February 18th, 2013
11:03 AM ET

Preventing death on NYC's subway tracks

By Steve Kastenbaum, CNN

Follow on Twitter: @SkastenbaumCNN

Editor's Note: Listen to the full story in our player above, and join the conversation in our comments section below.

(CNN) – A recent rash of subway deaths has New York City Transit officials looking at ways to prevent people from falling, or worse, being pushed onto the tracks.

However, there’s no easy fix in an extremely complex system that’s over 100 years old.

[3:05] “There are 468 subway stations in New York City. They’re all designed differently with curves and island platforms and side platforms,” said Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, a subway riders advocacy group. “Over the last ten years there have been about 135 people a year being struck by trains either on the platform or on the tracks and about 35 of them being killed.”

Richard Barrone is with the urban planning think tank the Regional Plan Association. He says some question whether it’s worth spending over a billion dollars on a project like this.

[3:56] “About 1.6 billion riders, 1.6 billion annually, ride the subway and, you know, approximately 50 people die. Typically it’s the result of a suicide. So the numbers are really very low.”

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soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Jake

    Ban people from leaving their houses. Oh, wait. That's why we have cable t.v. People pay for the privilege of scaring themselves into never going outside, ever..again! Booahahaha!!|

    February 20, 2013 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ron

    People live, people die. You will always have some of that and there is nothing you can do to bring that number to zero. People will commit suicide and other people will just be s t u p i d or inattentive. It's natural selection. Hopefully the really weird ones will go before having children.

    February 19, 2013 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike

    This doesn't have to be complicated. The solution is very obvious; ban the color yellow. All these places where these deaths occur have yellow lines.

    If it can save the life of ONE innocent, isn't it worth it?

    Sound familiar, Bloombergettes?

    February 19, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Fail Burton

    Stay away from the tracks until the train stops. It's not quantum mechanics. It may be Darwinism in action though.

    February 19, 2013 at 6:49 am | Report abuse |
  5. Ninja Tim

    The London Underground also has loads of people jumping in front of tubes.

    February 19, 2013 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
  6. edward

    it is very simple but could cost money. simply building protective glass wall just like Korean subway. you have no way to access to rail ever.

    February 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  7. jake

    The easiest way to prevent these deaths is to lock away the mentally ill lunatics killing people. But liberals say we can't do that. The ACLU says the gov't can't even make these people take their anti-psychotics. Perhaps the solution is to simply push back when the crazy homeless guy tries to push someone on to the tracks.

    February 18, 2013 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jon

    Have Disney safety engineers come up with a solution. Their rides have safety gates, and a lot of other things to keep kids safe near the platform. Why not implement their safety standards.

    February 18, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SOKirby

    Here's another thought: I like Kevin's idea, and you add one more thing to this – A motion camera down below by the rails in a particular location that detects any motion (obviously, other than the train) that may occur (similar to those camera's that detect if cars don't come to a complete stop at a red light intersection). If the motion is detected, the train that is rolling in very slowly to the platform will automatically be stopped by the motion sensor. Then the driver can resume the roll in process if he sees that everything is clear.

    February 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • AMR

      Not all trains pass through statios slowly; some express trains cruise through the stations at full speed. These trains would never be able to stop on such short notice. It would be impractical for these trains to slow down just to accommodate the senors; then they would not really be express any longer.

      Also, if you have been in the NYC subway recently, you might have noticed that they are far from sparkling clean. I see too high a potential many false alarms, through either dirty sensors, large pieces of trash, or animals tripping the system.

      February 19, 2013 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. foreseen

    Bloomberg is in denial about how dangers this is, he's too worried about guns and not the real killer, SUBWAYS. Let Bloomberg pay for the fix out of his pocket.

    February 18, 2013 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. aosidha

    The subway is treated like a street, people stand on the sidewalk away from the cars and are safe. The problem is when people get pushed or stumble onto the street they dont need to climb a 5' curb to get back on the sidewalk.

