This morning, some New York City subway commuters experienced an all-too-common occurrence (although less so than it used to be): delays during rush hour. The reason given by the official New York City Transit Twitter account was that nature called upon the train crew.
Indeed, New York City’s trains are operated by humans, and humans sometimes poop. Normally, when a member of a train crew has to number 2, they either hold it in until they get to the terminal—where they will then have enough time to take a bathroom break between train runs—or, if they absolutely cannot wait, hold the train in the station as they go to the nearest bathroom. (Yes, the New York City subway has bathrooms in stations. Yes, you should avoid them at all costs.)
But today’s rush-hour delay was not an instance of a train crew needing to run to the nearest bathroom.
This delay was because of a clogged toilet.
You see, it wasn’t the train crew that needed to go to the bathroom, but the tower operator that controls the switches, and they couldn’t use the one in the tower.
To understand how one clogged toilet caused delays on five train lines, here’s a quick primer on how the subway works: Most of the subway lines intersect and overlap, moving between lines at particular junctions. For the lines in question (the A, C, E, F, and M lines), many of the switches, which move to send the trains on the appropriate track, are operated by humans in a control tower. And sometimes, those humans in the control tower have to poop.
Normally, tower operators needing to use a toilet is not an issue; there’s a bathroom in the tower they can use. (Sometimes, if your train is unexpectedly running local for no discernible reason, it may be because the tower operator had to retire to the throne for a minute so they put the switch to local service for the time being).
But, at the Port Authority tower, which controls the switches most critical to the C and E lines, has had a clogged toilet for three days, according to a source familiar with the stench, as well as screenshots from a Facebook group obtained by Jalopnik. So, in this case, the tower operator had to meander into the station itself to find relief.
Without a tower operator at the helm, trains can’t run up the local track (the C and E trains) due to the particulars of how that switch works. Further, there’s no one to send the northbound E’s to Queens instead of up 8th Avenue. That’s why NYCT had to divert trains while the tower operator hit the head, instead of merely announcing “delays” on the line, which is what happens when the crews on the train have to run into the station to answer nature’s call.
Maybe there was something in the water at the employee lounge though, because a train crew on the same line needed to run to the bathroom at Jay St-Metrotech in Brooklyn, according to the source and confirmed by screenshots viewed by Jalopnik.
Anyways, the lesson here is that New York City Transit employees are subject to the same indignities—if not more of them—than riders are due to the inadequacies of the bureaucracy to address our species’ most basic issues. Just ask the people working in the Port Authority tower, showing up to work to make sure you get to work on time... but also have to smell clogged shit for three days and counting.
The MTA did not respond to a request for comment before publication. We will update this story if we hear anything back, including on the status of the Port Authority tower toilet.
Update 3:47 PM: An MTA spokesman told Jalopnik that the toilet has been fixed.