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MTA to discuss platform safety after subway deaths

Passengers move near a train doorway on the

Passengers move near a train doorway on the Number 7 platform as they use the subway in Manhattan. (Jan. 25, 2013) Credit: Craig Ruttle

A rash of recent subway deaths -- from people being pushed onto the tracks to suicides -- is reigniting calls for the MTA to move toward installing safety barriers and taking other steps to protect straphangers.

The agency plans to discuss platform safety at a board meeting Monday, as yet another person jumped in front of a train Sunday in an apparent suicide. And last week, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was joined by politicians and an MTA board member in asking the agency's inspector general to investigate measures, including the feasibility of installing barriers.

"Another attempted suicide cannot become a commonplace occurrence in one of the largest transit systems in the world," Stringer said Sunday. He spoke before the NYPD said that the unidentified man who jumped in front of an R train in Brooklyn died.

"This is a troubling and dangerous trend with serious implications for the millions of commuters who ride the subway each day," Stringer said.

This year, seven people have died after being hit by subway trains, and Stringer's office projects a record-breaking 100 deaths in 2013 if the trend continues. In 2012, 55 people died out of 141 who were hit by trains. In 2011, 47 died out of 146 struck.

The agency has considered installing platform barriers in the past. In 2007, Crown Infrastructure Solutions, an architectural and engineering firm, began talks with the agency to build out a full network of barriers at no charge to the MTA or straphangers, in return for being able to sell advertising on built-in screens. The platform-to-ceiling barriers would have been see-through, with sliding doors that lined up with the doors on the subway cars.

But after about four years of on-and-off talks, the project stalled, and the firm moved on to other transit systems, company president Michael Santora said.

"The MTA really just never moved forward on their part. We got as far as we could," Santora said.

"We never got any negative feedback from them that it wasn't a good system, it's just that no one's ever made a real move for it," he said, estimating that the project would've cost about $1.5 million to $2 million per station.

Santora added that Crown is now working on a barrier system in Honolulu and various projects in Europe, but that he hopes the increased focus on subway safety might reinvigorate interest in New York.

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz declined to say whether the barriers would be discussed at Monday's meeting, and he declined to comment.

John Samuelson, president of the MTA workers' union, said the union is "willing to explore any options to end the rash of rider deaths, including barriers," but that there are safety concerns.

"If something catastrophic happened, like a train entered the station while workers were on the tracks and it's a perfect storm of many redundancies failing, the only . . . is to jump up on the station platform," Samuelson said. "With the barriers, that avenue of escape wouldn't be possible."

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the Straphangers Campaign, said barriers should be given a serious look, but there are many obstacles.

"There are a lot of really serious issues about the doors and glass walls," he said. "Obviously their cost and how feasible is it to put them in 468 stations, many, many of which have different designs."

Russianoff added: "My bottom line is that people being struck or killed on a subway platform is a serious problem that deserves a serious answer. You can't just say, it's like the weather, there's nothing you can do about it."

Some commuters agree.

"People have the tendency to cross the yellow line here and it would stop them from falling," said Marjan Adarkwa, 26, a Baychester straphanger. "If someone is drunk or if people get in a fight and got pushed, it would stop that."

Lin Lee, 27, of Flushing, agreed.

"Absolutely," Lee said of building the barriers. "It's kind of scary to listen to that kind of news so it makes sense."

With Anna Sanders

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