Home New York City Transit After a death, reassessing platform edge doors

After a death, reassessing platform edge doors

by Benjamin Kabak

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

I’ve haven’t spent much time lately talking about subway collisions and deaths. After an early-2013 spate of hand-wringing over press attention to these incidents, what some were calling an epidemic has largely died down, and the TWU’s terrible plan to slow down trains hasn’t gone far. Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that as press coverage has diminished, so too have copy-cat jumpers and train/passenger collisions. Now, we’re just bombarded with endless announcements over the PA system concerning the safety of the platform edge.

Earlier on Tuesday night, though, a collision happened that drives home the idea that there is but one real solution to the problem. It’s an expensive solution that may not be practical but would have many added benefits, and it’s a solution that requires engineering creativity and an extensive capital outlay. That solution is one I haven’t been quick to endorse over cost concerns, and it is platform edge doors.

Last night, as I left my office and entered the subway at Times Square, the PA system spoke of a problem impacting the West Side IRT. There were no 1, 2 or 3 trains running uptown between 72nd and 96th St. due to a police investigation. I figured the news would not be good, and I was right. CBS New York has the gruesome details:

A 18-year-old male was struck and killed Tuesday evening by a northbound 2 train as he reportedly tried to cross the train tracks at the 79th Street station on the Upper West Side. The accident happened at around 6:30 p.m. on the express tracks. Service was disrupted on the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 subway lines in Manhattan due to the police investigation.

Law enforcement sources told 1010 WINS’ Sonia Rincon that the victim, who turned 18 on Tuesday, was with a group of friends. At least two jumped down and tried to cross — one made it, WCBS 880?s Alex Silverman reported. A witness said he begged the teens not to run across the tracks, but he could not stop them. “They crossed the tracks the hard way, as opposed to coming upstairs and going around,” the witness told CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis. “They just ran across the tracks and got hit by the 2 train in the express tunnel.”

Police said the emergency brake on the Bronx-bound train was pulled after the operator saw one teen make it across the tracks from the uptown to the downtown side, then tried to stop the train for the second boy. But the operator could not stop in time.

All around, that’s about as bad as it gets. Two 18-year-olds — who were found to have a bottle of rum with them — entered on the wrong side and decided to rectify the situation by cross four tracks at rush hour. The 2 train, accelerating through a 24-block express straightway out of 72nd St., couldn’t stop in time, and plenty of people were in the station to witness the collision. It’s tragic; it’s horrific; and it’s worthy of a Darwin Award.

This tragedy illustrates the only way to protect people is by physically barring their entry onto the tracks. We’re not going to slow express trains down as they bypass local stations, and while a motion sensor may have served as a warning, it sounds as though the 2 train was moving too fast to stop in time. So we’re left with expensive platform edge doors. They can save energy, keep tracks clean and save lives. Without an obvious big-ticket item on the MTA’s next capital plan, maybe it’s time to give them a whirl.

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Chris G March 27, 2013 - 6:26 am

Surprised you’re coming around to this. Although the half height doors you show in the pic won’t solve anything. They have to be full height into the ceiling.

Sad it takes it affecting people personally to get them to come around.

John-2 March 27, 2013 - 9:13 am

Yep. Two teens after a bottle of rum would stagger over those low platform doors in a heartbeat. I could even see someone getting nailed by a local in the same situation, because they’re drunkenly struggling to get back over the low doors after getting onto the tracks.

If the MTA’s going to do it, they need to fully commit to the floor-to-ceiling doors and partitions.

Benjamin Kabak March 27, 2013 - 9:27 am

Not to sound callous about what happened yesterday, but it didn’t personally affect me. I was heading downtown and usually take the Q out of Times Square if I can get it.

I’m coming around a bit for a few reasons. First, I think this incident underscores how stupid people will be no matter what. Also in that vein is the photo of the guy on a skateboard jumping over the tracks at 145th St. Second, I think the additional benefits of platform edge doors — climate controlled stations, no garbage on the tracks, ad revenue — is worth discussing as well.

No matter what, there are plenty of barriers to platform edge doors including non-standardized rolling stock and the desire for ATO. But it’s a conversation that should continue, and I’m not so sure we should just dismiss it outright quite yet.

