Politicians, platform security and MTA instability


One solution for New York City’s diverse rolling stock could involve movable platform edge doors.

As 2013 dawns, the MTA is once again engaged in a search for a new chief executive. Joe Lhota left his post after the day ended on Tuesday to explore a run for mayor, and with Thomas Prendergast taking the reins as interim Executive Director, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have another opportunity to appoint an MTA CEO and Chairman. Whomever he finds will be the seventh such person to hold the job since 2006.

Amidst austerity budgeting, internal cuts and turnover at the top, stability has long been lacking at the MTA. It’s led to a significant amount of brain drain at HQ as non-union workers haven’t seen a salary increase in nearly four years while budgets have been slashed significantly. It also leads to no long-term focus as no signal MTA head has stayed or been kept around long enough to implement a new plan. Technology projects — such as the MetroCard replacement effort — tend to founder and only a concerted push by other institutional officials have kept capital projects on track.

With a renewed focus on platform screen doors following a second subway shoving death in December, that instability has taken center stage in the debate. The Daily News had a bit on the on-again/off-again effort to move forward with platform screens, and one easy conclusion to draw from the reporting is that the MTA needs stability. Pete Donohue and Stephen Rex Brown have the details:

The head of the company that wanted to install safety doors on subway platforms in 2007 blasted the transit authority this week for not making the system a priority. “It’s ridiculous,” Michael Santora, the president of Crown Infrastructure, said, citing the shove murder of Sunando Sen in Queens. “The plan went nowhere — really just dead ends.”

Crown Infrastructure offered the MTA a seeming win-win: The company would build the sliding doors on platforms, providing a new level of safety for riders, plus a reduction in track fires and noise. In exchange, Crown would keep all the revenue from advertising on the high-tech portals. But the idea never left the station, derailed by a perfect storm of big agency hassles, Santora said.

The MTA was in the midst of intense turnover. Since 2007, there have been four chairmen. In addition, the project’s main champion, MTA Capital Construction President Mysore Nagaraja, left in 2008. “He was passionate about it. He was the only one there in a position of authority that was really excited about it,” said Santora.

According to Santora, a litany of other problems stood in the way: MTA officials were worried that non-automated doors would give the union leverage as train conductors would have to press a second button to activate them. Additionally, the agency hesitated to fork over ad revenue even though Crown would have installed the doors for free.

MTA officials, past and present, defended the agency’s decision to avoid moving forward with the plan. Prendergast said Transit wasn’t satisfied with Crown’s initial plan to run a pilot in random stations, and one-time agency said Lawrence Reuter said platform doors were discarded on new capital projects over cost and maintenance concerns. It’s a veritable he said/he said of excuses that winds up in the news every time there’s a fatal track accident.

Meanwhile, the city’s politicians aren’t helping. Some of them have been responsible for the instability, as in the case of Lee Sander’s dismissal from the MTA, and others use these accidents for grandstanding that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Take, for instance, this response from State Senator Jose Peralta and City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. Peralta has called upon the MTA to instituted “common-sense measures to improve rider safety and security.”

Whenever someone from Albany mentions a “common-sense solution,” you know it’s going to be a good one, and this one does not disappoint. They want, according to Fox 5, “a swift evaluation and accelerated implementation of the Help Point Intercom system” and “security cameras at more stations.” I see where Peralta and Van Bramer are coming from, but their solutions show a fundamental lack of understanding. Setting aside how the Help Point system is a complete boondoggle, when someone is in the tracks with a train bearing down on them, there’s no time to use a Help Point Intercom, and security cameras would help only after the fact. Prevention would start with screen doors, and the two representatives could help on that front by ensuring MTA financing and stability.

Over the years, we’ve seen politicians who control purse strings attempt to urge the MTA to turn backflips without offering up the funding for it. This is no different. If we’re going to be serious about platform safety — although whether it’s actually a serious problem is an unanswered question itself — the MTA needs stable leadership to see a project through and a realistic assessment of funding needs. Until then, no amount of public posturing will help.

58 Responses to “Politicians, platform security and MTA instability”

  1. Patrick says:

    Yeah, like somebody can’t be flipped over a barrier. Come on!!

