Subway platform barriers will be tested in 3 New York stations

For years, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had resisted calls to install the platform barriers used in subway systems around the world to block access to tracks, citing the “special complexities” of bringing such technology to a century-old system not designed for it. .

But on Wednesday, more than a month after a woman was pushed to her death in front of a train at the Times Square subway station, transit officials backtracked and said they would move to test such barriers.

Although the pilot program is limited to three stations, it includes some platforms at the Times Square station, one of the system’s busiest stops, and officials say it could lay the groundwork for possible expansion. elsewhere.

More than a quarter of stations in the system have provisions that could potentially accommodate platform barriers, according to an analysis commissioned by the MTA, which operates the subway.

The announcement comes as many New Yorkers have grown concerned about safety on the subway, where rates of violent crime per million weekday riders have increased during the pandemic even as ridership has plunged, and where the number of people who end up on the tracks, most of them intentionally, is increasing.

The metro system is seen as a lifeblood of the city and a key to its economic recovery, and making riders feel safe is crucial to bringing back the millions of commuters who have yet to resume their journeys. trains.

State and city officials have launched a sweeping plan to move homeless sheltering in the subway off trains and platforms; some of them were accused of committing crimes and of having behaved unruly.

Installing barriers, called platform doors or screen doors, could be another step in restoring trust. The program at the three stations will cost more than $100 million, said Janno Lieber, chairman and chief executive of the transport authority.

The work probably won’t be finished until 2024, he added, “assuming we can sort out the financial issues and everything else,” like the technical challenges.

Guard gates, which create a barrier that blocks off the track area from the platforms until trains arrive, are used on many newer metro systems, lines and railway stations in Europe and Asia, in particular in London, Hong Kong, Paris, Singapore and Tokyo. They are much less common in the United States, although they are used in some airport shuttle train systems, including the AirTrain at Kennedy International Airport.

A 2015 study that examined whether platform screen doors in Japan prevented people from going on railway tracks, found them to be very effective, especially in preventing accidents.

Platform doors could also improve service because train operators wouldn’t have to slow down when approaching crowded platforms, and they could reduce litter on the tracks, which can start fires and cause delays, a said Yonah Freemark, senior research associate at the Urban Institute specializing in transportation and urban planning.

“It’s a win-win-win,” he said.

The addition of platform doors at all three stations – the No. 7 Line platform at Times Square Station; the E line platform at the Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue – JFK Airport station in Queens; and the Third Avenue station on the L line in Manhattan – would mark a dramatic change in a sprawling system with 472 stations that have nothing separating riders from the tracks.

“I think it’s weird that the train is open the way it is,” said Roxann Valdes, 32, a legal assistant traveling on the 7 train from Manhattan to Queens on Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s safe. Like, people might fall. People might push you.

Although the transport authority has repeatedly studied the installation of barriers in recent years, previous leaders have concluded that they were too expensive or that the technical requirements of aging stations made them unsuitable. In 2018, the transit company postponed a similar pilot project also planned for the Third Avenue station on the L line and transferred the money to installing elevators.

Just last month Mr Lieber said installing the gates would be impractical given the “special complexities” of the New York City subway. But as the pressure mounted, he signaled an openness to the idea, noting that he had formed a task force in December to deal with an increase in the number of people ending up on the lanes.

Last year the transport authority reported 1,267 track trespassing – meaning someone on the tracks – a 19% jump from 2019, even as Tube ridership has reduced by more than half. Of these incidents, 200 resulted in people being hit by a train, with 68 fatalities.

Transit officials say most people on the tracks, including those hit by trains, chose to be there. Of the 200 crashes last year, about a quarter, or 47, involved suicide attempts.

Another big number is people jumping off platforms to pick up something they’ve dropped. Others cross the tracks to get from one station platform to another. Some are mentally ill whose motives are unclear.

But the subway system has also seen an increase in the number of people pushed onto the tracks. According to the police department, 30 people were pushed onto the tracks in 2021, compared to 20 in 2019, when attendance was much higher. Police did not have information on the number of stampede incidents that resulted in injury or death.

Criminal assaults have also increased in the system: they were up almost 25% last year compared to 2019.

The issue of subway safety drew widespread attention after a 40-year-old woman, Michelle Alyssa Go, was shoved to death in front of a moving R train at Times Square station. A homeless man who police say confessed to shoving Ms Go has been charged with her murder, a shocking crime that prompted Mayor Eric Adams to increase police patrols in the system.

The mayor went even further last week, announcing a subway safety plan focused on removing homeless people from the system and deploying social workers to help connect them with mental health and other resources. support services.

But Ms Go’s death has also prompted demands from runners and elected officials for an engineering solution. Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine and 10 city council members sent Mr. Lieber a letter urging him to install screen doors.

“It’s long overdue,” Mr. Levine said Wednesday. “We are decades behind other cities in the world. And I’m sorry it took the tragic death of Michelle Go to elevate that, but there’s no doubt that it was truly a turning point.

Governor Kathy Hochul, who controls the MTA, endorsed the initiative, calling it an innovative approach to improving security.

Runners also welcomed the news.

“I’ve seen in the news a lot of attacks on passengers,” said Rosa Velazquez, 40, who has a cleaning job and commutes from Queens to Manhattan every day. “I’m scared to stand there at the train stops and not know if I’ll get home safely or not.”

Last month, as calls for the gates grew louder, the transit company issued a 3,900-page detailed report as of 2019, which revealed that doors could reasonably only be installed at 128 stations due to the layout of stations, the design of metro cars and the need for wheelchair access, leaving riders of most stations in the system without protection.

On Wednesday, Mr. Lieber acknowledged that engineering problems remained throughout most of the system. But he said he hoped testing platform doors at three stations could help pave the way for others.

Nevertheless, expanding the pilot project would present significant financial and logistical challenges. The price tag to install barriers at the 128 stations would be around $7 billion, according to the 2019 report.

Platform doors are just one tool available to deal with passengers being pushed, falling or entering the tracks, transit officials said. The agency hopes the city’s increased police presence could help prevent some people from falling or jumping onto the tracks.

Cameras have also been added to the front of L trains in another pilot program designed to avoid collisions with passengers by giving train operators more time to brake.

The agency is exploring detection systems that could use thermal or laser technology to signal when a person is on the tracks.

He will also work with mental health experts on public service announcements and other methods of deterring suicide attempts and create a new campaign to warn runners of the dangers of being on the trails.

Andy Newman contributed report.