    A common sense and cheap solution is to put a safe area under the platform that people can go under if they cant get out in time.

    February 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  12. bobby

    here's an idea, stop the train just before the platform and then roll it in at a crawl giving the engineer a chance to react or a person to get out quick enough.

    February 18, 2013 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MrId

    Ever notice that no RICH people fall/jump into subways? IT'S BUSH'S FAULT!!!!!

    February 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  14. RichS

    Subway cars are the killers! Bloomberg needs to make another law!

    February 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bob

    bottom line its all about money they could put up barracds that rise and lower but the cost and time isnt worth a persons life. well i ask them what is? you got securety protecting you what about the rest of the ppl that use it ? to me looks like you only care about what ppl drink and there cup but nothing about the person good thing i dont live there or i would make sure you wernt reelected and i have been there for those of you who mite not like this

    February 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  16. peakprofit

    Lots of people drawing conclusions who have never been on a NYC subway. First of all, virtually each station and platform is unique. There is no single gate prototype which would work for all.Second, the trains of different generations are slightly different. Not a huge difference, but big enough so that a gate that fits train A may not fit train B. Third, the rates for murder and suicide by train collision are far lower than their associated rates on the street. As the consultant in the article pointed out, once one takes away the suicides and murders ( which have intent which would not be stopped by a gating system) the rate of accidental death is actually rather low. it is a gruesome way to go, but it is highly unlikely.

    I have never seen anyone killed in the subway. I have seen one really bad injury and I have seen about a dozen rescues after the train is stopped. I'll bet my experience is typical. I am very much saddened for the families of the 20 or so who die from a slip, and the other 30 who die from suicide or a crime. But I do not see the sanity in spending billions of dollars then maintaining a system which prevents an issue which is really not that huge a problem

    February 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • kevin

      stop the the train at the tunnel exit and then have it slowly move into position. Then maybe it could stop if someone fell or got i in the way.

      February 18, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Goldog

    Why don't we use the same reasoning about guns on subways. It is the fault of the subway cars and engines causing the deaths. Any use of Subway cares holding more than seven people will be stopped. We need to stop all use of subways. Create laws to turn in all subways or be fined. We have two feet and can walk to where we need to go. Who needs a big fast subway car that can cause death. Just looking at them, you know they are deadly. Don't bother to think they have any good use at all. To stop all the carnage we must not let these deadly subways continue to be used.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • peakprofit

      The primary use of a subway ( or automobile) is to propel people from on location to another. In and of itself, this function does not intrinsically kill people or maim people. It does not do any damage as part of thei propulsion. On hte other hand, the purpose of a gun is to propel a metal projectile into or through a solid object. In 100% of 'acurate ' shots, a gun damages or destroys a target.

      It is true that most instances of a gun being shot do not result in a crime or accidental death. Still it is far easier for a deranged person to take a gun – had gun or rifle – and kill people where a car or subway simply could not. ( for instance a cafeteria in an Aurora high school or the halls of a Sandy Hook elementary or the 10th floor of an office building, or the second story of your own home. And when that does happen, the gun is acting precisely as designed, propelling metal projectiles through a target. The problem is that the target is a person.

      Sure, a deranged person could drive down a sidewalk or go all Pelham 123. But the fact of the matter is that the cars and trains were designed for a specific purpose, which – in itself – does not require the damage or destruction of a target. I might as well address the obvious response to this post. Yes paper targets and deer do not hurt people either. The paper probably does not care. I suspect, though, that the deer / duck / fox do care about being killed. I have always found it interesting that those who so ardently support hunting are usually dog owners, who would go absolutely ballistic if someone shot their beloved Snoopy. Hunting – as a sport – is killing a living mammal who did not plan to be killed when it had it's morning coffee and newspaper. The gun is still being destructive.

      February 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • I'll play

      the subway doesnt kill people, the subway driver kills people

      February 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      It is thought processes like that, which make it so hard to have a serious conversation about gun violence.