Nathanael April 3, 2013 - 6:57 pm

Platform doors are fine in new construction, and where they’re practical.

They’re impractical where the space between stairs and the edge of the platform is already dangerously narrow. And they’re impractical in areas with non-standardized rolling stock.

This is a bit of a problem because most of the B division has non-standardized rolling stock and most of the A division has dangerously narrow spaces between the stairs and the platforms.

Perhaps it makes the most sense to pick a few targeted A division stations where platform doors would work, and start there. Or to put platform doors into the new-build Second Avenue Subway and start there.

Kvnbklyn March 27, 2013 - 7:33 am

Given that almost all underground stations have columns close to the platform edge, there is no way to fit platform doors. This is particularly true at the narrowest platforms where stairs and elevators make the space between the columns and the platform edge the only place to walk. Think of the N/Q/R platforms at Union Square or the 2/3 platforms at Wall Street. Platform doors are great in subway systems without columns (such as in the diagram above), but I doubt they can be used extensively here.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 9:56 am

Okay. Then, find a way to put the doors between the damn columns.

alen March 27, 2013 - 8:01 am

so why should we spend money just because some idiots or drunks get killed by their own fault?

Larry Littlefield March 27, 2013 - 9:29 am

Rather, because there is no money, allow the system to deteriorate to the point where it is abandoned.

You can’t stop people like this. Even with floor to ceiling barriers down the entire platform, which would be the minimum. Every year some people get killed running across limited access highways. Or driving around crossing gates as a train comes by. But without a union and politicians seeking to wreck the transit system, it does not become an issue. Let’s hear your proposal for the highways and trains.

This is not an example of why platform doors are needed. If it had been a three year old, or someone who got faint and somehow fell to the tracks from behind the line, or someone who was pushed, then maybe. In the meantime, someone should figure out how much in wage cuts, combined with the elimination of the conductor position, could pay for platform doors. The issue would then go away.

llqbtt March 27, 2013 - 10:11 am

Agreed. And I’m surprised that there aren’t more pedestrian fatalities too. Some people wait for the light all but in oncoming traffic to cross the street.

Josiah March 27, 2013 - 10:39 am

If your commute had been delayed yesterday due to these idiots’ actions, you wouldn’t be asking this.

Garbage and people falling on the tracks cause delays and reduce reliability of service

JMB March 27, 2013 - 9:32 am

“It’s tragic; it’s horrific; and it’s worthy of a Darwin Award.”

Couldnt’t of said it better myself. While its sad that this kid died, kids die from stupid stuff all the time. Its truly amazing any of us make it out of our teenage years in one piece.

Platform barriers would be nice, but there is simply no way the MTA could ever find the funds to tackle this. From engineering problems due to the layout of our platforms to the mixed rolling stock, to the exorbitant costs, there just isn’t really a way to do this. What little money we get should be spent on upgrading infrastructure to support more capacity.

Zach March 27, 2013 - 9:37 am

Unfortunately, platform edge doors would eliminate the advantage us daily riders have of knowing exactly where the doors will be when the train stops.

John March 27, 2013 - 9:59 am

In this particular case, how about blocking off the express tracks better? It seems like that would be a lot more practical than platform-edge doors.

alen March 27, 2013 - 10:03 am

until an emergency happens and people have no easy way to get to a platform from a train on the express tracks

ant6n March 27, 2013 - 10:38 am

Well they could make barriers such that they still can be climbed over – just like the barriers in the image above. But it’ll be obvious that you can’t just rush across the tracks anymore, which should reduce the number of incidents where people attempt to cross tracks. (The teens were too lazy to take the stairs to get to the other side; if there were a couple of barriers, would they have been too lazy to climb across those?)

This could be if there are 2 tracks with side platforms as well.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 9:58 am

Block the express tracks? Such an absurd idea.

Oh wait, no one ever jumps off express trains@

Eric Brasure March 27, 2013 - 10:07 am

I still don’t see the necessity of spending millions of dollars to retrofit the entire system with platform doors when what, 30 people die a year? I know it sounds cold and heartless, but there are much better uses for the money.