    • Stu Sutcliffe says:

      Much less jump over one.

      • D in B says:

        This is a ridiculous waste of money with so little benefit. Suicides can’t be prevented and the micro-percentage of those people pushed onto the tracks simply doesn’t warrant Billions spent on this.
        That money could be used for medical care for the poor and far more lives would be saved.

        • Someone says:

          In Japan it seems to work.

        • Someone says:

          Take this for an example. On the Marunouchi line of the Tokyo Metro, where half-height platform edge doors were recently installed, deaths resulting from falling off platforms have been reduced from around 20 to 0.

          Besides, it costs more for the MTA to be sued by the victims’ families.

  2. BBnet3000 says:

    Im all for the platform edge doors in the scenario where an advertising company pays the full cost to build and maintain them. If that isnt going to happen, then I cant wait until this mania about them blows over.

    • Eric F says:

      There’s no way this cost can be justified. The MTA should just issue a sample subway fare schedule indicating the cost of fares assuming fare recapture for full implementation of platform gates, and that would kill this idea in ten seconds.

    • Anthony says:

      I’d like to see an analysis of what amount of ad revenue would be lost from advertisers jumping to the barrier ad format from the traditional MTA wall-mounted ads and train-wrap ads.

      Is the MTA at the point where they can now incur ANY ad revenue loss, no matter how small?

  3. Justin Samuels says:

    The trains in Atlanta have a floor to wall guard/door that only opens when the train is in the station and when the conductor presses a button. So no, it would be impossible to flip someone over it, and the doors only open when the train is there.

    This is a good idea which should happen. Even if the MTA chairman position is unstable, so what, the governors of NY should take responsiblity for this. But this is really why the MTA is set up as it currently is, so neither the mayor nor the governor have to take responsibility. Mayor Bloomberg, if he could fund an one station extension of the Flushing line, could have found a way to negotiate a FREE platform door system put in place by CROWN. Upgrading the system we have is less sexy than talking about new lines, but its FAR more important, particularly if you want there to be public support for doing anything down the lines.

    For that matter, if we have platforms in place, another upgrade which should happen is the speed of the trains themselves. They could be made to run much faster if the entire signaling system was upgraded.

  4. John-2 says:

    Remember it’s not just the installation $$$ for 422 stations Albany or Washington would have to cough up for the 1,000 plus platform areas in the system (422 stations x 2 for the local stops and x 4 for the express stations). It’s the maintenance. I’ve stood in front of a train door where the interior door opens, but the exterior one does not — not a fun experience for either the person getting off the train or the one(s) trying to get on.

    It’s also not a headache the MTA really needs to have to deal with on a regular basis, if the funding isn’t there for preventive maintenance. Any system not as reliable as the moving platforms at Union Square is going to end up being a bigger problem than it’s worth, since the agency’s history of speedily repairing broken platform escalators or ADA elevators is spotty, at best.

    • Patrick says:

      Fix your math, in this case you have to count the stations the MTA way. So its 469, including the 7 Extension

      • John-2 says:

        Yep, I under-counted on the stations. It’s actually 469×2, plus two additional platform doors for all the four-tracked and three-tracked express stations and for three-track terminal stops like Whitehall (BTW — if you add up the lengths of the trains on the A and B divisions, and even if you take out things like the express track platform doors at Burnside on the 4 or Kings Highway on the F that rarely see service, you’re still talking about roughly 100 miles worth of platform doors that would be needed to secure every stop in the system).

        • Someone says:

          Note that there can be odd numbers of platforms, too (like the 3 platforms at Bowling Green on the 4/5 or Broadway Junction on the L)

          Also note that there also has to be accommodations for the trains as well- which might include buying rolling stock that doesn’t scrape the PEDs when the train enters the station.

        • Bolwerk says:

          Why would you go this crazy? I can buy platform doors have a point, but the point is to fix problems at very crowding-prone stations.

          • John-2 says:

            I’m basing it on the inevitable law of “Why aren’t we getting what X just got?” that new additions to anything inevitably produce. It’s why the R-42s were thrown around various parts of the B Division like confetti in 1969, because the MTA knew everyone was going to want at least some access to air-conditioned subway cars.

