View Full Version : Pointing a Finger Toward Safer Subways

November 29th, 2003, 09:54 PM
November 30, 2003


Pointing a Finger Toward Safer Subways


Chilling thoughts that have crossed the mind of many a New York City subway rider:

A door in a packed car flies open while the train is barreling between stations. Or the doors are opened with the halted train not fully in the station. Or with the platform on the other side. People falling out . . .

In early 1997, transit officials acknowledged an alarming rash of incidents in which conductors had opened doors on the wrong side or with part of the train in the tunnel. The officials said they did not know of any injuries, or how the 55 incidents in 1996 compared with previous years because they had not compiled earlier data.

They also did not know, they said, what accounted for the conspicuous rash. Union officials spoke of training shortcuts and conductor fatigue from mandatory overtime.

But transit officials took action. One new rule required conductors, before opening the doors, to point up at black-and-white striped panels long hanging at midstation above the platforms' edges to ensure that they glanced at the panels. When the conductor's cab is under the panel, the train is completely in the station.

Also, new trains have switches that the driver must flick before the conductor can open the doors.

Recently, a spokesman for New York City Transit said reports of doors opening with trains not fully in the station had dropped to 10 to 17 annually from 43 in 1996, with 5 this year as of Oct. 31.

Wrong-side openings, said the spokesman, Charles Seaton, totaled 12 in 1996 and have ranged since from 4 to 10 annually, with 2 this year through October. He said he knew of no injuries in either category.

A vice chairman for conductors at Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, Jimmy Willis, credited better training and conductor diligence for the improvements.

A random check last week of 15 arriving trains at two stations found 12 of the 15 conductors doing the finger-pointing.

Doors opening on moving trains are not attributable to conductors. In 2000, a 3-year-old boy died in Brooklyn when the door at the end of a car slid open and he fell out. No mechanical explanation was found.

Reports of a side door opening on a moving train have ranged from 35 to 60 annually since 1996, officials said. Doors opened just a few inches in many of the incidents. Mechanical defects frequently could not be found and no injuries were reported.

"To put it in perspective," said Deirdre Parker, a transit spokeswoman, "we have 7,950 daily train trips."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

December 8th, 2003, 11:52 AM
From New York Newsday

Deep Fears In Heights

Ray Sanchez

December 8, 2003

People were filing into an elevator deep below Washington Heights early yesterday: teenagers in loose-fitting clothes; hospital workers in blue-green uniforms; bundled up dishwashers; and nattily attired club hoppers.

It was nearly 2 in the morning and, in upper Manhattan, the ride continues after the subway doors swing open. You trek to elevators through foreboding concrete chambers where the homeless sleep and drunks urinate. You come to a uniformed transit worker whose job involves pressing elevator buttons to lift you out of the deepest stations in New York.

"A free-for-all," the elevator operator at 168th Street was saying yesterday, predicting disorder at five upper Manhattan stations where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to eliminate 22 of 50 elevator operators.

As he spoke, the elevator filled with riders. A man urinating outside the elevator didn't see him. A young man said something to three teenage girls behind him. One of the girls cursed him. The young man threatened her. His buddies laughed. When the elevator operator glared at the pair, the tension dissipated.

"It's going to get crazier," he said.

A movement to keep the elevator operators is being headed by a group of residents who trudged through a driving snow Saturday afternoon to the five upper Manhattan stations on the A, 1 and 9 lines. Transit officials have insisted that one elevator operator will be assigned around the clock at each station, but residents said the plan will compromise rider safety because there will be less workers around. Each station has at least four elevators.

"It's a perfect place for a mugging," said Dan Fleshler, a 20-year neighborhood resident who helped organize the march, which attracted more than 150 people.

"The elevators will become death traps," said Mark Hamburgh, president of Hebrew Tabernacle, a synagogue on Fort Washington Avenue.

"You're going to destroy the neighborhood," said Mike Augenblick, an officer with the Hudson Heights Owners Coalition, which represents 2,700 apartment owners in the neighborhood.

