Subway Conductor Tells You What to Do If You Fall in the Tracks (and Other Transit Real Talk)


A recent IAmA on Reddit is fascinating, at least, if you’re kind of a subway nerd like we are. Or even if you’re just a commuter and not a nerd at all! A user named Fusoyaff2, who says he’s been a subway conductor for New York City Transit since spring of this year, has answered some of the most pressing questions the average commuter has about subway transit. Are there mole people? What does “sick passenger” mean? Like we said, it’s fascinating. We’ve excerpted some of the most interesting bits, after the jump, but the whole thing is well worth a read.

Petrichor1: What’s with pointing up when you stop at a station?
We’re pointing at the conductor’s indication board, which is a zebra-striped sign. If the sign is in front of my window, it means that the entire train is on the platform. They don’t trust us to just look (see that other question about zoning out), so required procedure is to point to it at every station before we open the doors.

The absolute biggest violation a conductor can make is opening the doors where there isn’t a platform. If that ever happens, the first thing supervision is going to ask you is “did you point to the board?”.

girlxgenius: what are some of the other serious violations? what are the repercussions for the conductors?
Getting into fights/arguments with customers, being distracted during operating duties (cell phone, newspaper, etc), improper operation (not making announcements, not holding the doors open long enough, not pointing, closing doors on customers and not IMMEDIATELY reopening if a customer is stuck in the doors), allowing a customer to be dragged by the train (refer to a recent Curb Your Enthusiasm episode), allowing the train operator to unsafely operate the train (yes, if he screws up more than once, YOU go down for it too – this is what happened with the Union Square wreck back in the 90s).

Repercussions are determined by your longevity and track record. I’m still in my first year, so I can be fired for any of these violations. Conductors who have been here longer can be sent to reinstruction, assigned to platform duty, suspended, demoted to a different title, and in the cases of opening where there isn’t a platform or getting caught on their cell phone while running a train, can be terminated regardless of their history.

Rusted_Satellites: Are passengers allowed to ride the 6 past the last stop to see the City Hall ghost station or only if they pretend to be asleep and don’t get caught?
Yes, you are. Infact there is a bulletin specifically telling us to NOT kick anyone off at Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn Bridge downtown is treated as a regular stop, and conductors are not supposed to waste any extra time there. Anyone who tries to kick you off there is not doing their job.

There is a legitimate reason for this. Bleecker St still doesn’t have an underpass for the uptown platform, so passengers transferring from the F to the 6 and who want to go uptown are gonna have to either stay on the train, or do a crossover at Canal St or Brooklyn Bridge, which is likely gonna result in them boarding the same uptown 6 train they were already on.

zeno: How often do people commit suicide by jumping on the tracks?
It happened 136 times in 2010 (statistic includes accidental deaths). So about twice a week. It hasn’t happened on one of my trains yet, but I did witness it happen on a train right across from mine.

nyuncat: that’s a lot more than I would have thought. How long does it take to resume normal service afterwards? Is that (sometimes) what “sick passenger” means?
No, sick passenger is code for “dead customer ON the train”. Often times it actually IS a sick passenger though – sick usually refers to some kind of bodily injury, rather than someone puking or passing out, and the delays are mainly from the MTA doing an investigation to cover their asses when that customer eventually files a lawsuit.

“Police investigation” is the code for a suicide by train. Service will be disrupted for about a half hour, usually. I’ve seen it mess up things for as long as 3 hours though.

nyuncat: What does a conductor earn?
Starting salaries for conductors are currently about $20/hr, with top pay at $29/hr after 3 years. There is time-and-a-half overtime once you work more than 8 hours a day, and there is LOTS of overtime opportunities for those who want it.

MyRedditAtWork: Serious question: If, god forbid, I fall onto the tracks or someone I am willing to risk my life for falls into the tracks and is knocked out – and a train is coming (lets say 30sec away) – what should I do? Are those pits between the rails by the platforms made for people to hide in in a worst case scenario?
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.

We asked the MTA’s Charles Seaton if there was an official statement on what to do in case of falling in the tracks, or seeing someone else do so. He told us, “Given the differing types of construction and platform configuration it would be impossible to give one uniform answer to this question. The one thing we do encourage is that customers stand back from the edge of the platform. If they see someone else fall, they can inform the station agent, use the HelpPoint (if the station is so equipped) to communicate an emergency, or a Customer Intercom.”

IAMA New York City Transit Subway Conductor, AMA [Reddit via Hopstop]