NYC Subway Shutdown Stranding Hundreds Blamed on Accidental Press of Emergency Off Button

An investigation into a recent power outage that shut down nearly half of New York City's subway system, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded for hours, revealed that the cause was most likely someone accidentally pressing an "Emergency Power Off" button.

The disruption on August 29 brought more than 80 trains to a halt, leaving confused passengers trapped in tunnels. Independent investigators looking into the incident concluded there was a "strong possibility" that the emergency button was activated by accident because its plastic cover was missing.

Independent reports released by New York Governor Kathy Hochul provided that accidental activation was likely the culprit for the unprecedented shutdown. Since the incident, the Metropolitan Transit Authority has been slammed with flooding from Hurricane Ida, whose remnants are still posing challenges for the transit system.

The governor ordered a full review of operation control centers throughout the MTA to prevent future disruptions or accidents.

"New Yorkers deserve absolute confidence in a fully functioning subway system, and it is our job to restore that confidence," Hochul said in a statement.

When the trains initially stopped moving, the energy utility provider Con Edison reported that a power line went down, which resulted in a voltage dip across New York City. Until the investigation, it was believed that the power surge was responsible for the outage.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

NYC Subway
One of the largest power disruptions to the Metropolitan Transit Authority system is now being blamed on someone pressing an emergency "off" button. An F train waits to pull out of the Smith-9th Street station in Brooklyn on August 2 in New York City. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

The breakdown affected the subway system's numbered lines plus the L train for several hours beginning shortly after 9 p.m. that Sunday. Officials have said restoration of service was delayed because passengers on two of the stuck trains walked out onto the tracks by themselves rather than waiting for rescuers.

The button was pushed after a power dip lasting several milliseconds at 8:25 p.m. and the subsequent discovery that several pieces of mechanical equipment at the New York City Transit Rail Control Center stopped functioning.

Control center staff worked to get the equipment back into service. Then someone pushed the emergency button, causing all electrical equipment connected to one of the power distribution units at the center to lose power at 9:06 p.m. Power was restored by 10:30 p.m., according to the reports.

Officials blamed the loss of power on human error and the failure to restore power for 84 minutes to inadequate organizational structure and a lack of guidelines.

MTA acting chair and chief executive officer Janno Lieber said the agency will immediately reorganize how it maintains and manages the key systems that support the control center.