New York MTA Expanding Safety Campaign After Subway Push Deaths

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is expanding a public-safety campaign and may test ways to warn subway operators about people in their path after two riders were pushed to their deaths in December.

Transit officials, speaking today at a committee meeting in Manhattan, said it would be difficult and expensive to install doors between subway platforms and tracks, as some have suggested. For the meantime, the MTA will increase audio and visual announcements warning riders of danger and consider an “intrusion-detection” system that could alert drivers of persons on tracks via flashing lights.

“This is an extremely complex issue,” said Thomas Prendergast, acting executive director at the largest U.S. transit agency. “We have to make sure people understand what the nature of the hazard is and what they can do to protect themselves.”

While platform doors have become common in Europe and Asia, the age and inconsistency of infrastructure of New York’s 108-year-old system complicates the hunt for ways to increase safety. The cost effectiveness of platform doors for the city’s 468 stations -- officials gave a “lowball” estimate of $1 billion -- is a difficult argument to make against other measures, Prendergast said. Even so, the MTA will start a pilot program involving doors at one station on the L train, he said.

More Deaths

Fifty-five people died in the subways last year, the most since 2007 and up from 47 in 2011, according to the report. Still, the number of incidents of passengers struck by trains, at 141, declined from 146 a year earlier and is down from a high of 188 in 2003. Ridership also increased to an all-time high of 1.66 billion last year.

Of last year’s contact incidents, 38 percent were caused by passengers tripping or falling onto the track or into a moving train, 23 percent by riders intentionally entering the tracks and 23 percent by suicide or attempted suicide.

Just 4 percent were due to people being pushed or bumped onto the tracks or into moving trains. The rest were caused by people leaning over the platform edge to look for oncoming trains, incidents caused by medical conditions and people falling between trains.

Platform barriers were first examined in Moscow in the 1960s, Prendergast said. Potential benefits, in addition to increased security, include cleaner tracks, quieter stations, and less vandalism and vagrancy. The challenges, in addition to costs, include standardizing door lengths, ensuring trains stop at the same place on the platform every time and the additional labor for maintenance, he said.

Slow Down

In recent weeks, Transit Workers Union Local 100 suggested operators could slow trains entering stations as a way to mitigate deaths. Prendergast shot down that plan, saying it would crowd stations further, leading to increased danger on stairs and platforms.

As soon as this week, riders can expect to see more posters in subways and announcements on digital signs telling them: “Drop something? Leave it,” and “Don’t become a statistic. Stand back!” Also, 9 million MetroCards will be printed with messages like those on the posters.

The MTA also is increasing the pace of installing remote help points. There are currently two stations with such intercoms, which allow riders to communicate with station agents in an emergency. Officials plan to begin installing them in 100 more stations through next year, according to the report.

Prendergast said cost estimates for the public-awareness campaign and the L train pilot weren’t yet available.

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