MTA weighs new safety measures to cut subway deaths

By Philip Newman

The union representing subway operators maintains that slowing trains on approach to stations is the key to reducing the number of subway deaths, but an MTA official argued that such a move would disrupt the entire schedule and cause dangerous crowding on platforms.

Carmen Bianco, senior vice president for subways of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, spent more than an hour testifying before the City Council Transportation Committee Thursday.

The hearing was called following two high-profile subway incidents last last year in which a Elmhurst man was pushed onto the tracks in midtown Mahattan and another Elmhurst resident was shoved onto the tracks in Sunnyside.

As to the campaign by Local 100 of the Transit Workers Union for subway slowdowns on approach to stations, Bianco said, “It’s just not feasible on our system.”

Bianco said slowdowns would cause overcrowding and that slowing trains to 10 miles per hour could reduce the number of trains from 27 per hour to 22 per hour.

Bianco said his agency has discussed installation of doors in barriers at the edge of platforms, although that might prove difficult because doors differ in various types of subway cars.

He said the MTA had been conducting pilot experiments.

Bronx Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), chairman of the Transportation Committee, called the hearing after what he said was concern over the increasing numbers of people being killed in subway platform accidents, including five so far in 2013.

“One death on our city’s subway tracks is one death too many,” Vacca said.

In 2012, 141 people were struck by subways, resulting in 55 dead.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, (D-Sunnyside) in whose district Sunando Sen was pushed to his death on the subway tracks Dec. 27, asked how many subway stations were equipped with cameras, pointing out that “many of my constituents were surprised that the station where this tragedy occurred had no cameras.”

Along with Van Bramer, other Transportation Committee members Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and LeRoy Comrie (D-St. Albans) attended the hearing.

John Samuelsoln, president of Local 100, said the MTA is out of touch.

“They live in the suburbs, they send their children to private schools, they do not ride our transportation system every day and they do not understand the daily struggle of the people of this city,” Samuelson said.

MTA subway workers, whose union has been in contract negotiations with the MTA for more than a year, advocate the slowdown of trains on approach to stations as a safety measure, putting MTA agents on crowded platforms and having emergency shut-offs on tracks in all subway station booths.

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