Two years ago, a Brazilian student lost an arm and a leg when she fainted at the Atlantic Avenue subway platform just as a northbound B train rolled into the station. According to the New York Post, Luisa Harger, 21, has filed suit for unspecified damages, charging the Metropolitan Transit Authority is liable because the station did not have “platform edge safety devices.”
Harger endured numerous surgeries. She now walks with a prosthetic leg and is awaiting a prosthetic arm. She argues that the MTA and New York City Transit officials “have turned their back on safety,” despite the fact that 750 people have died and more than 1,000 have suffered catastrophic injuries on their tracks over the past 15 years.
Harger is calling for safety barriers such as the ones at AirTrain stations in Queens from the Jamaica subway stop to JFK airport. This system consists of transparent walls with doors on the platform that remain closed until the train has stopped at the station. The doors then slide open to allow passengers to enter and exit.
New York City platforms have always been open, permitting any person to enter onto the tracks deliberately or accidentally. Over decades of conditioning, New Yorkers have become desensitized to the danger, even embracing the risk as a quintessential element of life in the Big Apple. Brooklyn’s legendary baseball team was once known as the Trolley Dodgers, referring to the dangers posed by the switch in 1892 from horse-power to electrical power with the advent of trolley cars.
However, advances in train safety technology, used effectively around the world in places such as Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai, and Paris, now beg the question “Why not here?” The answer for the moment seems to be cost. A 2013 report estimated the tab at $1 billion. In the current political climate, with Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo fighting over responsibility for transit costs, it’s unlikely either City Hall or Albany will find the cash for system-wide improvements.
However, there are plans for a test of the technology on the L train, which is due to be shut down until 2020 for improvements. As advocates for injured transit passengers, Barasch & McGarry believe it’s an improvement that is long overdue.