      February 18, 2013 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  18. Eric

    Just allow everyone to carry guns... Like CA, NY, ETC... That will stop random attacks! Criminals are going to carry them anyways, might as well let law abiding citizens do the same!

    February 18, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Tyler

    Duh... Its pretty obvious... we need to ban subways. If we can save one life, just one life, then it is worth it. If you disagree then you hate poor people and children and the elderly. Anddd you are racist.

    Next steps:
    1) Obama makes a fantastic, I mean just awe inspiring speech about how we need to ban subways.
    2) The press swoons all over the historic actions of Obama. And how his speech will be one for the ages. Somebody on MSNBC gets a tear in their eye. CNN scrambles to find a way to involve race in this debate.
    3) We find the family members of people who have been killed by subways and parade them all over the country, on all the news shows, and the next state of the union. That way every one will see the horrors of subways and agree with us.
    4) Obama tours the country, inspiring people all over the country to take action against the mean, old, wrinkly white racist Republicans and THEIR KILLER SUBWAYS!!!

    this is the state of our country folks. you get what you voted for.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • MrId

      Wow, it's like your psychic or something......

      February 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Dude?

    Encase everyone in NYC in bubble wrap.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  21. No One

    Why do some people think that suicides don't really count toward the death toll?

    If someone commits suicide, they have died from a medical condition that went untreated. If someone dies from an untreated cancer or infection, everybody understands what a societal failure that is – but if someone dies from untreated depression or bipolar, people stigmatize and judge unfairly instead of seeing that that it is exactly the same as any other illness.

    Someone who dies from an untreated illness is not something that "doesn't count." It is a very tragic case that does need to be addressed.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve-O

      Make subways register. And ban the one's that resemble military subway. ....... wait.... what?

      February 18, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  22. phearis

    Here's a wacky idea, Hydraulic Guard Rails that automatically lower when the train pulls in and comes to a complete stop.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • goofy foot

      Here's an idea, don't stand close to the edge. Liberals aren't too bright as it turns out.

      February 18, 2013 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
      • phearis

        Wow, you're a moron. Congratulations!

        February 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
      • pvs1

        how ironic...a post from someone who would improve society by jumping on a subway track.

        February 18, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      You will note the most important paragraph explains why an idea like that has not been implemented:

      "Richard Barrone is with the urban planning think tank the Regional Plan Association. He says some question whether it’s worth spending over a billion dollars on a project like this."

      People like Richard Barrone are concerned with whether or not it's worth spending money to save lives.

      Money is more important. That is all we need to know.

      February 18, 2013 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
      • MrId

        Soooooo why don't we just give everyone their own personnel subway. It would cost a few trillion but if it would save a life its worth it, right?

        February 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Safety is over rated

      How many more people will be injured by the automatic gates? Sometimes common sense to stay away from fast moving objects is the simplest solution.

      February 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  23. SOKirby

    Why don't they instal a tall (6') chain link fence all the way across each platform with automatic unlocking bar across them – for the entrance & exits. They could even be on sliders that can be unlocked by working personnel to open up all the way up in the event of an emergency. Set the fence 2'-3' feet from the track. Have specific openings in them that can be automatically opened when the train has come to a complete stop. Before take off, a conductor inside will assure that the automatic gates have all relocked outside. This wouldn't cost that much, and would be whole lot better than all the deaths that NY has to keep going through – They've been through enough already.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Noah

    yeah we can stop them, just make riding a sub ay illegal. its reactive and fast and dumb but that seems to make sense to most of our politicians, at least here in NY...

    February 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm | Report abuse |
  25. steve

    why stop it?

    February 18, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • goofy foot

      Outlaw subways. This is the liberal way. On the other hand, most of the losses are probably liberal votes so good stuff. Ramp the platforms down toward the tracks so the libs can slide .

