The latest subway suicide prompts a Council hearing, but it’s nothing new

Platform screen doors in Seoul. (tompagenet via Flickr)
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This morning, someone committed suicide by jumping in front of an uptown No. 2 train as it pulled into Times Square. Yesterday, a woman jumped in front of a train at the Bedford Avenue stop on the L line.

This sort of thing, sadly, is normal. 

In 2012, 141 people were struck by trains and 55 died. That fatality number was up from in 2011, when 146 people were struck by trains but 47 died. In 2010, 127 people were struck by trains and 51 died. In 2009, 136 people were hit by subway cars, of whom 49 died.

The M.T.A.'s data on this only goes back to 2001, but in those years, the high mark for fatalities was set at 55 in 2007, and matched last year. 

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The number of people hit by trains is essentially holding steady, but the incidents seem to be getting more attention lately, after two particularly ghoulish homicides in December, both of which involved mentally unstable assailants allegedly pushing strangers in front of oncoming trains and to their deaths.

Those deaths reinforced the fears of many everyday riders, and prompted renewed debate, on a modest scale, about the question of platform screen doors and whether the M.T.A. should at least install them in new stations on the No. 7 train and Second Avenue subway.

Former M.T.A. chairman and executive director Joe Lhota opposed the idea, but now that he's left the authority and running for mayor, the M.T.A.'s acting executive director is talking them up.

Earlier this month, he told the state legislature that the M.T.A. was thinking of doing a platform screen door project in the next couple of years.

Recently, the Transport Workers Union, which is locked in contract negotiations with the M.T.A., and at least one politician, have suggested another approach, arguing that subway conductors should enter stations more slowly. Right now, the trains approach subway stations near full speed, breaking only upon entry. That means it takes about 600 feet for the subway cars to reach a complete stop.

The M.T.A. says that reducing entry speeds would reduce the number of trains that could move through the system by up to 40 percent, which means there would be longer waits for trains, and more crowding on subway platforms, leading to even more collisions between straphangers and subway cars. The authority also suggests that what the union is actually advocating is a work slow-down in disguise.

Following the latest subway death—this morning in Times Square—the City Council said it will hold an emergency hearing on platform safety.

“Standing by without a plan of action as incident after incident occurs is not an option," said Bronx councilman James Vacca, who chairs the transportation committee, in a statement. "The MTA needs to bring all the stakeholders to the table and acknowledge that this is a serious problem that demands a coordination solution, and they must tell the public what their plan is.”