            40th Street-Lowery on the 7 falls into the mid-range of stations in terms of passenger usage (No. 141 on the MTA’s most recent list). But are you going to deny it platform doors because it’s not in the Top 100 stations after what happened last week? The same goes for other outlying station or those not in the Top 100 — you have an incident there where someone jumps, falls or gets pushed onto the tracks, and even if that station is No. 400 on the list, does the MTA now face pressure that they don’t care about the people using that station?

            You can start with key IRT stations, or stations along the L on 14th Street or in Williamsburg. But once the platform doors start arriving, everyone’s going to be demanding them for their stop, and the pols representing those stops will be putting pressure on the agency, too. So just assume when all’s said and done, you’re going to need 100 miles of platform barriers and doors and calculate the purchase and annual maintenance costs accordingly.

            • Bolwerk says:

              …because the MTA knew everyone was going to want at least some access to air-conditioned subway cars.

              Let’s take that to its logical conclusion about things people aren’t thinking: everyone should have an apartment near a subway, to improve their safety so they won’t have to drive.

              Either way, platform side doors can’t practically be installed at every station for various reasons. If we bother with them at all, it makes sense to bother with them where they can do the most good.

              40th Street-Lowery on the 7 falls into the mid-range of stations in terms of passenger usage…. But are you going to deny it platform doors because it’s not in the Top 100 stations after what happened last week?

              If it were my decision? Damn right I would. One freak crime shouldn’t dictate how billions of dollars in public investment gets spent. It’s this type of nonsense-think that leads us to obsessing over the sensational, while ignoring that much more dangerous mundane stuff.

              • John-2 says:

                Ideally, I agree with everything you’re saying. I’m just under the belief that if the media and politicians suddenly decide to make every platform incident into a major event to bash the MTA for its lack of concern for its passengers and demand the installation of the barriers for their constituents/readers/viewers, we’re going to end up inevitably with platform doors at Beach 105th Street, because those people are just as important as the riders who use Times Square.

                Then it will be up to the MTA’s Chairman-of-the-Month and whomever appointed him or her to stand their ground and deny the added security (and the added costs) to the low-volume stations. I just don’t have much faith once the ball starts rolling, it can be stopped very easily.

                • Bolwerk says:

                  I think this is just going to blow over in a few weeks really. They can’t afford the platform screen doors, and even if $1.5B is dug up, there are much more useful things to spend it on.

                  • Alon Levy says:

                    They can afford it more easily than the cost of paying out damage whenever someone falls on the tracks.

                    • Someone says:

                      Even if the platform doors are too expensive to afford for all the system’s stations, it prevents a large majority of suicides and pushes.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      They can’t afford that either, but I think that’s actually cheaper. How much are they paying each year in these cases?

                      That said, I agree with Someone. It’s a good investment in some key stations. What really should be changed are our idiot liability laws.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      No, actually, the typical cost of damages for someone falling on the tracks is probably less than platform screen doors for 10 stations. And that’s being generous; platform screen doors are *expensive*.

                    • Someone says:

                      Platform screen doors for 10 stations are so expensive only because there are at least 20 platform edges to cover.

                    • Nathanael says:

                      The thing is, not very many people go over the edge. Suicides will just travel to the first station without doors, so you can’t stop them without putting doors on the *entire* system.

                      And there are *very* few pushings. Not many accidental falls, either.

                    • Someone says:

                      It would also allow air conditioning to finally be installed in the stations.

                    • Bolwerk says:

                      The number I saw cited for track deaths was about 150/year. I would guess the vast majority of them are falls.

                      Question I haven’t seen answered: do most of these falls happen in particular places?

                    • Someone says:


                      Yes. The track (obviously.)
                      But it doesn’t sem to be localized to any particular line/station.

    • Andrew says:

      Bingo. We’re talking a lot of new moving parts in a harsh environment that never shuts down. And the repercussions of failure are great: think about what happens if a door gets stuck closed (each train has to wait for anybody by that door who wants to get off to squeeze through the crowd to the next door) or if a door gets stuck open (the platform would probably have to be closed entirely) or, worst of all, if a door pops off its track and obstructs the right-of-way (all service on that track would have to stop).

