New York Subway Safety

New York Subway Safety

85,000 lbs.

Or, 42.5 tons.

That’s (approximately) how much a New York City MTA subway car weighs. The doors, the seats, the motors and wheels, the antennae and headlights, the interior lights, the heating and cooling systems, the brakes; it all adds up! To get all of this machinery and material moving, a high-powered third rail system is necessary.

The New York City subway system is equipped with a third rail which carries 625 volts of electricity. From a power plant, across a series of cables and through various substations, and eventually to the third rail, electricity is trafficked, and eventually conducted to the electric motor of the subway via a shoe that brushes the third rail. This massive electric current flows night and day, allowing NYC trains to hit top speeds of almost 55MPH!

(Although, for economic, environmental, and safety reasons, most trains top out at around 30MPH these days.)

Subway cars, and the tracks that support them, are so ingrained into our daily lives, are such a commonplace fixture of our commutes, that over time, we’ve come to underestimate and ignore their speed and power. Nothing like a near catastrophe to send the subway’s immense, raw power back into clean focus.

15-year-old Xinyi Huang was standing on the subway platform at 103rd Street-Corona Plaza when she was pushed from behind- just as a Manhattan-bound 7 train came pulling into station. Thinking quickly, Xinyi Huang jammed herself into a safe spot between the tracks and the train’s oncoming wheels, avoiding their speeding menace and saving her life in the process. Despite this remarkable bit of quick thinking, which undoubtedly spared her from otherwise certain death, Xinyi downplayed her own bravery, claiming that she was “just lucky” to survive the incident. She went on to claim that she “wasn’t thinking,” that instinct simply took over.

And she is lucky that it did. This situation ends happily- this time around, the velocity and power of a train was trumped by the razor-sharp reflexes of a 15-year-old girl.

The man who pushed Xinyi Huang was quickly apprehended. 38-year-old George Pautt was caught fleeing the scene, and stands accused of second-degree murder.

This is merely one anecdote that illustrates the danger intrinsic to subways and the subway platforms which service them. In the next section, we’ll take a look at some pieces of advice which, if followed, will help keep you safe as you commute.

How to Stay Safe on the Subway

  • The greatest piece of overarching advice? Stay alert. In order to circumvent danger, you must first detect it. Staying alert to your surroundings, and of others, will help you react more suitably to danger if and when it presents itself.
  • Also, stay awake! You’re infinitely more vulnerable when asleep; subject to robbery and prone to physical harm.
  • NYPD Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has some additional advice on staying alert of others. In the aftermath of a recent spate of subway slashings, Bratton advised to “avoid certain people,” namely those who “act irrationally.” It’s upsetting but true, that there are some violent people living in New York City. The above mentioned story of Xinyi Huang and these subway slashing incidents confirm that. If you see a person acting suspiciously, do your best to change cars or try to remove yourself from the scene entirely. Avoid confrontations at all costs.
  • Also via the NYPD: don’t make yourself a target. Do not count your money or unnecessarily display any valuable items.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help: If you’re feeling unsafe, or are unsure of what to do, contact an MTA employee or, if possible, NYPD officer, and ask for help.
  • Double your protection: Keep two hands on shoulder-hanging purses. Never keep your wallet in your rear pocket. If it’s late at night, be sure to wait in the Off-Peak waiting areas. These areas, which are closer to the center of the platform, are more well-lighted and are usually outfitted with “talk back boxes” and pay-phones, which allow you to more easily contact station employees or make free calls to 9-1-1, respectively.