Home View from Underground Blind man survives serious platform stumble

Blind man survives serious platform stumble

by Benjamin Kabak

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

From an MTA statement, here’s what happened this morning at 125th Street on the 8th Ave. line. It’s a crazy story:

At approximately 9:30am this morning, customers on the northbound platform at 125 St alerted subway personnel that a blind customer and his service dog had fallen onto the northbound express tracks at the station.

A construction flagger at the station observed the customer on the roadbed and instructed the customer to stay down in the trough between the rails and not attempt to climb back up onto the platform.

Other customers attempted to alert the train operator of an approaching northbound A train to stop. Contrary to initial reports, the train operator was unable to stop in time and 1 ½ cars did pass over the customer. The train did not come in contact with the customer and he was removed with minor lacerations to his head to St. Luke’s Hospital. There were no noticeable injuries to the dog.

Pete Donohue was on the scene and spoke with witnesses. No one was quite sure how the man and his dog fell or how they survived, but, needless to say, everyone was relieved.

This headline-grabbing incident comes toward the end of a year that saw increased attention to passenger/train collisions and platform jumpers. Yet, according to Donohue, the 2013 numbers so far — 144 riders hit, 52 deaths — isn’t too far out of line with the averages of 134 and 49, respectively. Still, the MTA is planning to test, at one unnamed station, track intrusion technology. It’s hard to know how successful the test will be as there are no real hot spots for customers entering the tracks, but it is at least a nod to passenger safety.

For its part, the TWU is still advocating for a slowdown that would be costly and disruptive to subway riders. And so it goes.

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John December 17, 2013 - 4:28 pm

A system like this will have a lot of false positives (trash, rats, etc.) but it at least seems like a good idea to have it display a warning to the driver that there may be a problem at the next station, and have them slow down or something.

Bolwerk December 17, 2013 - 4:55 pm

Not necessarily. It shouldn’t be too hard to detect an object’s size too. You can easily rule out rats or smaller pieces of trash.

Larger things like backpacks might be something to avoid hitting anyway.

BBnet3000 December 17, 2013 - 6:10 pm

If its just a matter of breaking a laser beam, it would not be able to distinguish an objects size.

Kai B December 17, 2013 - 6:26 pm

Yeah, lasers might not work, but perhaps the camera system used by the NYPD to identify potential threats on the street? It can (supposedly) distinguish an abandoned suitcase from the regular street scene, so that might be an idea.

Bolwerk December 17, 2013 - 6:41 pm

If two lasers break, you know the object is wider and if three break you know it’s even wider.

It’s crude, but it’s presumably enough to to differentiate between a rat and something larger than a hu-man baby.

Roxie December 17, 2013 - 7:28 pm

I dunno, man. Rats are huge. Their tails aren’t super thick, but like, all it takes is the rat standing just right with its tail lifted just so to cause a 2-laser or even 3-laser break. Unless the lasers are really far apart, I guess, but then you run the risk of not picking up someone small like a kid that’s fallen on the track bed.

Bolwerk December 17, 2013 - 7:44 pm

Beam density, motion detection (break frequency/variability), and time all should make differentiating a rat from a kid fairly easy.

But there is always risk. The more cautious you are, the more you risk stopping trains needlessly no matter what.

Beebo December 17, 2013 - 4:42 pm

Just put up glass partition walls with sliding doors, like many airport transport systems have, and be done with it. That could help with all the people holding doors open, etc.

This thing looks hokey-pokey, and yes, the rats will trigger it.

Boris December 17, 2013 - 5:34 pm

After the initial outcry earlier this year, the MTA should’ve agreed to a partition wall pilot project on the L line. It would’ve made the perfect segue to OPTO on the line, thus allowing us to kill two birds with one stone.

Brandon December 17, 2013 - 6:11 pm

OPTO means taking on the union, which the MTA is not willing to do. Im not exactly sure what the point of spending hundreds of millions on CBTC is if not OPTO.

Bolwerk December 17, 2013 - 6:46 pm

That’s what I don’t understand about transit h8rs like our governor. On one hand, they hate transit and the stinky poor people it ferries about at taxpayer expense. Stupid, but at least comprehensible. OTOH, they could actually do everyone, transit h8rs as well as transit dependents, an iota of good by ramming bills addressing problems like that through the state legislature.

John December 18, 2013 - 9:16 am

And remember that when you say that “the MTA” is not willing to take on the union, that means Cuomo and the other Albany swamp creatures who benefit from union money and votes and who will never have to swipe a MetroCard in their lives.

Putting transit under the control of “the MTA” (a board of unelected appointees chosen by the elected politicians) was one of the most brilliant blame-deflection moves Albany ever made. But the buck still stops at the governor’s office.

al December 17, 2013 - 7:09 pm

Have most of the conductors become video surveillance staff, in person customer service, and remote customer service personnel (via video conferencing enabled kiosk). The rest of the conductor slots would retire and would become slots for maintenance people.

Chris C December 18, 2013 - 1:01 am

Screen doors are not the panacea you think they are.

They would cost a fortune to retrofit let alone the disruption in actually installing them at stations which would need to be closed during that process including the testing they need.

They cannot be used where there are any curves in the platform and you can run only one type of subway car on them in perpetuity as the doors need to align with those on the platform.

Airport systems are not just about stopping passengers getting onto the tracks they are also about segregating security cleared and non cleared people too – eg the ‘Heidi’ train at Zurich Airport

Alon Levy December 18, 2013 - 5:11 am

Zurich’s Skymetro (the one with the Heidi zoetrope) used to have just one open platform area, still with platform screen doors. The separation between two areas – both of which are security-cleared, but only one of which is immigration-cleared – came when they added Terminal D, a few years after the initial system opened. Platform screen doors are in fact common at airports even without such separation, for example at JFK, as well as on new transit lines in such cities as London, Shanghai, and Paris. In Singapore, all underground subway stations are fitted with platform screen doors.

If I remember correctly, the MTA said the cost of platform screen doors (or edge doors?) was $1.5 million per platform face. The interest rate on fully equipping the system is if memory serves a few hundred thousand dollars per year per person who dies after falling onto the tracks, whereas the imputed value of human life is in the millions.

This can be done in a cheaper way, platform edge doors, which unlike platform screen doors don’t extend all the way up; Tokyo has these on some lines. These provide the same safety functionality, but let air escape into the tunnels, which means it’s more expensive to air condition subway stations with platform edge doors (or with no barriers) than ones with screen doors.

It’s also possible to get around the door placement problem, at least with edge doors, by having multiple possible door locations. Search the back pages of this blog, it was discussed a few months ago. It may cost more, but note that the MTA isn’t even making an effort to standardize door placement.

Michael December 18, 2013 - 1:07 am

While the glass partition idea has been brought up before on the transit forums, there are a number of problems with that idea.

1) While it seems simple to suggest glass partitions and sliding doors, one forgets that there are underground stations, on-the-ground stations, and elevated stations among the 468 stations in the subway system. There are plenty of design and implementation issues for each of the various kinds of stations.

2) There are various car sizes, 51-foot, 60-foot, and 75-foot length cars – not all of the doors always open in the same position. Several lines share both 60-foot and 75-foot length carsat the same time. Needless to say, but there are also work trains and other operations related trains that travel the subways almost daily.

Some lines have trains of 8-cars, 10-cars, 2-3-4 cars, etc. Both the M-train, R-train and the #5 line run full-length cars during their normal hours of operation, but also have a midnight hour shuttle operation of shorter cars. At the same time, their connecting stations also serve full-length trains.

Old-timers know that some elevated lines, and some subway stations had metal pipe-like fencing near the platform edges. One example, is the railing at the Canal Street platform for the N and Q trains, where there is the entrance stairway for the J and Z trains. The pipe-like railing protects riders who come down the stairways too fast from falling on the tracks. However, it is regular event that many train doors open right at that position, hampering the flow of riders into and out of the trains.

