NY MTA Tepidly Explores Platform Barriers After Subway Track Deaths ... Again

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Paris Metro Platform with Glass Barrier. (Getty Images)

It's only natural after tragedy to look for action, for solutions, for prevention of the next loss. So after two men were pushed to their deaths onto New York City subway tracks this month, a stand-by proposal is back in the news: subway platform barriers.

The idea is to place glass and metal barriers along certain platforms to prevent falls, litter, and the extremely rare cases of people being pushed onto the tracks. (Paris, Tokyo and London have such barriers in some stations.)

Talk of barriers tends to pop up after each high profile death, usually after Pete Donahue of the NY Daily News reminds us that official proposals for barriers remain on the table. (Here's Donahue's well-reported piece from Saturday, and a very similar one from February of 2011.) Here's our piece from 2011 on opposition to the idea.

Transportation Nation has regularly asked the MTA for the status of these proposals and routinely gets a similar answer. Here's the statement from this week.

"Based on the MTA's preliminary analysis, the challenge of installing platform edge barriers in the New York City subway system would be both expensive and extremely challenging given the varied station designs and the differences in door positions among some subway car classes. But in light of recent tragic events, we will consider the options for testing such equipment on a limited basis."

Subway barriers are still, officially speaking, possibly, maybe potentially being considered but not exactly. They're just not worth it, many in the agency and elected office say.

Though the MTA would not cite a cost figure for installation, some proposals place barriers at over a million dollars per station. There are 468 stations.

That's a lot of money for a small number of incidents. In 2012, 54 people have died on the tracks, either through falls, shoves or suicide. That's up from the 2011 number of 47 deaths, though the number of people hit by trains is down. In 2012, 139 people were hit by trains in total, in 2011 it was 146. That's a tiny fraction of one percent of the total number of passengers: the subway serves 1.6 billion rides each year.

The state of the issue is roughly the same as the last time barriers were discussed after another high profile subway track death. That time, it drove a New York state senator to comment, "To even contemplate this nonsense is self-evidently a waste of time, effort, energy and yes – money; money the MTA does not have."

As we reported in 2011, one idea is to pay for the barriers by putting ads on them.