      Without an automated system to open and close both sets of doors simultaneously, the slight per-train, per-stop increases in dwell time would quickly add up to significant running time increases and capacity losses.

      Two recent incidents notwithstanding, death-by-subway is not a serious problem. Crown is latching onto the media frenzy in an attempt to gain some business. Frankly, they should be disqualified for such a move, but that would probably be illegal.

  5. AMM says:

    The article seems to suggest that the same station has cars with different door spacings. (If they didn’t, why would the barriers need to be moved to accommodate different trains?)

    Is that really the case?

    On the IRT, at least, I notice that the door locations are marked on the platform at some stations, which wouldn’t make sense unless the cars all used the same spacing. And all IRT cars I’ve ever seen (in regular service) had 3 sets of doors.

    I haven’t noticed platform markings on the BMT or IND, but the cars there all had 4 sets of doors and to my untrained eye the spacings all look the same.

    • Patrick says:

      There is different spacings on the IND/BMT. Older cars (R68: 75FT) are longer than the newer cars (R160: 60FT). Go to 36th Street in Brooklyn & be near the first set of stairs, D trains (old) & N trains (new) are off from each other by a window. All IRT cars, new & old, are roughly the same length so no problem

      • Someone says:

        Also on the IRT, the R62 and R142 both have 3 sets of doors but the doors are in different positions. The B cars of the R142s have offset doors.

  6. Eric S says:

    To the point stated above about who opens up the Platform Barrier Doors. I was recently in Vienna and was struck how none of the actual subway doors opoen automatically. Riders either on the platform or in the car had to open the doors. Most were simply opened although a few I can see could have been problematic with hand or strength issues but all in all seemed like a good system.

    Could this be aplied here? Putting aside the differences in door spacing etc.

    • Alon Levy says:

      Yes, it can be applied, but there’s no reason to. Manual door opening is the older, simpler technology, while automatic doors are more suitable to a high-usage system. Vancouver used to have manual door opening, and had to move to automatic doors as ridership grew.

      There’s no reason to go back to manual doors. Automatic platform screen doors work reliably in a variety of cities, including New York on the AirTrains.

      • John-2 says:

        …as long as you keep the technology basic. ‘Smart’ platform doors for the B division that would know when a 40-door train of 60-foot cars was in the station and when a 32-door train of 75-footers had arrived and would adjust accordingly seems to me as if it’s just asking for trouble, given the 24/7/365 schedule of the NYC subway, the abuse it takes and the MTA and its contractors’ occasional leisurely pace of repairing balky mechanical equipment on platforms. Sticking an “Out of Service” sign on a broken platform door might work for people boarding the train at a station, but for someone trying to get off at rush hour, seeing your path blocked by a glass platform barrier would be infuriating.

        If the MTA finally gives into the calls for the platform doors, test them on the A division, where wide enough openings can cope with the slightly different R-62 and R-142 door positions, or do it on the BMT Eastern Division lines where the 75-footers don’t roam. Then keep the moving parts as basic as possible and don’t even think about B division platform doors on the IND or the BMT Southern Division routes until all the rail cars are standardized as 60 foot, 40-door trains sometime towards the end of the next decade.

        • Eric F says:

          Doors on the light rail cars used by Hudson Bergen Light Rail are manual open, at least sometimes. For some stations, all doors open, but for less-traveled stations, a passenger can hit the button for the closest door. I had assumed that this feature is probably an efficiency-related item, reducing wear and tear on the doors.

          • John-2 says:

            Even button-operated doors worry me, since I still remember the “Step on Treadle” escalators the MTA used to have that were supposed to shut down to save energy until somneone pressed down on the foot pad at either the bottom or the top of the thing.

            They never seemed to work all that long without breaking down, which is why anything more complicated than the system used to extend and retract the moving platforms is likely to end up as one big maintenance headache, especially since even if the folks up in Albany agree to pay for 100 miles of platform barriers and doors, odds are pretty high they’re not going to fund maintaining 100 miles of platform barriers and doors — it’ll end up coming out of the MTA’s overall physical plant maintenance budget.