The elevator cuts are among 1,077 transit positions to be eliminated next year, including cleaning and maintenance jobs. Even after implementing the steepest increase in history this year, the transit agency still faces yawning budget deficits. A state comptroller's report last week warned of another fare hike in just two years.

When the 33 percent hike was approved, MTA Chairman Peter Kalikow promised no service cuts, but that's what the agency is doing. The MTA has also been quietly dismantling dozens of part-time station booths despite Kalikow's assurances that it listened to riders' concerns about safety.

"They completely missed the message that was pounded into their heads during the hearings about the station booths: Riders want human beings in the subways," Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, said last week. "Riders see it as a matter of safety and decent service."

As they marched through Washington Heights on Saturday, residents distributed Spanish and English fliers urging people to attend a Dec. 18 meeting at the MTA headquarters in midtown, when the board will vote on the cuts.

Broadway divides Washington Heights along economic lines - with mostly white, middle-class apartment owners residing west of the thoroughfare, and mostly black and Latino working-class families east of there.

"The educated, middle class has registered this as an issue," said Miriam Stix, a Washington Heights resident since 1982. "But it affects everybody."

Copyright 2003, Newsday, Inc.

December 13th, 2003, 09:25 PM
December 14, 2003


Pulling the Cord


Q. I'm baffled by the new posters in the subway explaining what to do in emergencies that discourage use of the emergency cord. When is it O.K. to pull the cord?

A. Good question and, despite what some might think, a serious one.

This is the answer, from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's own Web page: "Use the emergency cord only to prevent an accident or injury. For example, if someone gets caught between closing subway car doors and is being dragged, pull the cord.

"But if your train is between stations and someone aboard becomes ill, do not pull the emergency cord. The train will stop, preventing medical professionals from reaching the sick passenger. A sick person is better off if the train goes to the nearest station where police and medical services will be waiting or can be quickly summoned, without interruption."

E-mail: fyi@nytimes.com

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

April 27th, 2004, 07:05 PM
April 27, 2004

Staying One Step Ahead of Disaster


Inside a squat, light blue warehouse in Coney Island is a subway tunnel where disasters happen.

The other day, the tunnel and two trains inside began filling with smoke. The 50 or so people on board one of the trains calmly formed a line to file out the back.

"Watch your head," said a beefy man stationed by the door, as people descended one by one down a narrow stepladder to the roadbed.

When everyone had made it safely, the group turned around to do it again.

It was all a charade, of course. The subway tunnel is actually an elaborate mock-up, part of a training center that opened in 1997. The smoke comes from a machine usually found on movie sets. Here, train operators, conductors, station agents and other employees of the nation's busiest mass transit system, the New York City subway, practice for the worst.

Although the need to evacuate subway trains because of fires or other problems has always been a part of travel underground, the training that goes on here has taken on newfound importance in a jittery world of orange alerts and terrorist threats.

"There is a higher sense of, 'Boy, I could be in this,' " said Rocco Cortese, assistant vice president of training for New York City Transit. "Everybody's starting to realize that."

Partly because of terrorism concerns, transit officials are planning to offer the daylong fire safety and evacuation training sessions to more workers and make those who have already gone through it do so more often.

Train operators, conductors and station agents all get the training when they start their jobs, but only train operators are required to go through refresher courses every three years. Beginning May 1, officials will make conductors do the same. They are also considering training car cleaners, track workers and employees in other departments, in case they need to help in an evacuation.

The measures are long overdue, according to leaders of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, who have been pushing for more training.

"There can never be too much training, obviously, in today's world, especially after what happened in Madrid, what happened in Tokyo, the attacks on our city," said Jimmy Willis, a conductor and union official. Mr. Willis, who said that he has been through the evacuation training once in his 16 years on the job, supports putting employees through it at least once a year.

Transit officials point out that they have been steadily expanding training of all kinds, especially in recent years. Decades ago, safety training was mostly informal, passed on from one worker to another. During the 1980's, with the emergence of stricter standards from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, training became more formalized and centralized in a single department. Evacuation training, however, was done out in a train yard, on an old subway car.

