Home Asides The conductors that you meet each day

The conductors that you meet each day

by Benjamin Kabak

Over at his Ink Lake blog, Friend of Second Ave. Sagas Peter Kaufman has up a post on the various styles of subway conductor. Riffing a famous picture of Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, Kaufman highlights the three personalities of those in charge of getting passengers onto and off the trains while keeping to a demanding schedule. The Good is one who “opens the doors promptly at the station, and doesn’t shilly-shally when closing. If someone on the platform hesitates, their decision is made for them. The doors are closed, and the train is on its way.” The Bad are those who are overly considerate. These are the ones who allow passengers to just catch the train, but as Peter writes, the delays can add up to make trips 15 percent longer than scheduled. The Ugly are those who “try closing the doors even as people are still exiting the train, let alone anyone boarding.”

I’ve seen them all, and in a way, Kaufman’s simplified view of conductors really nails it. Of course, sometimes the Bad are held hostage by riders holding the doors, and sometimes the Ugly are just trying a bit too hard to keep their trains running on time. A good conductor will have his or her timing down just right, and for those people running to make the train, well, there’s always “another one directly behind us.”

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11 comments

Matt January 12, 2010 - 1:21 pm

I think The Ugly should include the ones who take their sweet time opening the doors at the end of the line. Instead of doing it immediately as the brake is applied, they gather all their belongings up, check that both doors are locked, and only then do they open the doors.

And on that, does anyone know the significance of closing all the doors at the last stop and then walking down and opening one door at the end of each car by key?

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Scott E January 12, 2010 - 1:27 pm

In the situation you describe, the conductor closes the doors, then walks from the center of the train to the rear to make sure all passengers have exited the train, then uses the key at the end to get out. Similarly, the operator checks the front half, up to the conductor’s cab. This ensures the train is empty before proceeding to a yard.

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Benjamin Kabak January 12, 2010 - 1:29 pm

What’s odd though is how some of the conductors and drivers do that on the not-out-of-service trains along the L at 8th Ave. that are simply waiting to head east again. I’ve never really understood that.

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Scott E January 12, 2010 - 2:34 pm

In that case, I suspect it’s because the operator has to “power-down” the train and remove the key, then walk to the other end of the train to reinsert it (or maybe the westbound conductor becomes the eastbound operator, doesn’t really matter). The doors might close when the train is de-powered (either automatically or by procedure) as a security measure.

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Judge January 12, 2010 - 2:41 pm

Ditto on the N/W. Doors slow to open and then only one door open per car until it heads back to Manhattan or Brooklyn. What really makes me question the practice is that not all lines follow this procedure. At the very least, the 7 always keeps its doors open at both terminals, its conductors usually pretty good about promptly opening the doors as well.

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Matt January 12, 2010 - 9:49 pm

Not that. They are exiting the train, walking on the platform and lifting the flap that covers the keyhole to open a door at one end of each car. The train isn’t going to the yard, it’s just waiting to head back in the opposite direction. Why can’t they just leave all the doors open instead of manually opening one door per car for people to get on?

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Andrew January 12, 2010 - 10:22 pm

I think you’re misunderstanding what happens at the terminal. On full-length trains with transverse cabs (almost everything by now), the conductor positioned just behind the midpoint of the train – e.g., on an 8-car train, the conductor is at the front end of the 5th car. When the train reaches the terminal, front becomes back, so the new conductor’s position is in the adjacent cab in the next car.

For some technical reason, the proper cab has to be designated in advance, and that can only be done while the train is stopped and the doors are closed. (No, I don’t understand.) I’ve seen the redesignation procedure done two ways – I don’t know which is the proper way, or if it’s up to the conductor. Sometimes, the train will pull into the terminal and the conductor will open the doors to let everybody off, close the doors, disable the door controls, cross into the next cab, enable its door controls, and reopen the doors. Other times (and this is what I see most often these days, so maybe it’s now the only proper way), the train will pull into the terminal and stop, and the conductor will disable the door controls, cross into the next cab, enable its door controls, and only first open the doors then.

This, of course, only applies where the train reverses in the station. If it continues past the station to relay, then none of this applies. Instead, since the train goes out of service briefly, the crew has to check the entire train to make sure that nobody’s still on board.

Keying open one door panel in each car is done simply to keep the heat or air conditioning in while still allowing access to the train. In the older cars, it’s done manually. In the newer cars (R142+), the conductor has a special door control that closes all the doors except for one panel in each car.

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CenSin January 12, 2010 - 2:50 pm

The ones that I would add to “the bad” make sure all the announcements play in their entirety (Ex: stand clear of the closing doors please). There are plenty of stations where the announcements take twice as long as the amount of time it takes for everyone to leave and board the train. The ones I like just cut it down to: “This is a x-bound y train. Stand clear of the closing doors.”

An addition to ugly are the conductors that play the stand-clear-of-the-closing-doors-please clip before every attempt (while in the same station) to close the door when passengers are blocking.

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Andrew January 12, 2010 - 10:24 pm

The next stop is important – arguably the most important piece of the announcement. I don’t think it should be cut off.

I do agree that the announcements take way too long, to the point of delaying service. Does anybody at Astor Place really care that their 6 train is making express stops in the Bronx?

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Peter January 12, 2010 - 3:40 pm

If I were a conductor, I’d say, “I don’t know about you, but I get paid for being here, so take your time if you do, too. Otherwise, let me close the doors.”

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Todd January 14, 2010 - 5:22 pm

I know it’s not professional, but I’m a fan of the conductors who get surly on the announcements, especially when people hold the doors. It might not help, but it sure makes me smile.

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