Alex March 27, 2013 - 10:29 am

I agree with Eric and others on this thread. Installing platform doors at every station is far too costly given other, much more useful improvements that could be made. SAS Phase 2 is an obvious alternative as well as the rest of the phases and other system expansion. Maybe install these doors at some of the busiest stations, but to install them everywhere because a few careless people decide to tempt fate and lose is pointless. No one is suggesting we erect physical barriers between streets and pedestrians, and there are a far more deaths from those collisions. We need to be sensible with the very limited amount of funding available for transit expansion. Sorry Ben, but I think you’re very wrong on this one.

Benjamin Kabak March 27, 2013 - 10:34 am

It’s OK. I’m not particularly wedding to the idea one way or another. I think it’s the best of a bunch of bad ideas (mainly vis a vis slowing down trains). But if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t.

Worth pointing out though that it’s not about protecting people from trains as much as it is protecting everyone else from the delays associated with these track deaths. Think about how many people had their rides impacted because service on the West Side was out for three hours during rush hour last night.

Eric Brasure March 27, 2013 - 12:33 pm

I considered that, but it seems more useful to spend the money in other ways that will speed up trips for riders every single day, not avoid delays that happen only a couple dozen times a year.

Rob March 27, 2013 - 3:11 pm

How abt some changes to law to make unnecessary these essentially worthless multi-hour multi-track investigations of the obvious? Problem solved.

pea-jay March 27, 2013 - 10:55 pm

The may have needed to close multiple tracks to properly clean up all parts. Didn’t Metro (Australia) just do a cutesy video on Dumb Ways to Die. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJNR2EpS0jw

This event was certainly one…

Jeff March 28, 2013 - 10:41 am

And those 30 people, as well as the other hundred people who get maimed or injured by trains hitting them, all sue the MTA, costing taxpayers/riders millions of dollars a year.

So aside from the human element there IS a tremendous cost impact from these accidents as well.

I think it all depends on a cost-benefit analysis but its not as cut-and-dry as you present it.

aestrivex March 27, 2013 - 10:07 am

“Without an obvious big-ticket item on the MTA’s next capital plan.”

No obvious big-ticket item? Because the MTA’s capital construction needs to be even bigger and more costly?

Benjamin Kabak March 27, 2013 - 10:09 am

Politically, I see risk is in having a capital plan too low and never again convincing the legislature to approve a $20 billion+ plan. If only someone would talk about SAS Phase 2.

Bolwerk March 27, 2013 - 1:48 pm

Yes, it probably should be bigger. It should be better planned and executed, but bigger. It’s the operating budget that is bloated.

But hey, since you have an interest in socionics, you have any insight on this?

aestrivex March 28, 2013 - 10:37 am

To state a complicated issue simply, most people take for granted what they have and pay only cursory attention to the intricate details of how the world around them works. But socionics is a bit afield of this topic; socionics is more directed at individual differences in attentional perspective rather than the collective attentional perspective.

Nathanael April 3, 2013 - 6:59 pm

“Without an obvious big-ticket item on the MTA’s next capital plan.”

Um, replacing the entire freaking signal system?

ant6n March 27, 2013 - 10:39 am

Ok, so the kids went to the wrong platform — maybe the MTA should improve the signage?

Benjamin Kabak March 27, 2013 - 10:41 am

The station entrances at 79th St. clearly say “Uptown Only” and “Downtown Only.” What more do you want?

jenny7train March 27, 2013 - 12:26 pm

Its not dumb proof.

Matt March 27, 2013 - 1:28 pm

Every time you idiot-proof something, the world invents dumber idiots. I have a hard time seeing how you’d dissuade people like this unless you dug underpasses (or built overpasses) at every single station.

Ant6n March 27, 2013 - 2:03 pm

I don’t know this particular station. I just know in general that the MTA signage is not good. I think you’re just used to it (and you have to get used to it).

Anyway, the point is that’s another approach at solving a problem: Kids wound up on wrong platform, jumped across tracks. So people are demanding that they can’t jump across tracks, but not nobody asks why they wound up on the wrong platform.

Berk32 March 27, 2013 - 6:30 pm

They were drunk

The Cobalt Devil March 27, 2013 - 9:13 pm

Thank you. These kids were drinking and partying and probably aching to do something stupid to show their friends how cool they are. Even if the signage at the station was in Swedish and was all but illegible, who the hell in their right mind would say, “hey, the downtown side is over there…let’s run across four NYC subway tracks and hoist ourselves up onto the platform to save three minutes.”

You cannot legislate stupidity, and spending millions (if not billions) to save a handful of morons from their own idiocy is just, well, idiotic.

Ant6n March 28, 2013 - 10:48 am

Wha? That’s a non-sequitur. And your point is the double reverse of my point – “even if we do the opposite of what you suggest, how would you prevent not the thing that you wanted to solve”

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 9:58 am

A crossover/crossunder.

Billy G March 27, 2013 - 10:54 am

Far from it for me to advocate any outlay to detract from “The Darwin Effect” but why not just erect wire fences between the pillars separating the local tracks from express tracks in the station section of the line?

Patrick March 27, 2013 - 2:35 pm

Then, like it was said above, that if there’s an emergency and they need to evacuate people off a train on the express track, their path to the station is now blocked. There has to be at least some sort of path for emergencies and track work.


John March 27, 2013 - 5:57 pm

Wouldn’t platform edge doors have the same problem? How would people evacuate from the local tracks into the station if there are platform edge doors?

Kai B March 28, 2013 - 8:59 am

Key them open electronically or manually (in power failure situations).

Tsuyoshi March 27, 2013 - 11:06 am

I think platform doors would be worthwhile. Not to prevent people from walking onto the tracks, which is rare, but to prevent people from throwing garbage onto the tracks, and to keep the train air conditioning exhaust from heating the platform. Reducing the rat population and reducing the summer temperature in underground stations would be very worthwhile. I guess in that respect, I don’t think it would be worthwhile for aboveground stations, though.

Gary March 27, 2013 - 11:46 am

What jmb said at 9:32am. I’m amazed I lived to see 30.

And yes, let’s start talking about Phase 2 and 3 and 4 of the SAS.

g March 27, 2013 - 11:50 am

I’m not opposed to trying this out at least. They should look at retrofitting say 3 stations with varying conditions to get a sense of what would be involved.

I still think the financial argument for doing the whole system isn’t there but that’s not a good enough reason not to at least test it. It might be justifiable at high volume stations.

Bolwerk March 27, 2013 - 1:37 pm

How about letting people who enter on the wrong side get a free swipe in on the right side?

Patrick March 27, 2013 - 2:33 pm

The people who can’t read the sign thats right on the staircase as they walk down should be charged their fare again. We shouldn’t compensate stupiditiy either.


Matthias March 27, 2013 - 3:47 pm

It’s hardly stupidity. A lot of systems don’t have separated fare control for each direction, so people don’t expect it.

Bolwerk March 27, 2013 - 5:47 pm

Oh please. That’s an absentminded and completely mistake, one I’ve made myself, that puts nobody in any danger. They already let you in if you tell them what happened.

Bolwerk March 27, 2013 - 6:34 pm

completely ^understandable

Eric Brasure March 27, 2013 - 3:54 pm

I did this once. I was in a rush and wasn’t paying attention.

Only time I ever hopped a turnstile. I had an unlimited card and the helpful MTA employee wouldn’t let me through, told me I had to wait until my card reset. I declined to follow his advice.

Patrick March 27, 2013 - 2:40 pm

I’m all for developing some sort of sensor technology that can detect people on the tracks and can trip signals stopping trains ahead of time.

Maybe they could also develop some sort of emergency button strip-type thing (like those strips all along busses that you press when your stop is coming up). Put a string of them all along the platform edge and make it red/noticeable, and when you fall, just press the emergency stop strip and all the signals in the area turn red,


Berk32 March 27, 2013 - 6:32 pm

that will just lead to all sorts of idiots pushing it constantly for ‘fun’

Ant6n March 28, 2013 - 10:51 am

There are emergency buttons in the Montreal metro that turn off the third rail. I’ve never heard of anybody abusing them — although I’ve heard of people not being aware of them in an actual emergency.

Kid Twist March 27, 2013 - 3:48 pm

Let’s also build walls along every curb so no one can run out into the street and get hit by a truck.

Eric Brasure March 27, 2013 - 3:57 pm

That’s not the same thing and you know it. Do tractor-trailers typically zoom by at 30MPH with only a quarter-inch of spacing between them and the curb?

Bolwerk March 27, 2013 - 5:50 pm

No, but you’re much more likely to die on the street than in the subway. It stands to reason that protecting people from traffic should be a much greater concern.

Berk32 March 27, 2013 - 6:34 pm

You’re right – its not the same thing – the streets are worse.

More cars – more trucks – moving faster – more people

Nathanael April 3, 2013 - 7:00 pm

“Do tractor-trailers typically zoom by at 30MPH with only a quarter-inch of spacing between them and the curb?”

Yes. Not in NYC, but, frankly, yes.

Larry Littlefield March 27, 2013 - 3:54 pm

I’m not opposed to only buying 60-foot cars on the B division and making sure all future car classes have the doors in the same place.

Then it might be possible to install platform doors in a reasonable way some time in the future, at least in the most crowded underground stations.

The real question, however, is will the next capital plan exist, and if it does will it feature deferred maintenance — not replacing cars, signals and other equipment on time or even reasonably late?

lawhawk March 27, 2013 - 8:42 pm

How many track fires occur annually that are caused by trash collecting on the tracks?

How much more pervasive is the rodent problem due to trash and food debris that collects in the track areas off the platform?

The cost to save lives may be prohibitive if we’re looking at a few dozen fatalities and twice the number of injuries annually due to falls, pushes, or other reasons for being on the tracks when a subway rolls through.

But that cost has to be tempered by the cost in lost productivity, disruption of service, and an improved efficiency of subway service if PSDs are installed. Are the costs and benefits falling in favor of PSDs? I’m not sure, but they are close enough to warrant discussion. I just wonder whether other spending priorities ought to come first – like building out the 2d Ave line and other capital programs.

Charley March 27, 2013 - 10:51 pm


Although the system has different rolling stock types, isn’t it true that in a particular station, on a particular line, only one type of stock is used? If that’s the case, then you build PSC with spacing for doors to align with BMT trains in all BMT stations, IRT train in IRT stations, etc.

If that’s the case, then it can still be done under one design-build contract with 3 (or would it be 4) variants for the different types of lines/rolling stock in the system. That wouldn’t seem to be a challenge from an engineering standpoint and wouldn’t be much more costly than if there was system-wide uniform rolling stock.

Bolwerk March 28, 2013 - 8:57 am

I can’t think of many lines that definitely have uniform rolling stock. The L comes to mind. The 7 might, but it’s re-standardizing in a few years. Maybe the A, B, or D? The 4/5/6 might, but that will change in the next few years.

Charley March 28, 2013 - 6:53 pm

If by not having “uniform” rolling stock, you’re referring to old vs. new, in which case isn’t the only real difference the larger doors of the new train cars? If that’s the case, size the platform screen doors for the larger doors of the R142/143 & R-160s. If they open a bit wide for the older car doors that shouldn’t be a problem.

If the issue is being able to implement an automated system, then the platform doors could be opened by the conductor through the window (cue outcry and protest for more money from TWU).

Henry March 29, 2013 - 4:12 pm

There’s also different door placement – Eastern Division (J/M/Z/L) still have a couple of old cars lying around here and there, and R46s still run on the F from time to time. R68s and R68As also have different door placements from the newer trains, and those trains are not due to retire for a good 20 years due to their age and reliability. Not to mention, it’ll basically make operating the Nostalgia Trains impossible due to the fact that those DEFINITELY don’t line up with the new door placements.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 9:59 am

Bye bye, BMT Standards.

Asher March 28, 2013 - 3:51 am

Plenty of people get killed when they cross against the red light, but no one is calling for the DOT to put up gates at crosswalks.

Nathanael April 3, 2013 - 7:02 pm

They tried that in parts of the UK. It’s a very pedestrian-hostile thing to do.

Ryan April 1, 2013 - 10:01 am

What works on the Hibiya Line in Tokyo, should work here in New York.


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