The opening of the training center represented a huge step forward, allowing the transit agency to build in a realism it did not have before. After Sept. 11, 2001, agency officials revamped an introductory class for new employees to teach awareness of nuclear, biological and chemical threats. And last year, officials also added a 40-hour hazardous materials training course, again for designated workers.

The agency is trying to be methodical by making sure it has the resources to sustain new programs so the additional training will be effective, said Art Basley, senior director of safety training.

"You don't want to start doing something you can't see through," he said.

In the evacuation training, the students start out in the classroom, with an instructor going over procedures from a manual. Much time is spent on keeping passengers calm. The manual reads: "Good, clear communication to all involved is essential in controlling panic." Also: "Keeping customers informed of the problem, using a clear, authoritative voice and timely announcements will help keep panic to a minimum."

"You're really going to need to put on your acting faces," said Jim Leckie, an instructor, to his students. "They're going to be looking for an authoritative face."

Later, the students move inside the warehouse, where a pair of old trains sit side by side. Mr. Leckie starts out by demonstrating how to contact the subway system's control center from the emergency alarm boxes that are mounted under blue lights along the tracks. A worker has to pull a lever, which triggers a ticker-tape printout in the control center that identifies the location of the box. Then, he or she has to pick up the phone immediately and tell the desk superintendent to shut off the power to the electrified third rail.

If the phone is missing or does not work, Mr. Leckie tells his class to take the lever and "pull it a second time, pull it a third time." That way, the control center will know it is not someone in the tunnel pulling a prank.

Even after the power is cut, however, workers should always still assume the rail is "hot," Mr. Leckie said, and try to keep riders away from it. Mr. Leckie moves quickly on to discussing the evacuation of passengers from the train to the roadbed. But this, he said, should be done only as a last resort.

Again, he warned his students about panic.

"Panic inside the car is one thing," he said. "Panic on the roadbed is another."

Next, the students practice a train-to-train evacuation. This is normally the first choice in an emergency so that riders would not have to plunge into the tunnel. Whenever possible, a rescue train would be sent into the tunnel and line itself up alongside the train that needs to be evacuated.

Mr. Leckie positions two students at the entrance of one car and two students across the narrow gap in the other car and has them link arms to form what he calls a "human banister." A yellow emergency device with a stepladder on one side and a ramp on the other bridges the gap between the trains.

Once again, the students line up to file out of the train. By now, however, the smoke is thick, limiting visibility to less than 15 feet. Suddenly, the lights go out. Several students turn on flashlights.

"I'm afraid of the dark," one man jokes.

At this point, Mr. Leckie pauses to talk to his students about what to do if, for instance, a person in a wheelchair is on the train, since a wheelchair cannot fit onto the emergency ramp.

"Our main concern is to evacuate as many people as possible, as quickly and safely as possible," he said, telling his students to move the handicapped person off to the side and provide assurances that "help is on the way." The rider would probably have to wait for firefighters to arrive.

In the darkness, Mr. Leckie walks his students through the last drill of the day, what is known in transit parlance as "train-to-benchwall," meaning from the train to the narrow walkway that runs along the side of subway tunnels.

He tells the transit workers to take their right hand and place it on the shoulder of the person in front of them. Leave the other hand available, he said, to grab hold of the railing. The hands on the shoulders, he said, would help keep panic to a minimum. Like a conga line, the group shuffles out of the train on cue.

"Are they sending help?" someone asks.

The group shuffles through the smoke down the catwalk, out a door and up some steep steps to fresh air.

Just like that, the exercise is over. It took less than an hour.

Afterward, Ralph Boozer, 45, with 21 years on the job, said that he would be ready if something happened. Two decades ago, he had to evacuate 2,000 people on a packed train when a train in front of his caught fire. Also, during the blackout last summer, he had to evacuate his train because it was caught inside a tunnel.

