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Underground Subway Grating Falls Through

August 15, 2012

In 1996, a New York underground grate suspended high above an East Side subway tunnel came down on the tracks, leading to a fire from electrical explosions which trapped dozens of riders in smoke.  This incident occurred less than two days after a downpour flooded several stations and tunnels in Brooklyn and Queens.

Joseph E. Hofmann, the senior vice president of the Transit Authority in charge of subways said, “The grating was part of a ventilation assembly situated about 10 feet below street level and two pieces around 2 feet by 5 feet collapsed and fell 90 feet down a ventilation shaft.”

The explosions, fire and smoke was due to the E train that had crossed under the East River, headed for the station at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue.  The train hit one piece of grate, dragged it more than 200 feet, and then shoved it hard against the 600 volt third rail.  The contact created a huge short circuit, with a series of electric arcs so high that they scorched the ceiling of the tunnel.  The train operator pulled the emergency brakes and stopped the train.  The conductor got all of the passengers out safely and they stood in the subway tube for a half an hour until another train pulled up behind them for evacuation.

Not only is New York’s subway system aging, but transit officials said there may be a widespread problem with the grates. The city recently hired a consultant to do inventory on weakened sidewalk grates that could be a threat to pedestrians and now the city is having a similar study done on underground subway grating.  Mr. Hoffman believes that the corroded grate could have been the culprit.  Also, the grate may have gone years without inspection.  Due to the collapse of the grates, the city authority hired a consultant to examine older station grates citywide.  So far they have looked at 46 stations and there has been a problem with 13 of them.  The ventilation shaft is also being looked into.

A highly durable and long lasting grating option for underground subways would be Ohio Gratings.  Their steel grating with a galvanized (corrosion resistant) finish would be ideal.  Also, you may consider utilizing this same grating on pedestrian sidewalks with an all metal slip resistant coating.

Perez-Pena, Richard. “Subway Grate Falls on Track, Causing Fire and Shutdown.” N.p., 03 Aug. 1996. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/1996/08/03/nyregion/subway-grate-falls-on-track-causing-fire-and-shutdown.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm>.

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