      February 18, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
      • pvs1

        is there a single topic in which conservatives are unable to become a spectacle of hateful idiocy?

        February 18, 2013 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Troy

    50 deaths among 1.6 billion riders is nothing when compared to other ways to die. That's only 1 in 32,000,000, which is nearly as safe as airline travel. When you remove suicides, it's most likely even safer.

    What's the problem?

    February 18, 2013 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  27. Solution

    The solution is right in front of us............have you ever gone to a roller coaster ride? They put up rails separating the riders from the rollercoaster track. Then the aluminum gates open automatically when the rollercoaster comes to a stop and ready for boarding. Thats what you use in the subways. Its rediculous that there is not some sort of barrier between the subway train and the passengers waiting to get on. A yellow mark on the floor is not good enough.

    February 18, 2013 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Troy

      Putting up barriers won't keep people from killing themselves. They'll just wait for the train to arrive, step through the gate, and wait between the train and the gate. When it leaves, they'll step on the tracks for the next train.

      Even if it did, somebody who wants to commit suicide will just find another way to do it. There's really no way to stop somebody determined to commit suicide.

      Yes, it will prevent accidental deaths and murders, but the number of people dying by subway train is insignificant when compared to other ways to die. When death by subway train becomes one of the top ten ways to die in New York, then it might be a problem. Until then, the money is better spent elsewhere.

      February 18, 2013 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
      • JW

        OK well then add a barrier that goes right up against the train similar to the setup on airport trams. It would very difficult for anybody to get in the trains path given that there is only a two inch gap.

        February 18, 2013 at 2:19 pm | Report abuse |
  28. JW

    Every major amusement park has electric gates that open once rollercoasters come to a complete stop. It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult to construct a similar barrier with an entrance lane and exit lane that is also tall enough to prevent suicide attempts.

    February 18, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  29. franklin

    Yes! Ban the subway!

    February 18, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  30. jdoe

    The answer is rather obvious:

    1) Yes, we can do it.
    2) But, it will cost money.
    3) So, we won't do it.

    February 18, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  31. Duke

    I'd have the Mayor ban trains..Seems to work with gun and soft drinks..

    February 18, 2013 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  32. Randy S Mitchell

    There is an immediate and free fix – have ALL trains stop – or extremely slow down – as they enter the station.

    February 18, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  33. Bummer

    To see some really classy tube stations, go to Moscow. The stations there resemble museums of fine art and are cleaner than an operating theater. No graffiti on the cars either.

    February 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
  34. EVN

    I'm unsure of what j.tabias seeks to do, or what "there is no excuse for". While 35 to 50 people a year being killed is a lot, among that number are suicides. If people want to jump in front of a moving train that is going to be impossible to build protections around. Here, suicide by train is common, and on occasion it's suicide by truck when jumping off of overpasses in front of speeding semi's on the freeway below. If the deaths are caused by intentional pushing, again it isn't so much of a "safety" issue as it is an issue of prosecuting, and making sure it is known that prosecutions are occuring, that is going to make a dent in the problem.

    Perhaps a good begining would be to have video surveillance to get to the bottom of what NYC is really dealing with.

    February 18, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  35. eggberth

    if you stand against the wall nobody can get behind you. So the solution is to build more walls or grow an eye in the back of your head. New Yorkers are very creative and I think the second solution is more feasible. Bloomberg should have enough money to fund research into solution #2.

    February 18, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  36. j. tabias

    This is complete crap. The subway is embarrassing in New York City and there is no excuse. The Tube in London, their version of underground, has been operating for over 100 years and its amazing; clean and safe. We need to stop making excuses in NYC and accept that there is a problem and do something about it.

    February 18, 2013 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • WC

      The Underground also stops running around midnight and that's when they can do maintenance, cleaning and track work. Is that a trade-off you want?

      February 18, 2013 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Desert Dweller

      The London Underground has been running for over 100 years. However, it is no longer clean and is pretty run-down.

      February 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |