After NYC subway deaths, barriers get new eye

By Jennifer Peltz

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Jan. 5 2013 12:45 p.m. MST

The less-than-20-year-old AirTrain systems at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and nearby Newark Liberty Airport were built with the safety doors. No passengers ever have fallen onto the tracks, says the system's operator, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Early plans for two New York City subway line extensions, now under construction, included platform doors. But the barriers were dropped from the plans to keep costs down.

The MTA made a general request for ideas on installing and financing platform doors in 2011 but hasn't acted on it.

One suggestion, from architecture and engineering firm Crown Infrastructure Solutions: It would pay to build the structures, at an estimated $1 million per station for 468 stations, and recoup the cost from advertising on built-in screens.

"What we found is the solution to a very relevant problem, and we found a way to off-set the costs," Vice President Anthony R. Milano said this week. Besides protecting people on the platform, the barriers would help keep litter off the tracks, potentially reducing track fires, he said.

The challenges would be considerable, the MTA says. The subway system has widely varying architecture, not to mention different types of trains.

"But in light of recent tragic events, we will consider the options for testing such equipment on a limited basis," the MTA said in a statement this week.

The MTA said acting Director Thomas Prendergast wouldn't comment before a committee discusses the deaths at a meeting this month.

Some people have blasted the safety barrier idea as profligate, unnecessary — and perhaps most damning of all, just not New York. A 2011 editorial in the Daily News dismissed the idea as "adding a touch of Disney World to New York's underground lair."

Indeed, the cinematographer David's online petition for barriers in New York has hardly gone viral, garnering about 75 signatures as of this week.

To riders' advocate Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, the barriers might be useful in some places but seem unrealistic as a systemwide effort.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who makes a point of letting New Yorkers know he takes the subway to work, said after the second pushing death that people need not "sit there and worry every day about getting pushed over the platform."

"It is such a rare occurrence that no matter how tragic it is, it shouldn't change our lifestyle," he said. "We do live in a world where our subway platforms are open, and that's not going to change."

Associated Press writers Elaine Kurtenbach in Tokyo, Raphael Satter in London and Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed to this report. Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz

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