for safe operation. But the fact is that we're only as good as our last run.” -Assistant Train Dispatcher Laverne Huggins

“I take the Lex. line. Sandra White is the station manager at 86th Street. She's always greeting people, always smiling. That's the kind of thing we need more of.” -EEO Manager George Ann Skandis

“I think the refresher courses they're giving now are helpful. If we're kept up to date with what we need to know, we'll keep doing a good job.”- Train Operator Ernest Sellitti

“Continue to provide good service. As a supervisor, make sure the people you have on the job are at their best. As employees, we need to watch out for each other. If you know your people, you can tell if they're stressed out or tired. Being stressed out is as bad as being drunk.”Train Dispatcher Evelyn Koehler


“Make the extra effort to show the TA is doing a good' job and that we care about passengers' convenience and safety.” -AFC Assistant Program Manager Tom Morgan

“A lot of things. Our signal system needs an overhaul. Passengers also need better safety and security.”Train Operator Burt Pinkston

“Let people know all the good things that we do. The public needs to know that they're more likely to have an accident crossing the street than they will in the subway.”-Train Service Supervisor Ty

“Show the public how many drug tests we do after accidents and people will see they almost always come up clean.” -Bus Operator Winston Rochester

“We need to improve the public's perception of the system. To do that, you gotta have more [employees] on the platforms: answering questions and giving directions. That's the only way to make people feel that we care about them.” Conductor James Willis

“Show them how hard we work, how well our people are trained and what improvements the system has made in the last 10 years.”Train Service Supervisor Reyes Mendez

“If they do random testing, let the public see the results. They'll find out that we're clean.” -Train Operator Noel Franco

“Make TA employees more visible to the public. Get people like you [the reporter] out of the office and out on the platform with passengers. “-Train Operator Kurt Gilliam

“Have conductors walk through trains when it isn't rush hour and react more with the public. Answer questions or whatever.” -Conductor Leroy Glover

“Put out statements telling the public about how many people ride the [subway] and don't die. Let people know how safe it is.” -Train Operator Doc Williams Ill

Stephen Nacco, in addition to being manager, Employee Communications, Customer Services Department, serves as editor of At Your Service, the employee newsletter for the NYCTA. He wrote the story that is this Showcase Project for the October At Your Services. Stephen has been with the Transit Authority for five years. He earned a B.A. in journalism from Plattsburgh State University, an M.A. from St. Johns University and Ph.D. from Fordham University, both in English literature.


Douglas Jacobs is manager, Employee Services by the Divisions of Track and In-frastructure. Doug began his career in government service with the New York City Officce of Management and Budget. In 1985, he joined the Transit Authority in the former Department of Planning and Budget. In 1986, he came to Track and Infrastructure. Doug is a product of the city's educational system, Queens College and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University where he received his Masters Degree in 1982..



Douglas Jacobs, Manager, Employee Services, Track Division

What is a wreckmaster? For the New York City Transit Authority this question became of paramount importance on August 28, 1991, following the serious derailment on the Lexington Avenue Line. Norreally, the chief engineer of the Division of Track is appointed Wreckmaster following an incident of this sort. In this case, however, due to a family emergency, Chief Engineer Frederick E. Smith was not able to immediately assume these duties. As a result, Lawrence Gamache, general superintendent of Track Operations, was appointed Wreckmaster.

Frederick E. Smith Chief Engineer, Track Division

Frederick E. Smith Chief Engineer, Track Division

Mr. Gamache's progressively responsible experience at the Transit Authority made him well suited for this assignment. In his 24 years at the TA, Mr. Gamache has progressed through the ranks from trackworker to various managerial assignments. Among his many achievements, he has planned and directed the replacement of 55 switches per year. Each switch requires the formulation of an individual action plan incorporating the work scope, train diversions and alternative bus service as well as personnel, material, supply and worktrain requirements.

Mr. Gamache was also involved in the recent reconstruction of the Fisk Avenue Interlocking. This project was three years in the making, and originally it was thought that this would entail the removal of the heavily used Flushing Line from service for as many as ten weekends. This project had to be undertaken with the full cooperation of political and community leaders representing neighborhoods affected by this loss of Service. Planning for this project had to account for inclement weather as the work was to be performed cm the open elevated structure and replacement train (via the Long Island Railroad) and bus service to ferry passengers around the work site. With much hard work and a little luck in the form of good weather, the project was completed in five weekends and well under budget,

Mr. Gamache drew on this experience when faced with the Union Square Station wreck. As a veteran of several derailments in his previous duties as field supervisor, Mr. Gamache's project management abilities would be severely tested over the next several days. The basic duties of Wreckmaster involve the formulation and execution of a strategy to clear away the wreckage in an orderly fashion, thereby allowing restoration work to proceed. Mr. Gamache would need to coordinate the activities of several Transit Authority divisions along with other New York City agencies. The restoration effort was broken down into its various component tasks and a preliminary schedule of work was mapped out.

Lawrence Gamache General Superintendent, Track Operations

Lawrence Gamache General Superintendent, Track Operations


The start of full-scale clearance and restoration was delayed for a day, until the completion of the various investigations into the cause of the accident. This permitted Mr. Gamache to step back from the disaster and formulate a mental flow chart of how the work was to proceed He determined that it would be extremely important to keep all of the participants informed of where progress stood. Toward that end, frequent meetings were held at the Union Square Station whereby each involved entity reported on their progress and the estimated time of completion of their remaining work.

Mr. Gamache's plan was to remove the wreckage as quickly as possible from one track to free it to allow worktrains to pass. This would permit the delivery of needed materials to the site and facilitate the clearance of the remaining debris. Mr. Gamache also had to determine which tasks were dependent on the completion of other jobs and which tasks could be performed concurrently with each other.

Despite all of this planning, the restoration was not without its unexpected moments. Since work was to proceed continuously throughout the Labor Day weekend on 12-hour shifts, it became necessary to provide bathroom facilities for the workers at the site. Thus, several Port-O-San toilets were rushed to the scene. An expense account at a nearby supermarket was also opened to allow for the purchase of food and refreshment for the employees laboring under oppressive conditions. This was a first for the Transit Authority.

By Saturday evening, August 31st, the wreckage had been removed from the site, allowing the focus to shift to restoration of the track, power, signal and structural systems. At this point, Frederick E. Smith; chief engineer of Track, relieved Mr. Gamache a Wreckmaster

Mr. Smith had previously held the positions of general superintendent, Track Construction, and general superintendent, Track Maintenance before assuming his duties as chief engineer. He had played, a very large role, in getting the Transit Authority's $100 million, capital track reconstruction program off the ground. Mr. aged the maintenance of 834 miles of subway, elevated and at-grade mainline and yard track. A graduate engineer, with a professional engineer's license in the State of New York and a Master's degree in business administration, Mr. Smith introduced many project management principles to the Transit Authority in successfully managing this program.

The lion's share of applause goes to the men and women who guided us through the turmoil at Union Square. Even so, we'd still have to call your attention to the work of other praiseworthy employees.

Mr. Smith immediately held a progress meeting in order to ascertain the estimated time of completion of each part of the project with the goal of restoration: of, service for the Tuesday morning rush. As the work proceeded, it became evident that the goal would be met. In fact, trains began running through the affected area by the late evening of Labor Day. This achievement was due in large part to the expertise and experience brought to this disaster by the Wreckmasters.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

Wednesday, August 28, 1991
February 1992
Thursday, August 29, 1991
Friday, August 30, 1991
Saturday, August 31, 1991
Sunday, September 1, 1991
Monday, September 2, 1991
Tuesday, September 3, 1991



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