So You've Landed On A Subway Track: 5 Bad Options To Consider

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(photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Following the death of a man pushed onto the subway tracks at the 49th Street station of the Q/N/R line in Manhattan, many New Yorkers are wondering about their best shot at survival in the unlikely event they wind up on the tracks.

There's basically no good option.  But here are five of the best choices you could make.

1. Try to get back onto the platform. This is obvious. It's also the one piece of advice that a New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman would affirm. Other than that, the authority's standard response is to recommend riders stay away from the platform edge and contact a subway worker if an item is dropped on the track.

2. Moving away from the train could increase the odds of survival – it gives the motorman more time and space to hit the emergency brake and stop the train. And there are ladders and stairs at the ends of platforms. When this option was posed to an NY MTA spokesperson, he countered, "What if you trip?" The implication being that this is why the NY MTA doesn't give advice about escaping the tracks -- something could go wrong and the authority could be blamed for it.

3. Ducking under the platform or lying down on the tracks and fitting under the train, in the style of "Subway Hero" Wesley Autrey, doesn’t always work. Clearance varies from station to station. That's because the New York City subway was built over decades by a mix of private companies and municipal entities, often to differing specifications and designs. What works at an elevated station in the Bronx may not work at an underground station in Manhattan.

4. There may be set-backs in the walls that could provide shelter. Major caveat: A band of diagonal red and white stripes means there isn’t enough space for you and a passing train.

5. Getting to a space in the middle of two tracks, where workers sometimes shelter, entails stepping over the third rail. The “protection board” above the third rail is designed to deflect debris, not hold a person's weight. Don't step on it.

If you find yourself on a platform when someone is down on the tracks and can't help them up, signal the motorman in the approaching train by waving your arms. If you have a flashlight, pull it out and use it.

Station agents on elevated lines have a "kill switch" in their booth, according to a spokesman for TWU Local 100, which represents many New York subway workers. If alerted in time, an agent can use the switch to stop the train by cutting power to the third rail.

Last year, 146 people were struck by New York City subway trains – 47 were killed. In 2010, 146 people were struck and 51 killed. Considering that 1.6 billion people rode the subway last year, these are extremely rare events.

By comparison, in one recent 12-month period,  291 people were killed in traffic in New York.