NYC Subway Goes Wrong Way On Its Track

The A train in New York City has been famous for decades because of the Duke Ellington theme, "Take the A Train." But the subway line just picked up what is hopefully a more temporary notoriety.

An operator recently ran a train backwards on the tracks, according to WCBS-TV. Heading uptown on a downtown-bound track, the train was moving for several minutes before it came to a stop. What brought the operator to reality was seeing the headlights of another train, which was thankfully idling. If not for that, the results would have been disaster.This isn't the only bad press that trains have received recently. Fox News reported that a number of trains on the N line had been taken out of service in early August because of bedbugs found on overhead strap handles, which commuters hold to brace themselves while standing.

On August 11, train operations noticed some signal problems and decided to reroute subway traffic. The operator, who had been going downtown, was at Canal Street in lower Manhattan. Dispatchers told her to return uptown.

New York's subway system uses sets of parallel tracks to carry trains in opposite directions. Typically, an operator changing directions would let passengers off and proceed to what is called a cross-over, a section that allows trains to shift from one set of tracks to another headed in the opposite direction. Instead, the operator apparently simply reversed direction, like suddenly backing up on a road rather than turning around.

Dispatchers allegedly tried to radio the train to warn the crew of the problem. But the crew said that it never heard the warnings, and it seems that passengers didn't notice. According to the New York Daily News, authorities said that the operator was going only 10 mph or less. However, given the mass of a train, that would still be a tremendous amount of momentum and a lot of energy that could have been violently redirected in a crash.

One experienced subway operations crew member told the Daily News that the operator and all the passengers had been lucky. The stretch of track in question is straight, offering a clear line of sight. Many spots on subway tracks have sharp turns. Without hearing warnings from dispatchers, under different circumstances the result could have been a head-on collision.

The crew has been assigned for the time being to desk duty. The Daily News reports that train crews have complained about communication dead zones, where wireless radio gear doesn't seem to work.

The incident does offer a chance to reinterpret the famous song: "You must take the A train ... just make sure it's going forward."

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