But Glen Burnett, 52, another veteran train operator, worried about overexcited passengers inciting panic. All it takes is one, he said, and pandemonium follows.

On a train, the only people who are trained to handle most emergencies are the conductor and the train operator, he said. "It's two against 2,000."

It is that kind of hysteria that cannot be replicated in any drill, said O'Neal Barno, 40, another train operator. He is not sure if the short class has prepared him.

"Hopefully, it does," he said. "But to be honest with you, I don't think so."

The consensus among many transit workers, he said, is that a terrorist attack against the subway system is inevitable. As a result, the classes have changed markedly over the years.

"People are paying a little more attention now," he said, "just in case."

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

May 1st, 2004, 01:37 AM
May 1, 2004

Mistakes During a Subway Fire Spur New Emergency Training


A recently completed report detailing crucial missteps by transit employees during a fire last summer at the York Street subway station in Brooklyn has spurred changes to training and procedures for handling emergencies underground, transit officials said.

The report, by the New York City Transit Office of System Safety, examined what happened after a southbound F train caught fire when it pulled into the York Street station at 3:10 a.m. on July 19, stranding 140 passengers on a platform because the only exit to the street was obscured by smoke. The passengers were eventually led down the tracks to an emergency exit 1,000 feet into the tunnel. Many of them had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Several blunders during the incident were potentially grave, the report found. Police officers directed passengers away from the heavy smoke to the south end of the platform, not knowing, because there were no signs, that the only street exit was on the north end. An employee in the subway control center in Brooklyn, trying to clear the smoke, turned emergency fans on in the wrong direction, engulfing passengers in smoke. A supervisor in the control center gave up on a fire safety system computer after it was slow to start up, when it would have provided him with important information about the third rail, the use of the fans and the station's layout.

The report, which was first reported on in its draft form by Newsday in February, also highlighted critical breakdowns in communications between the control center and workers at the scene. For example, no one told the train crew initially that power to the third rail had been cut off, information that would have helped them evacuate passengers sooner. Also, supervisors in the control center did not gather enough information from those at the scene about how bad conditions were getting, partly because they were busy issuing announcements about delays. Officials began making changes in response to the report over the last several weeks, said Charles F. Seaton, a New York City Transit spokesman. Most of the attention has been focused on the subway control center. An extra day has been added to annual training for supervisors there, focusing on how to respond to fires and the use of ventilation fans and the fire safety computer. New procedures have also been handed down for emergencies, Mr. Seaton said, that remind supervisors to gather information from the scene and check that fans are working properly.

The fire, investigators concluded, was caused by a loose wire under the train that ignited a shock absorber. As smoke filled the station, a supervisor in the control center started up the station's fans in "supply" mode, intending to blow the smoke out. But because the fans were located north of the station, the smoke got worse at the southern end. The fans should have been turned to "exhaust."

The train crew and several maintenance workers who had been nearby led the passengers onto the roadbed to an emergency exit, doing their best to keep people calm. Only the train operator, however, had gone through fire safety and evacuation training, because operators are required to undergo the training when they start, and to take refresher courses every three years.

Officials began requiring conductors to attend the training as well in January 2003 and, beginning this month, will add it to their refresher training. The report recommended expanding the training to all employees who work in the field, a proposal officials are still evaluating.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

July 4th, 2004, 10:43 PM

July 4, 2004 -- EXCLUSIVE

The MTA is looking into a plan to secure subway tunnels with a military-style, lightweight material that would contain the force of a bomb blast, The Post has learned.

The high-tech material similar to that used on the outside of the Space Shuttle and military airplanes would involve putting a flexible "composite sheeting" on the inside of subway tunnels.

Carbon-fiber composites would contain the force of the explosion and reduce the impact of flying objects such as shards of glass and bits of metal.

"It's like vinyl flooring," said Chuck King, a spokesman for Jacobs Engineering, which is working with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Since 9/11, the MTA has been seeking to reinforce its tunnels particularly the eight concrete tunnels that run under the East River, officials said.

