At a certain point earlier this year, the media hullabaloo over passenger/train collisions reached a crescendo. The TWU began to agitate for a costly slowdown; politicians began to wonder about platform edge doors; and the MTA had to defend itself on an issue that isn’t actually a problem as 48 of over 1.6 billion rides ended in an accidental death. These incidents are tragedies with ramifications for families and train operators alike, but the outcry seemed to overshadow the problems.
Today, Adam Martin at New York Magazine takes a closer look at the MTA’s deadly year, and while the numbers show a slight uptick in train deaths this year, overall the picture shouldn’t worry New York’s subway riders. In pure numbers, this year has not been a kind one for the MTA as, through August, the agency reported 65 deaths caused by subway, LIRR or Metro-North trains. If this pace continues throughout the year, the 98 projected deaths would blow past last year’s record total of 84.
But in a sense, the tide has turned a bit. While the incidents earlier this year focused around homicides, the number of non-suicides has dropped significantly. Of the 65 deaths, 40 of them were suicides and only 25 were accidental or other. Last year, those numbers were flipped with nearly 60 percent of subway deaths not suicides. The numbers are fairly de minimus considering overall MTA ridership, but maybe the aggressive public awareness campaign warning of the dangers of subways and other trains has paid off.
Why, then, have suicide numbers spiked? Martin offers up some theories:
One possibility is that the increase has been driven by intense media attention given to two incidents late last year in which people were pushed onto subway tracks and died. The New York Post splashed a dramatic photo of one victim seconds before death across its front page. A 2008 Columbia study found decreasing media coverage was an effective way to bring down the number of subway suicides. If the reverse is also true, then a barrage of coverage might spur them.
In the end, it’s hard to read much into these numbers. As an MTA spokesman said to New York Magazine, “So far, this year seems to be falling within the range of normal year-to-year variability. I would hesitate to call it a trend.” On a day-to-day basis then, the rails are safe.