Home New Jersey Transit Subway-related collisions largely held steady for 2013

Subway-related collisions largely held steady for 2013

by Benjamin Kabak

The MTA is testing track intrusion detection technology at one undisclosed station.

It’s often challenging to write about subway-related deaths or collisions without seeming callous or overly concerned. The deaths — ranging from intentional suicides to homicides to accidents — that we’ve heard about underground are tragic, and non-fatal incidents can be life-altering. They’re newsworthy because people aren’t supposed to be hit by trains and because they can impact normal rides for millions.

Early on in 2013, many people were showering an overwhelming amount of attention on subway/passenger collisions. Newspapers were marking each accident, alleging an uptick, while the TWU seemed to latch onto the stories as something they could exploit for good P.R. The union called for all train operators to slow down to 10 miles per hour while pulling into stations. It would have been incredibly time-consuming and costly, and the MTA did all it could to shoot it down.

Even as I disputed whether or not these subway incidents were enough of a problem to warrant action, over the course of the year they crept in and out of transit-related news coverage. Spurred on by a dramatic image of a man who had been pushed into the tracks and facing down an incoming Q train, the press coverage drove the MTA to begin to pilot sensor technology that is supposed to alert transit employees when an unauthorized person has entered the tracks. We discussed the high price tag for platform edge doors, and the overall cost assessment of working to save lives. The answers aren’t easy.

Now, with 2013 in the rear view mirror and full-year numbers available, we can assess whether the concerned coverage was in line with the numbers. Not so surprisingly, it was not. As Pete Donohue detailed today, subway deaths were slightly lower in 2013 than in 2012 while the total number of people struck by trains jumped slightly. It is still exceedingly unlikely that anyone will get struck by a train though, any solution should reflect this reality.

According to the preliminary numbers, 53 people died due to train collisions, down from 55 in 2012, while 151 people overall were struck by trains, up from 141 in 2012. Donohue notes that these numbers are a bit higher than average as 134 people were hit by trains and 41 killed per year from 2001-2012. These averages, however, do not reflect a steep increase in ridership since 2001 of around 20 percent, and with over 1.6 billion swipes per year, a de minimums number of people are struck by trains. “The chance of being struck and killed by a subway train remains astronomically low,” an MTA spokesman noted to the Daily News said.

Eventually, when money and varying subway car lengths are no obstacles and when a company is willing to front installation costs in exchange for ad rights, the MTA should implement platform edge doors. They’ll protect passengers from trains, keep garbage off the tracks and improve temperate control during the summer. For now, though, paying too much attention to this issue obscures deep-seated ones affecting transit on a daily basis. These deaths and collisions shouldn’t happen, but not even one-one hundred thousandth of a percent of riders are hurt by trains. Riding the subway remains safe.

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Boris January 2, 2014 - 12:18 am

The MTA’s biggest missed opportunity of 2013 is not piloting platform edge doors on the L, a move that could’ve paved the way to OPTO – an easy way to have door installation pay for itself many times over.

Epson45 January 2, 2014 - 3:16 am

It’s not cost effective to retrofit screen doors especially MTA doesn’t have money.

Brandon January 3, 2014 - 5:36 pm

No OPTO is a union issue, not a lack of platform edge doors issue.

Larry littlefield January 2, 2014 - 9:04 am

The same press that repeated the propaganda on subway accidents also does its best to make people to believe that most of those injured in traffic accidents are struck by bicycles.

Never let the facts get in the way of a story that benefits those with privileges.

SEAN January 2, 2014 - 1:31 pm

To quote my friend Alyssa, “the news is stupid!” Lets not forget there were polls who also wanted the subway & commuter trains slowed down, not just the TWU.

lawhawk January 2, 2014 - 11:49 am

Platform edge doors to improve public safety and reduce trash on the track ROW is an admirable long term goal. But if the goal is to expand the transit system and improve service, then there are other capital costs that come ahead of platform doors, unless someone is going to find a way to do it with no/low cost to the MTA.

Bolwerk January 2, 2014 - 1:00 pm

Not as good, but one obvious (and not mutually exclusive) alternative is fining littering more heavily and then enforcing it better. The $100 ($200?) fine in place is obviously not doing the trick.

SEAN January 2, 2014 - 1:19 pm

Is it the fine or the enforcement that’s at issue. You can make the fine what ever you want, but if you don’t enforce the law, then it doesn’t matter.

Bolwerk January 2, 2014 - 4:10 pm

Not really sure, but I would guess both.

I don’t view fines so much as about punishment as remediation. You may only catch 1 out of 50 litterers, but if you fine that one you catch $1000 you might have enough to clean up after the other 49. That there will be litterers is probably a given.

SEAN January 2, 2014 - 6:26 pm

Always love your insight Bolwerk, a joy to read.

If you make an example of the one you catch regardless of the infraction, it may make others think twice. in this case – littering.

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