TWU, MTA square off over slowdown order

By · Published in 2013

A TWU poster urged TOs to slow down as their trains enter stations.

As I briefly mentioned on Monday afternoon, in response to two recent high-profile 12-9 incidents, the Transport Workers Union Local 100 had mulled issuing a slowdown order, urging TOs to crawl into subway stations. Tonight, more details of the order emerged, and the MTA responded forcefully, citing the Taylor Law. As we near the one-year anniversary of the expiration of the last TWU contract, accusations of politicking are in the air.

The TWU poster [pdf] that has gone up throughout the system hit the Internet tonight, and it urges TOs to enter stations with “extra care.” It says, “Whether someone jumped, fell or was pushed in front of the train, more than 150 T/Os have had to deal with the after-effects of their train hitting someone on the tracks. None of the 150-plus 12-9s were caused by improper operation by any T/O. However, we might prevent some 12-9s by coming into stations more slowly.”

But how slow is “slowly”? Pretty slowly. “In the interest of safety, enter every station as if there is a pair of yellow lanterns at the entrance,” the sign says. “Slow down, blow your horn, and proceed with caution. Preventing a 12-9, and saving yourself the emotional trauma and potential loss of income that go with it, is worth a few extra minutes on your trip. If you are asked where you lost your time, say you were operating safely to prevent 12-9s.” The double yellow lantern essentially means the trains would head into stations at around 10 miles per hour, well below current accepted speeds of 25-30 miles per hour. Such a rate would slow down operations significantly.

The MTA, meanwhile, responded forcefully. As Pete Donohue reported, MTA officials believed the TWU was simply acting, in part, to draw attention to its current contract negotiations. “Any slowdowns in the system which results from this concerted union activity may be considered a job action,” Christopher Johnson, Transit’s V.P. of Labor Relations, said to The Daily News.

In a subsequent statement, the agency elaborated: “Some of the actions the [TWU is] recommending, if implemented, would result in even more hazardous conditions due to overcrowding on platforms and onboard trains. There are other, more effective ways of making the system safer than slowing down train service and we are committed to working towards them.”

Transit officials explained the impact of any potential slowdown to The Wall Street Journal:

Slowing one train on its way into a station has the effect of slowing all the trains behind it in the system, MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said. The backups that would result from requiring every train to slow down significantly at each station would mean fewer train trips every day, Mr. Seaton said, reducing the efficiency of the subway system, which moves about 5 million passengers a day.

And with many subway lines already operating over or near capacity at morning and evening rush hours, reducing the trains’ speed would likely lead to increased crowding on station platforms. That condition already raises safety concerns on the oldest and narrowest station platforms in the system.

“It would certainly make it a lot more difficult to get on board trains, and platforms would be much more crowded,” said Mr. Seaton, who added that MTA officials hadn’t noticed drivers abiding by the slow-down order as of Monday afternoon.

There is no doubt that these train/person accidents create lasting psychological problems for the T/Os. Matt Flegenheimer adroitly profiled those issues in a Times article earlier this week. But these slowdowns are simply unnecessary. There are, as Market Urbanism’s Stephen Smith noted on Twitter, no subway systems in the world that mandate station approaches at such slow speeds, and such a move would negatively impact operations.

So the labor battle continues, as it has for a year. This is the first potential TWU action since Joe Lhota, a leader TWU head John Samuelsen seemingly respected, departed the MTA. It likely won’t be the last until and unless a new contract is in place. And so we wait.

Categories : TWU

47 Responses to “TWU, MTA square off over slowdown order”

  1. Corey Best says:

    This is old news , it comes up every year and no one follows it…

  2. Someone says:

    NYCS only operates its trains at an average of 25 mph. That’s already slow enough as it is, NYCS trains should be able to go at at least 30 mph.

  3. Matthias says:

    Didn’t a politician suggest making this the law at one point? It’s a terrible idea.

  4. JN says:

    Seaton is talking through his hat. The subways are already running less frequently and spaced further apart. Anyone who rides the subway every day can tell you that slowing down and tooting the whistle as it enters the station will have NO delaying effect on subsequent trains.

