After subway-push killings (and Lhota’s resignation), the M.T.A. considers platform screen doors

Platform screens on the Seoul metro. (Tom Page via Flickr)
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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is considering a small-scale introduction of platform screen doors, a safety measure that would address, among other things, the problem of subway pushers.

As recently as a month ago, before Joe Lhota resigned as M.T.A. chair to pursue a run for mayor, the authority was ruling out platform screen doors as prohibitively expensive. 

("It's obvious I'm not at the M.T.A. anymore, because they're talking about doing that," cracked Lhota today, during remarks at the New York Building Congress.)

Last week, during testimony before the New York State legislature, Upper West Side Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal asked the M.T.A.'s interim executive director, Tom Prendergast, about "safety doors."

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"Certainly, we would like to take a look at means of employing new technology like platform screen doors, is what they call them on a system like ours," responded Prendergast.

In particular, Prendergast said the M.T.A. was interested in exploring their installation along lines equipped with new signaling technology, like the L and, soon enough, the 7.

Prendergast said those sorts of doors, which already exist on AirTrains, could run more than $1 million per station, but that the M.T.A. has seen some interest from vendors eager to offset those costs with advertising.

Prendergast said a pilot program in some stations along lines like the L could begin within a couple of years.

Installing platform screen doors systemwide is unlikely, however. It would be extremely costly, and, though the M.T.A. is working toward making its rolling stock uniform, right now it's made up of a motley assortment of trains, each of which would align with the platform doors a bit differently.

Prendergast was less keen on a separate idea, one proposed by Councilman Vincent Gentile in a recent letter to the M.T.A.

“If new rules were implemented requiring trains to enter stations at a slower speed, then it would give the train a better chance to stop in time if someone is on the tracks or give that person a better chance to get off the tracks, into an alcove, or run to the opposite end of the track into the mouth of tunnel away from the train,” wrote Gentile.

At the present, trains entering stations do so at nearly maximum speed. Once they hit the platform do they break, coming to a stop in 600 feet or so.

Slowing down those entry speeds would reduce the number of trains moving through the system by 30 to 40 percent, according to Prendergast. 

And, the M.T.A. would simply be "trading hazards." Fewer trains would mean even more subway crowding, which, in turn, would mean more people falling in between the tracks and the train, among other risks.

But slowing down trains does have at least one pragmatic use.

This afternoon, Pete Donohue reported that the Transit Workers Union "is telling motormen to slow down their trains to about 10 miles per hour to avoid hitting someone who might be on the tracks."

According to Donohue, "MTA management, however, apparently believes the union—whose members will be without a contract one full year on Wednesday—is flexing some muscle to make a political point.

The issue of platform safety has taken on added resonance in recent months, thanks to two instances in the space of a month in which assailants pushed straphangers onto the tracks, to their deaths.