NEW YORK—Six subway-related deaths in the last month and a half have prompted calls for investigating what can be done to boost safety underground.
“Too many people are dying in our subways,” said Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president, in a statement. “Our subway system is one of the largest and most traveled in the world, but we must also make it the safest.”
Stringer and other officials, as well as transit advocates, sent a letter to the MTA’s Inspector General on Wednesday, asking for an in-depth investigation of the recent injuries and deaths related to subways. The investigation should include looking at how the managing entities of other subway systems are approaching safety.
A man was pushed onto subway tracks in Midtown on Dec. 3. Four other incidents happened in the following weeks. Then, on Jan. 22, an individual committed suicide by going onto the tracks at the Times Square subway station.
Barry Kluger, the MTA’s inspector general, declined to be interviewed on Wednesday.
On Thursday, his office emailed a statement. Kluger says he’s coordinating with the state’s Public Transportation Safety Board to investigate subway-related accidents and deaths.
The subway deaths have also disturbed Councilman James Vacca, chair of the council’s Transportation Committee. Vacca says he will hold an emergency hearing soon, convening “all relevant stakeholders,” including mental health professionals, safety experts, transit experts from around the world, and riders.
Systems in Paris and Seoul, among others, have installed screen doors on some platforms to prevent people from going onto the tracks.
In a recent interview, professor Yoo Kwang-Kien, of Korea’s National University of Transportation, said Seoul’s emphasis on safety, including the screen doors, has led to only one accident (death or injury) per one billion operation hours, despite having headways (times between trains) as frequent as one to two minutes.
The doors are good for air-conditioning and heating, “and prevent passengers from committing suicide or falling accidentally,” Yoo added. If the doors are installed in the subway system in New York City, complemented by safe pedestrian passageways and convenient facilities, “people will have a feeling that their subway is safe and comfortable.”
The issue points to a larger trend.
“In Paris, London, and New York, which are advanced cities in very developed countries, there are accidents which usually happen in Delhi in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan,” said Yoo. “It is because management focuses on reducing the deficit and does not invest in safety, maintenance and manpower. Now they are examining themselves.”
MTA officials are exploring how to install a pilot platform door at a station on the L line, according to Fernando Ferrer, acting chairman, in an emailed statement.
Because of different sized trains and different spots for doors, it would be difficult for the MTA to put the doors in systemwide, but they could start at some stations.
Early in 2012, the MTA rolled out posters inside of subway cars telling riders “don’t become a statistic,” with a graphic depiction of someone falling off a platform onto the tracks. The agency aims to have less than three injuries per million riders on the subway system per month.
The MTA is expanding its public education campaign, and will also examine other safety measures.
The Transit Workers Union Local 100 passed out fliers last week asking the public to sign a petition on its website urging the MTA to take action. The union is also telling its workers to slow down trains as they are pulling into stations. “Then ‘too late’ becomes ‘just in time,’” states the flier.
“Slowing down trains would create crowding conditions on trains and platforms and would actually create a more dangerous condition,” said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz in an emailed statement.
Meanwhile, riders should be careful underground.
Customers should “be aware of their surroundings and stay away from platform edges,” said Ortiz.
Additional reporting by Jo Yoon-deok in Seoul
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