    • I’m not sure where you’re coming from with that point. Slowing trains down to 10 MPH for station approaches would have a noticeable impact on subway operations.

      • Someone says:

        That also allows alignment with any screen door installations to be precise. Ironically, the trains wouldn’t need to slow down if there were PSD installations.

    • John says:

      Well, it sounds like you don’t ride the subways every day.

    • Someone says:

      Obviously, you haven’t experienced the delays of the subway every day. Better to install lights on the platform edge that flash rapidly when the train approaches, and have the train toot its horn as it enters the station; than to slow doen the train as it enters the station.

    • TP says:

      Slowing down and tooting will have no effect on delaying the 4/5 during rush hour? You’re crazy. “The subways are already running less frequently and spaced further apart”? No, they’re trying to get as many trains through as they can, and service is already slowed by delays due to people holding doors etc. Why make things even worse?

      • Someone says:

        A man just got pushed off the platform again on the 4/5/6 125 Street station today. It might be crazy, but either PSDs will have to be installed on the Lexington Ave line, or there will be more severe overcrowding on the 4/5/6 now.

        • Nathanael says:

          We know the solution to overcrowding on the 4/5/6; it’s called the Second Avenue Subway.

          In the short term it may be necessary to make stations “exit only” as they do on the London Underground.

          • Someone says:

            But the Second Avenue Subway won’t be complete until 2016. There needs to be something else that the MTA could do on the 4/5/6 between now and December 2016 (besides making stations exit-only, which could be a nightmare.)

  5. Bolwerk says:

    The ironic thing here is the refusal to accept OPTO (on safety grounds*) is perhaps inhibiting the MTA’s ability to afford to run more trains, and therefore creating a safety hazard in the form of platform crowding.

    “[S]aving yourself the emotional trauma and potential loss of income that go with it, is worth a few extra minutes on your trip” – ’cause, you know, it’s all about you the TO personally. Not the 2,000 people in the cars behind you or all the tens of thousands in trains behind them. Anyone who thinks this is a good idea (more platform crowding, hello!), or even improves safety, should be punched in the dick.

    * a lie; the TWU just wants more dues-paying members

  6. a.v. says:

    Let’s quickly do the math. 10 mph for the full 600 foot length of a platform means it would take 41.0 seconds for a train to enter the station, compared to 13.6 seconds at 30 mph, a difference of 27.4 seconds. Multiply that delay by, say, 10 stops, and it’s an extra four and a half minutes. Times 500 people on a train and you’re wasting nearly 38 hours of people’s time per train.

    • Someone says:

      That’s 1250 people a train, not 500. And for an average of 30 stops a line, it’s an extra 13.5 minutes. This wastes 281 hours 15 minutes of time per train, for one run where the train is full.

  7. Andrew Smith says:

    Clearly, given that the union cares so much about passenger safety and driver PTSD, it will forego any raises and agree to higher medical co-pays so the MTA can afford to enclose the tracks.

    • Nathanael says:

      Perhaps it will allow for automated train operation, so that no union members have to suffer the pain of seeing people injured or killed by a train.

  8. Hank says:

    Aaah public employee unions, undoing decades of progress of organized labor in self-destructive, short-sighted greedy binges. sometimes it’s hard to be a democrat…

    • Bolwerk says:

      It’s easy to be a democrat. It’s hard to be a small-R republican Democrat.

    • please says:

      “public employee unions, undoing decades of progress of organized labor”

      public employee unions aren’t organized labor?

      • Bolwerk says:

        Not especially. The idea of organized labor is that you work with, or at least show solidarity with, other workers/unions to effect change. The TWU long ago stopped caring about non-TWU workers.

  9. Bushwicked says:

    Two unfortunate deaths out of millions of passengers per day does not warrant slowing down the whole system or wasting billions on sliding doors.
    How many people are killed by buses or taxis each year? Should those vehicles be required to slow down to 10mph too?
    Step back and look at the big picture here…

    • Alon Levy says:

      How many people are killed by buses or taxis each year? Should those vehicles be required to slow down to 10mph too?

