Home View from Underground A video primer on the emergency brake

A video primer on the emergency brake

by Benjamin Kabak

Who would have thought that the emergency brake — a fixture of subway cars for decades — could generate such attention? Over the last few weeks, I’ve burned quite a few pixels opining on the problems with the way Transit labels its emergency break. The dialogue started late last month when we explored how, in case of emergency, riders aren’t supposed to pull the brake and continued with a look at how the emergency instructions don’t say when to pull the brake.

In a nutshell, Transit urges its riders to avoid pulling the brake if the police or fire crews are needed. “Do not pull the emergency break,” reads the emergency brake decal. Rather, the emergency brake should be deployed only if a moving subway car has placed someone’s life in danger. That seems to be a rather straightforward instruction that is nowhere to be found in the city’s subway cars. And so in the grand spirit of the internet, a few intrepid filmmakers put forth a homemade PSA about the brake. The five-minute video — available here on Vimeo and embedded below — is quite amusing.

Meanwhile, in his new Off The Rails column at City Room, Michael Grynbaum spoke to the makers of this video who drew their inspiration from a Grynbaum article. Casey Nesitat is a 28-year-old filmmaker who hates riding the subway and spent around $25 on the film. It ends with instructions from the MTA’s website: “Use the emergency brake cord only when the motion of the subway presents an imminent danger to life and limb.” If only the signs in the subway cars were that concise.

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Andrew February 8, 2010 - 6:44 pm

Very nicely done.

But I’m afraid I still don’t understand the confusion. It’s clearly marked as an emergency brake. It’s function is to stop the train in an emergency. If stopping the train is not an appropriate response to the emergency, then don’t pull the emergency brake!

Do people get confused by emergency exits on airplanes, opening them for any sort of emergency? I certainly hope not.

Anon February 8, 2010 - 11:15 pm

since you asked:
“How does one operate the emergency doors on an airplane? Could some crazy person open them in flight?

Obviously many people don’t pay attention to the flight attendants or read the briefing cards, which explain in detail how to work the doors. You should know how to do this. But in midflight, no, the doors won’t open. That goes for the smaller emergency hatches and the main exits.

The hatches, usually found over the wings, are restricted by the outward-pushing forces of the pressurized fuselage. Like a drain plug they always open inward, and a person would not be capable of overcoming these forces until the aircraft is depressurized. The larger cabin doors are more complicated. Some operate manually, others mechanically. Secured by a series of locks, they also are subject to outward-acting pressure as in the case of the hatches, and/or sensors that do not allow movement while the plane is pressurized. ”

Paulbnj February 11, 2010 - 7:42 pm

Funny video, but two things.

1) Five comes after four, not six

2) I’m surprised the MTA hasn’t sued these guys for unlawful use of their “trademarked” property (the MTA logo he drew)

Sara Nordmann February 12, 2010 - 3:23 am

This video makes me laugh out loud. He must have spent more than $25, though, since those toy subway cars are $10 apiece, and he also had to buy a fake arm and a baby doll. Maybe he already had a doll sitting around.


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