Danger on the Tracks: Subway Dead Man’s Switch Avoids Catastrophe

The dead man’s switch is a handle the subway operator must keep depressed while the train is in motion. If the train operator lets go, the train will stop immediately as if an emergency brake was pulled. Every subway train comes equipped with a dead man’s switch.

Last week, a motorman of a G train in Long Island City was pulling out of the Court Square station when it suddenly stopped. The conductor walked to the cab and found the motorman unconscious, having suffered a fatal heart attack while the train was in motion. Because the train automatically stopped there were no injuries. In another incident, last Monday track crew supervisor James Knell, 45, was electrocuted when he fell onto the electrified third rail on the elevated Rockaway Shuttle.

Under NYC Transit’s own safety rules, Knell shouldn’t have been working near the uncovered third rail because of the wet conditions that existed, union officials said. It rained on and off through the shift. The last two transit workers to die on the job were killed just over three years ago. Trackman Daniel Boggs was struck by a train on April 24, 2007, and five days later, Marvin Franklin, also a track worker, was hit and killed.

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