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MTA's constant challenge: To keep people off subway tracks

Keeping people off train tracks is a constant challenge for the MTA, which saw 55 people killed by subway trains last year, officials said.

In total, there were 141 incidents of a subway train striking a person in 2012, according to MTA figures. So far this year, there have been 44 subway train strikes -- 16 of them fatal.

The latest was a Nesconset teen who was killed Tuesday night while trying to cross four tracks from an uptown platform to a downtown platform at the 79th Street/Broadway station, police said.

The dangers of the tracks aren't isolated to the subway system. In 2012, 16 people were killed in track trespassing incidents on the Long Island Rail Road, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

But despite the obvious dangers of venturing onto tracks, some people continue to do it, said Joyce Rose, president of Operation Lifesaver -- a national organization dedicated to promoting train safety. Sometimes they are in a rush and choose to dart across tracks rather than go around them. Others just do it for the thrill or because some locations on tracks develop a "tradition" as gathering spots.

On Feb. 14, 2012, two Copiague High School graduates, both 19, were killed by a train near an overpass by the Copiague Station that neighbors said was a popular hangout for local teens.

"It's obviously a stubborn problem, and one that we need to get into the psychology of so we can be more effective in our educational efforts," Rose said.

Rose said that over the past 15 years, railroad trespassing deaths have steadily climbed, even as deaths at railroad crossings have dropped. Part of the problem, Rose said, is that trespassers sometimes wrongly assume they'll have plenty of notice of an approaching train, she said.

But passing trains can sometimes be surprisingly quiet, and the sound of one approaching train can be disguised by another passing one, Rose said. As well, an approaching train in the distance can move much faster than it appears, and likely often won't be able to stop in time to avoid hitting a trespasser.

MTA employees and others who need to access tracks -- including construction contractors and film crews -- are required to take a track safety course to learn how to look out for trains, and where and how to stand to stay clear of a train once on tracks. They are also trained to avoid making contact with the third rail, which is powered by 625 volts of electricity.

The MTA also promotes track safety through posters at stations and on trains, warning riders to stay behind the yellow line at platforms and to call a police officer or MTA worker if they drop something onto the tracks.

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