No Seoul-style platform doors for New York subways, even in new stations

Platform screens on the Seoul metro. (Tom Page via Flickr)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

There's really only one known way to prevent straphangers from falling—or being pushed—onto the tracks, as happened to the unfortunate Ki Suk Han this week.

It's called a platform screen door, and some transit experts say they can't understand why the M.T.A. has no plans to install any, even in the new stations being built on the Second Avenue line or the 7-train extension.

"You know, that was a disappointment," Richard Barone, the director of transportation programs for the Regional Plan Association, told me. "We were surprised that that wasn't going to be happening."

There are already platform screens—glass walls that screen platforms from tracks with doors that open in sync with the subway's own—on the AirTrain.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Seoul's Metro has them, and Paris has been installing them in its aging subway system.

New York City's subway system has none.

"The doors are really the solution to prevent [subway falls] from happening," said Barone, which will presumably be an ever-greater concern as crowding on platforms continues to increase.

He also said they "prevent garbage and other debris from falling onto the tracks," preventing the fires that result when debris comes into contact with the electrified third rail. And by keeping trash off the tracks, they could reduce the costs of sending workers out every day to clear debris.

Such screens could allow the M.T.A. to air-condition the platforms, as crazy as that sounds.

"It is something that I strongly feel needs to be on the table," said Barone. "Especially in places that are high-traffic and high-volume and very congested."

There are people at the M.T.A. who share Barone's enthusiasm for platform screens, among them, Tom Prendergast, the president of New York City Transit.

"The primary reason is safety," he said earlier this year. "The second is environmental control and the third is to have a better means of getting the train into the station, doing the loading and unloading, and getting the train out of the station."

But Prendergrast's boss, M.T.A. chairman Joe Lhota, is more equivocal on the matter.

"They’re quite expensive and given the 496 stations, I think that’s the number, it’d be quite prohibitive,” he said in March.

Installing them in the system's hundreds ofstations is one thing, but installing them in the handful of new ones the M.T.A. is in the process of building on Second Avenue and at the 7-train extension on the far west side is another.

Barone argues that by installing them in the new stations, the M.T.A. would essentially create a pilot program and learn about the operational issues and benefits of the platform screens.

In a statement, M.T.A. spokesman Aaron Donovan said, "Platform edge doors are not currently planned for the new stations on the Second Avenue Subway or the 7 extension. They would present operational challenges and incur long-term maintenance funding costs."

Donovan also wrote that the variety of subway cars would present a challenge, since "there are multiple types of car classes that don’t have uniform door locations."