          • Bolwerk says:

            The origin of the cars probably explains the push-button feature. I think they’re mainline vehicles in parts of Europe, and mainline vehicles, at least in northern Europe, tend not to open doors automatically – which may have to do with climate as much as efficiency on the doors.

    • Kai B says:

      The newer trains in Vienna (the accordian V-Series / Siemens Modular Metro) can run under automatic opening or manually door opening mode. This can be switched over by the operator depending on time of day, weather, etc.

      There really isn’t a delay, because passengers on the platform and passengers in the train can already push the door button before the train comes to a stop.

      Automatic opening: http://youtu.be/wI4F7oHqplk
      Manual opening (only some doors were opened): http://youtu.be/4wyjBTeFXvY

    • Someone says:

      They don’t open automatically in Paris either, yet they have PSDs there.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    Any word from the MTA about whether it’s going to ensure future IND/BMT rolling stock orders have door placement that’s backward-compatible with the R160?

  8. Michael K says:

    The solution here seems to be: turn certain lines into all “one specific stock” and dont put platform screen doors on the trunk lines until all the old stock has been retired.

    The MTA could start slowly and screen the L and the 7 first, followed by other lines that dont interface with stations with many car types.

    In regards to a malfunctioning door, I would expect that the door would be designed to get stuck in the open position, rather than closed.

    • How do you design something to break a certain way?

      • Tower18 says:

        Well you can’t prevent all failure, but you can, perhaps, have it take the effort to *close* rather than effort to *open*, so that when something breaks, the door springs open. Sort of like how brakes apply when there’s a pressure failure…it takes pressure to keep them open, not closed.

      • dungone says:

        A pneumatic sliding door could be designed to open manually if it fails. Doors like this exist on the market which meet military specifications http://www.ets-lindgren.com/iPSD I’m sure you get what you pay for, though.

      • Someone says:

        I think it would be designed to fail in the open position. If it fails in the open position, it can be rearranged to match the door arrangement of the train in the station. If it fails in the closed position, there would be a stampede of people trying to get out of the train and it can be a total disaster.

    • Rickie C says:

      Most security related doors have power based open/close mechanisms that “fail closed” in the event of a power failure. In a moving train, I would highly doubt you’d want the doors to fail open for any reason however.

    • Someone says:

      Many NYCS lines use just one stock, so that doesn’t work. But the Tokyo Metro successfully uses PSDs, without assigning just a single stock to all its lines.

  9. Kai B says:

    Just read this about the Nuremberg subway system, which as a ZPTO line (U3):

    “Each of the stations along U3 route has tubes resembling yellow fluorescent light tubes running the length of the platform. These tubes emit radar waves and monitor the track for any fallen obstacles. If an object or person falls into the track, automatic brakes on trains are triggered.”

    Radar tubes that send signals to the next train might be cheaper and less maintainance intensive than all those doors/gates.

    • John S says:

      That sounds very cool. However, I can just imagine the false alarms, taking littering and rats into account. I imagine this might be tied in well with some sort of CCTV system, to allow the alarm to be confirmed, though the one time someone hastily acknowledged a ‘false alarm that wasn’t’ – that would be ugly…

    • Someone says:

      That would sound nice, except for the fact that you’d need a pretty long tube. Also, as John S said, if somebody throws trash onto the track, or if the station has a rat infestation, it can cause massive delays.

  10. dungone says:

    MTA officials were worried that non-automated doors would give the union leverage as train conductors would have to press a second button to activate them.

    This sounds like opportunistic point scoring against the unions. And it makes MTA officials sound like Luddites. Why install a “second button” when a single button can be wired to activate both sets of doors?


  1. […] politicians have renewed calls for platform edge doors. I’ve long maintained that this is a solution in search of a problem. Accident rates are around 1.5 per 50 million riders, and fatalities are even lower than that. […]

  2. […] a rigorous debate on platform edge doors and potentially illegal slowdowns, a pair of incidents forced the Lexington Ave. subway nearly […]

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>