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Subway Ridership Down, But Incidents of People on Tracks on Pace to Top Last Year

People take a 4 train in the Bronx during the morning commute, Oct. 1, 2020.
People take a 4 train in the Bronx during the morning commute, Oct. 1, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A gruesome discovery by transit workers last week — an arm inside a subway tunnel — underscored a troubling trend: a growing number of people ending up on the tracks.

MTA statistics obtained by THE CITY show at least 720 instances of a “person on the roadbed” this year — including one Sunday morning in which police said a man survived after being shoved onto the tracks at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

That’s nearly as many as the 781 cases in all of 2019 and almost 200 more than five years ago — despite a steep pandemic-driven decline in ridership and the suspension of overnight passenger service.

Some transit workers and homeless advocates believe the overnight shutdown could be helping drive the roadbed incidents.

“When the system shuts down, [homeless New Yorkers] need someplace to go,” Eddie Muniz, a subway conductor, told THE CITY. “They can’t stay on the platforms, they can’t stay on the trains, so they go into the tunnels.”

An A train leaves the Nostrand Avenue station in Brooklyn, Nov. 19, 2020.
An A train leaves the Nostrand Avenue station in Brooklyn, Nov. 19, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In addition, the MTA has recorded more than 180 collisions between trains and people this year — creeping past the 182 incidents in all of 2015.

Sarah Feinberg, interim president of New York City Transit, said the figures point to problems that extend beyond the subway system.

“Sadly, these numbers continue to point to the mental health and housing crises we are experiencing in this city,” Feinberg told THE CITY.

The grim figures follow a week in which an E train fatally struck a 54-year-old man Friday inside a tunnel near the Woodhaven Boulevard station on the Queen Boulevard Line. Meanwhile, a 40-year-old woman survived being pushed onto the tracks and passed over by two cars of a No. 5 train at 14th Street-Union Square during the Thursday morning rush.

The severed arm was discovered just after 2 a.m. Wednesday by track workers walking inside the 2/3 line tunnel that links Brooklyn and Manhattan. An NYPD spokesperson said investigators believe the find is related to a similar discovery Nov. 2, when police said a decomposed male body missing an arm was spotted at the same location.

‘Pushed Further Into the Shadows’

Advocates for the homeless noted the daily 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. subway shutdown, which started in May, has hurt New Yorkers trying to avoid city shelters for homeless people amid the pandemic.

“People are being removed from the trains every night without being offered someplace better to go,” said Jacquelyn Simone, a policy analyst with the Coalition for the Homeless. “Some people are just being pushed further into the shadows and unfortunately, that can come with a real threat to their personal safety.”

Commuters are absorbing some of the impact of trespassers on the tracks. MTA statistics show there were 845 train delays in October caused by trips onto the roadbed — an average of about 27 a day.

MTA worker
An MTA worker walks along the D train tracks in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Nov. 4, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Steven Morales of The Bronx was aboard a northbound No. 5 train under the Upper East Side Nov. 17 when a conductor announced that passengers would be delayed and the third rail powered down because someone was on the tracks.

“As a rider, I’m someone who understands when there are delays outside of the control of the MTA,” Morales, 30, said. “If it’s suicide or other types of illness-related things that lead people on on to the tracks, that’s concerning, and I have a lot of compassion for that.”

One case in point: In late April, a man delayed trains along the J and M lines for nearly eight hours and caused 170 service changes after threatening to jump onto the tracks at the Flushing Avenue stop in Brooklyn, according to an internal report obtained by THE CITY.

The report says the man dangled off the side of the elevated structure at the Flushing Avenue stop and also climbed on a rooftop at the station, forcing workers to cut the power to the tracks. He was later taken to Woodhull Hospital, police said.

Several subway train crew members told THE CITY they worry that more people will seek shelter in the subway during the winter months. They’re also concerned the stress of the pandemic has driven some onto the tracks.

“You got people down on the tracks who think this is like a playground,” said a veteran D train operator who asked not to be identified. “It’s not a playground when you have the [electrified] third rail right there that will take your life.”

Simone said those who choose to shelter in the subway deserve better from the city.

“The bottom line is, if we want to help people move out of the transit system and off the streets, we need to give them somewhere better to go,” she said. “In a city like New York, we shouldn’t have anyone that feels they have no better option than to be sleeping in a tunnel.”

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