In 2011, 147 people were hit by New York City subway trains, a 15 percent increase over 2010. 50 of those incidents proved fatal, according to a recent report. The fact of subway deaths was brought dramatically into focus this week with the demise of 58-year-old Queens man Ki Suk Han, whose final moments at the 49th Street stop were captured in a controversial New York Post photo.
Han was allegedly pushed onto the tracks by homeless man Naeem Davis after a heated exchange. According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, Han then tried to "tried to climb out of the well and was pinned between the station and the train." More than a minute — and possibly as long as 90 seconds — elapsed before the train slammed into him, a police source told DNAInfo.
So what should you do if you fall--or are pushed--onto the subway tracks? Surprisingly, the M.T.A. does not offer a comprehensive contingency plan.
"No, we don't have anything like it," Aaron Donovan, an M.T.A. spokesman told Capital New York.
Kevin Ortiz, another spokesperson for the Transit Authority, said that this is because what might work at one station might not work at another.
"Due to the varying lay-outs of stations and roadbed construction there can be no single policy for a person finding themselves on the tracks," he told Capital. "What we do say officially is that customers should stand well back from the edge of the platform when waiting for the train. Also, if a customer drops something onto the tracks they should contact a transit employee who will call personnel to retrieve the item."
Slate published its own guide laying out what it says are the four real options:
Obviously, the optimal choice is to get back onto the platform, often with the help of bystanders. Dramatic subway rescues are somewhat common.
If you can’t boost yourself up in time, look for a space beneath the platform edge. In some stations, particularly in Manhattan, there is enough room between the train and the platform to accommodate a person.
If the platform appears flush with the approaching train, you could take shelter in the space between the two sets of train tracks. This is a dangerous choice, though, because you’d have to traverse the third rail, which carries 660 volts of electricity, more than enough to kill a person.
A final option is to simply lie flat—there may be enough clearance for the train to pass over you.
Throughout the years, there have been cases of straphangers being hoisted to safety, or pinned down in the narrow gulley between the tracks.
Last year, however, an IAmA on Reddit featuring a man who claimed to be a New York City subway conductor contradicts this advice. User Fusoyaff2 said that in fact, the best option is to run down the tracks away from the oncoming train:
The best thing you can do is run as far down the platform as you can (in the opposite direction from where the train enters the station) and wave your arms frantically to get the train operator and passenger's attention. Believe me, the passengers WILL be doing the exact same thing, as nobody wants to see you get run over and their train get delayed. If you can get to the far end of the platform, it gives the train more room to stop, and there is a ladder at the end of each platform where you can climb back up -- do NOT try to climb up from where you are. So many people have been killed trying to jump back up rather than getting away from the entrance end of the station.
Do NOT trust the pits between the tracks --- they are often right next to the third rail which can be just as dangerous (and note that the wooden planks are not designed to hold a human's weight - they are there to protect the energized rail from drips and weather) and the train operator is less likely to see you if you're in there. And don't duck under the train, because most stations do not have enough clearance for the average human. And do NOT jump down onto the tracks to try to save someone else. The best thing you can do is run on the platform towards the tunnel where the train enters so you can get the operator's attention sooner. Waving your arms over the tracks will tell the operator to stop immediately.
In some countries, countermeasures have been taken to prevent fatalities. In Asia, for example, sliding doors on the platforms have proven an effective tool in preventing both accidents and suicides. In London, drainage pits dug between the tracks increase the clearance between cars and the ground--while they were not installed as a safety measure, the pits have cut deaths in half.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that in 2011, "147 passengers were killed by New York City subway trains." 147 people were hit by trains. Only 50 died.