The agency has enlisted the help of four consulting firms Jacobs, Parsons Brinckherhoff, SAIC and URS to assess weaknesses and implement long-term anti-terrorism measures.

King said the MTA was presently evaluating Jacobs' recommendations.

"We're just talking," King said of the MTA.

At $8 a pound, carbon-fiber composites cost 20 times more than steel.

The material also has been used on buildings and other structures in California to withstand massive earthquakes.

The MTA has spent $100 million to develop a security program.

The funds are from a pool of $591 million awarded to the MTA last year by the state and federal governments.

The feds, who contributed $142 million, set a 2006 deadline for a portion of the funds to be used.

Some of the security improvements already in effect include more MTA police officers at Grand Central Terminal, shoebox-size sensors at various stations to monitor the air, and surveillance cameras in tunnels.

Other measures include:

* Putting together "Hercules teams" units of heavily armed cops to regularly patrol subway stations.

* Deploying cops to stations in Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods like Cobble Hill and Borough Park in Brooklyn.

* Equipping cops on subway duty with a lightweight gas mask that can withstand exposure to a contaminated area in a biochemical attack.

* Patrolling Grand Central and Penn stations with National Guard soldiers and State Police equipped with bomb-sniffing dogs.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc.

July 5th, 2004, 10:41 AM
That sheeting sounds like a great idea! I hope they do it.

July 5th, 2004, 02:54 PM
Wonder why they can't put the sheeting on each train (other than money, of course). Wouldn't it contain the blast even further?

August 23rd, 2005, 06:18 PM
August 23, 2005

New York transit signs $212 million security deal

Satellite photos are displayed as the agency which runs the subways and trains in New York announced a $212 million system of cameras and sensors for monitoring safety on subways in New York, August 23, 2005.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's subway and bus operator said on Tuesday it awarded a $212 million contract for surveillance cameras, motion detectors and other equipment to detect potential attacks against its stations, bridges and tunnels.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin will lead a team of companies in a deal struck with North America's largest transportation network just one month after bombers attacked the London transit system on July 7, killing 52 people.

The $212 million will be the first major piece of a $591 million security plan approved in 2002. Before the Lockheed deal, only $42 million had been earmarked.

Lockheed will install 1,000 cameras and 3,000 sensors under the three-year deal that aims to eventually allow the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority to stop attacks before they happen by spotting unattended packages that may contain bombs and alerting its employees to unauthorized intruders in its tunnels and other sensitive areas.

"We hope (this) will detect the terrorists before an incident happens, not just be able to report for forensic purposes after an incident happens and identify who the terrorist is," MTA Executive Director Katherine Lapp said at a news conference.

While none of the technology the transit authority will set up around New York is new, it will be the largest installation project of such equipment, said Lockheed executive Judy Marks.

The new system will not detect biological agents or explosives, Lapp said, but the MTA is testing sensors for those potential threats and will add them to the Lockheed system when ready.

Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.

August 24th, 2005, 08:48 AM
I heard about this.

I don't know. I have always been split on this. I do not mind the use of technology to keep peopel "honest", but with the latest rash of paranoia (Patriot Act) I am worried that technology like this could also be sed against us and our freedoms.

Video is getting very easy to edit. It is only a matter of time before it becomes as useless to us as other "absolute" proofs unless we make sure that the people actually DOING the watching are not directly affiliated with ANYONE.

It would be nice to not only be able to see terrorists, but catch muggers, and punish bad cops.

September 7th, 2005, 11:51 PM
Doors opening on the wrong side of the train. I always worry about that. What do I do, hold on. It works.

September 8th, 2005, 10:35 AM
^ I've lived in NYC for over 25 years and have never been in car where the doors opened on the wrong side.

BxOne: Has that ever really happened to you?

September 9th, 2005, 02:30 AM
^ I've lived in NYC for over 25 years and have never been in car where the doors opened on the wrong side.

BxOne: Has that ever really happened to you?

Haha, no I was just saying I always hold on IN CASE the doors do open. I always worry about that.