      If cars are also slowed to 10 mph, it’s a net win for everyone.

      • Someone says:

        If cars are also slowed to 10 mph, it’s a net win for everyone.

        What then? Are you going to require those vehicles to slow to 5 mph next?

        • Bolwerk says:

          In some cases, we should just be rid of them entirely. Even ignoring the whole killing/pollution spectrum, they create more problems than they solve.

          That way buses and even taxis could run faster.

          • Someone says:

            Um, be rid of what?

            Oh, personal vehicles? No, you can’t get rid of them entirely, but you can make separate dedicated lanes for buses. And aren’t taxicabs owned by their drivers? They have a union, right?

            • Bolwerk says:

              Of course you can get rid of them entirely. Times Square?

              And aren’t taxicabs owned by their drivers? They have a union, right?

              They could be owned by their drivers, or leased. I think, typically, a cab will be in use as much as possible, so it’s unlikely most will be driven exclusively by the owner.

            • Alon Levy says:

              New York cab medallions are owned by investors who then rent them out to the drivers.

    • Someone says:

      I stepped back.

      I actually found that in the Maronouchi Line of the Tokyo Metro where PEDs were installed, deaths resulting from platform falls were reduced from 20-something per year, to 0. That’s a 100% decline.

      • Nathanael says:

        There’s simply no way to install platform edge doors while the MTA is using trains with multiple different door positions. The rolling stock has to be standardized first.

    • please says:

      “Step back and look at the big picture here…”

      less stress and aggro, far fewer people killed, that’s the big picture

  10. Alon Levy says:

    The horn blowing is a normal, and stupid, commuter rail practice. I don’t think they do it on the New York-area lines, but in California, with its low platforms and 1940s-era regulations, trains blare horns at every station, regardless of whether they stop. The result is a nuisance to the surrounding residents, who then fight service expansions on quality of life grounds. Don’t expect the outer elevated parts of the subway to be any different; a loud horn on an el radiates noise and can be expected to make living near 125th/Broadway, 31st Street in Astoria, Roosevelt Avenue, and similar streets very difficult.

    • Someone says:

      That’s why PEDs or flashing lights would be better for these stations instead.

      In fact, this excessive noise thing is a bad idea.

      • Bolwerk says:

        On commuter rail, it’s FRA-mandated.

        There is no reason for any type of alert on a subway station. Anyone on the platform of a subway station should assume that a train could come at any moment, and if they aren’t smart enough to assume that they should go meet their gods anyway.

  11. Frank Grassi says:

    You guys are all missing the point. The answer is “education of the public”. I see women in stiletto heels standing at the edge of platforms- TEXTING or with earplugs, listening to their iPods and not paying the slightest attention to an approaching train. Why doesn’t the MTA start an intensive education campaign to tell passengers that IF they fall or are pushed onto the roadbed, carefully stepping over the third rail and into the space between the express and local tracks, in many stations, could save their lives? We call it “clearing up” and it’s practiced daily by anyone who works in or around rolling stock. Lying flat in some “gutters” between tracks could also work – if the depth were standardized. I was the on-camera spokesman for the “Subway Passenger Evacuation Video” online. Why doesn’t the MTA produce a similar Platform Safety video for passengers, which could also be played on the new tech trains with video screens onboard. Car Inspector F. Grassi (retired)


  1. […] a rigorous debate on platform edge doors and potentially illegal slowdowns, a pair of incidents forced the Lexington Ave. subway nearly entirely offline during rush hour […]

  2. […] cars (which, by the way, is something that doesn’t happen too often). We’ve heard of threats of an TWU-requested slowdown, and now we have Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer calling for an MTA Inspector General […]

  3. […] After an initial flurry of press over subway/passenger collisions earlier this year, the coverage has largely died down, but the issue remains. As part of a general awareness campaign, the TWU released the video posted above. It’s a rap urging straphangers to stand away from the platform edge as trains enter subway stations, and it’s sage advice. (The call at the end of the video for slower trains upon entering stations is, on the other hand, not a wise one.) […]

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