Four Separate Deaths in Same Day on the NYC Subway Highlight Train Risks
By JON CAMPISI, who has been a writer and editor for a number of media outlets in the Philadelphia area.
In the early morning hours of Jan. 10, 39-year-old Steven Santiago hopped onto a New York subway track to assist an intoxicated man who was attempting to retrieve a shoe that had fallen down below.
The Good Samaritan succeeded in pushing the tipsy man out of the way. But what Santiago didn't count on was the train that came barreling down the tracks. He was struck by the powerful vehicle and taken to the hospital for head injuries.
Did Santiago not see the train coming beforehand? Was there not ample warning of an incoming train?What safety measures were in place to prevent such a tragedy from occurring?
If that weren't bad enough, New York's public transit system saw a particularly grisly day on Jan. 21, when four people died along the rails, including a man whose head was reportedly squeezed between a platform and a train that had been whizzing by, according to the New York Post.
Two of the other victims were hit by oncoming trains and the fourth was found dead in a subway station, although the circumstances of his death were not immediately known, news reports stated.
Those types of deaths are not just confined to New York, other big cities like Philadelphia have had their own incidents.
In 2011, there were nine suicides and 13 accidental deaths on the Philadelphia train system, according to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. The causes of two more have not yet been determined.
When it comes to train safety, subways in particular, SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said her agency has a number of measures in place to keep accidents, and intentional incidents like suicide, to a minimum. All SEPTA subway stations have surveillance cameras that record in real time, and can be viewed by transit officials; the train platforms are manned by transit police officers and cashiers in booths; and, perhaps most importantly, the platforms have a painted yellow line just before the tracks that warn passengers how far back they must stand so as to not get sideswiped by an incoming train.
There are also call boxes at SEPTA stations that passengers could use to inform officials of any possible suspicious activity, such as a potential suicide.
As for protection against the unforeseeable, Williams said the transit agency is self-insured and makes certain it has the money set aside for potential claims and settlements.
In the last two years, Williams said, SEPTA has seen injury payouts jump 10 percent, to $40 million.
That's a lot given that the agency has set aside $43 million-plus for injuries and damages claims in its fiscal 2012 operating budget. The agency's total operating budget this year is $1.3 billion.
SEPTA has recently launched a public awareness campaign warning passengers and others of the increase in surveillance cameras aboard trains, buses and trolleys. Transit companies in other cities have done the same throughout the years.
On a national level, five rear-end rail collisions occurred nationwide last year, prompting the National Transportation Safety Board issued some new safety recommendations designed to cut down on the number of these types of occurrences. Through a Jan. 12 news release, the NTSB said it had issued the recommendations to the Federal Railroad Administration, the Association of American Railroads, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the United Transportation Union.
Four of the five accidents happened on railroad lines also used by Amtrak passenger trains, an eye opener for safety officials.
"Because these accidents occurred on different railroads under different circumstances, the NTSB is concerned that noncompliance with restricted speed requirements may be an issue affecting a broad segment of the U.S. railroad industry," the agency said in a statement, citing speed as a top factor in railway accidents.
According to the NTSB, signal systems provide for safe separation of trains, but there are times when trains are authorized to occupy the same section of track.
"In these cases, safe train operations rely solely on crewmember compliance with the railroad's restricted speed requirements," the NTSB statement read. "Complete understanding of and strict compliance with restricted speed requirements are absolutely mandatory to prevent catastrophic train collisions."
January 30, 2012
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