3) Vandalism and air flow. Creating more surfaces to be vandalized or marked with graffiti is not a good idea. The inclusion of air-conditioned trains in the subways required the creation of many more air vents to allow the heat from inside the trains to escape to the surface. The Lexington Avenue subway (and certainly not the only one) is an oven on the hot days of July and August, and the lack of air circulation does not help. The provision of glass doors and partitions will not make the situation any easier.

4) The purchasing, and installation of the glass partitions and doors will not be cheap. Since almost nothing about public transit is in-expensive – just from where will the money come from?

5) Right now there is a discussion about the old South Ferry loop station, and how the platform extender technology hampers the usefulness of the station, and its effects upon the whole #1 line. The glass partitions and doors REQUIRE the train operators to always all of the time to guide the train to very specific places on the platforms for the proper door openings. What are the re-courses when the doors do not operate properly, either opening or closing?

Systems like the Air-Train, a much smaller computer controlled system is simply not on the same scale as the NYC subway system.

6) While this idea has been promoted as a kind of “simple idea – that should have been done already” – it is really much more complicated then the backers contend.


Alon Levy December 18, 2013 - 5:38 am

For the comments brought up by Chris C, see my reply to him. For the rest:

1. It’s a solved problem to at least have platform edge doors both underground and above ground. See London, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai, and every airport people mover I know of.

2. The 51-footers don’t serve the same platforms as the other trains. Different train length is also not a problem, since not all doors have to open: this is already familiar from both the South Ferry loop and the 3’s Harlem terminal (5 cars only on the train) and commuter rail (many platforms are short and again only the cars aligned with the platforms will open their doors, even on automatic-door systems like Metro-North).

3. Air flow is better with platform screen doors because it’s possible to air condition. I believe, but do not know, that this is why Singapore puts screen doors underground but not above ground. Vandalism in New York is not worse than in Paris.

5. Platform screen doors exist on non-automated systems, such as the older lines in Singapore, and the Jubilee line extension in London. I’ve never seen a misalignment. It’s a solved problem.

6. It’s indeed more complicated, and cities around the world figured it out.

John December 18, 2013 - 9:12 am

This is exactly on the money. Once upon a time people invoked New York exceptionalism to explain why we could do the impossible. These days, it’s invoked to explain why we can’t do what’s possible in much less developed cities.

Chris C December 18, 2013 - 6:25 am

well this incident made the news here in the UK – well a particularly sad aspect did



(I think it is him having to get rid of the dog aspect that makes it news here rather than the subway accident aspect – we have enough accidents here without reporting yours!)

John December 18, 2013 - 9:10 am

It’s a disgrace that the MTA can’t install screen platform doors, when the metros in every third-world city from Sao Paulo to Seoul is able to install them.

Of course, who cares about saving lives and eliminating vermin and garbage fires from the subway, when the money can go toward buying union votes for de Blasio, Cuomo and the other Albany scum? They don’t have to take the subway like us mere plebians, so what do they care?

Chris C December 18, 2013 - 11:25 pm

It is easy to install platform doors when you build a system from scratch and you have control over construction (like having straight platforms) and when the technology exists than trying to retrofit them into a 100+ year old system like New York where it was an engineering miracle that the system got built in the first place.

The only screen doors in London are on the Jubilee Line extension – 8 stations built in the 1990s. There are no others, and no plans to in stall them, elsewhere. Even the new parts of the ‘Overground’ and the DLR don’t have them

Cross rail will have screen doors but only on the 8 new stations in the central and underground area.

Installing anything new into an old system is going to be very expensive and tricky. It is not as simple as some people make out.

wb8 December 18, 2013 - 12:54 pm

Aside from high installation costs, sliding doors would almost certainly become an operations & maintenance nightmare for a system like the NYC subway.

Using video surveillance seems like the ideal approach, and it’s something MTA should already have access to for homeland security and police purposes.

Alon Levy December 18, 2013 - 11:46 pm

Video surveillance is so last century. Mandatory RFID chips in everyone’s bodies is the way to go. Multiple ones, so that the NSA can discern body positions and such. If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide. (Unless you’re an NSA or CIA official and then you have to hide everything because otherwise the terrorists win.)


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