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MTA Opens Door to Platform Barriers in Three Subway Stations

The country’s largest transit agency is finally searching for companies to install doors at Times Square-42nd Street and Third Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan, and Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue in Queens.

SHARE MTA Opens Door to Platform Barriers in Three Subway Stations

A rider stands near the edge of the Queens-bound 7 train platform at Times Square. July 15, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Stand clear of the coming doors.

The MTA has put up a want ad for companies seeking to install platform barriers at three stations in the subway system.

The agency on Wednesday issued a contract solicitation notice, appealing to firms interested in designing and building platform screen doors — which the MTA committed to testing earlier this year after a surge in the number of people trespassing on the tracks and the death of Michelle Go, who was pushed in front of an R train.

The estimated $100 million pilot program is supposed to test barriers designed to keep riders from being pushed, accidentally falling or intentionally going onto the tracks

The project will also require a separate, long-term maintenance contract.

The platforms where the doors will be tested — the No. 7 line stop at Times Square-42nd Street, at Third Avenue along the L and the curved stop on the E at Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue-JFK Airport — were identified as viable options in a 3,920-page systemwide study from 2020 that found barriers were not feasible at about 75% of the 472 stations.

After years of saying engineering obstacles and enormous costs made the doors a non-starter in the subway system, the MTA backtracked in February, following Go’s death at Times Square-42nd Street in January. 

An L train to Canarsie pulls into the Third Avenue station, July 14, 2022.

Candace Pedraza/THE CITY

“It is symptomatic of government that it first wants to resist, then it takes a long time before ultimately seeing some wisdom and doing it,” said Charles Moerdler, a lawyer and former housing commissioner who repeatedly called for platform doors while serving on the MTA board from 2010 to 2019. “The theory, then, is better late than never.”

The post on the MTA website invites “interested design-build teams” to submit statements listing their qualifications, which include “experience in successfully manufacturing and installing platform screen door systems in a transportation environment” and having a track record of completing projects on time and on budget.

“We’re glad to see the pilot program is moving along as promised — and that it includes maintenance,” said Lisa Daglian, executive director of the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA. “This pilot program will help chart a course for the future of platform doors and help determine a path forward for rider safety, and hopefully address some of the questions that have arisen over the years about their effectiveness.”

‘Trying It At Last’

At the stations being considered first, riders said added protection was a no-brainer.

“When you think of all the deaths that will stop, it’s good,” said Gabriella Cruz, 21, who was waiting for an L train at the Third Avenue station.

On the No. 7 platform at 42nd Street-Times Square, tour guide Chris Santiago said he welcomed the barriers.

“I mean, look at this,” Santiago, 40, said while waiting for a train, noting the proximity of the tracks. “It’s all out in the open.”

Floor-to-ceiling screen doors were scheduled to be tested on both platforms at the Third Avenue stop during the planned L train shutdown in 2019. But the funding for that $30 million project was moved over to adding elevators to the 14th Street subway complex on the Sixth and Seventh avenue lines.

The MTA had also previously planned to test the technology at the Pelham Parkway station along the No. 5 line, according to a 2016 report. New stations that opened in recent years, including 34th Street-Hudson Yards and three stops beneath Second Avenue on the Upper East Side, do not have the barrier protections.

“At least they are trying it at last,” Moerdler, the former MTA board member, told THE CITY. “It’s unfortunate that so many people had to die to get to this point.”

Platform screen doors at the AirTrain station in JFK airport, Feb. 29, 2020.

Markus Mainka/Shutterstock

While many newer transit systems had platform doors built in — like the JFK AirTrain — older ones, such as in Paris and São Paolo, have instead retrofitted some platforms with the barriers. MTA officials had argued as recently as January the barriers are “an idea that works in many places,” while citing “special complexities in New York” that largely made the idea a no-go in the subway.

According to the solicitation posted this week, existing platforms would have to be rebuilt to ensure they can support the weight of the barriers. The platform doors would be required to align with where subway car doors open when trains pull into stations and to be in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

Approaching From All Angles

At the three stations being tested, control rooms and storage rooms will need to be built to house system equipment and spare parts. And at 42nd Street-Times Square and Third Avenue, the contractor will even have to replace existing tracks, according to the posting.

The testing of platform doors is part of  larger efforts to cut down on the number of people ending up on subway tracks. There were 1,267 reported track intrusions last year, according to the MTA — up from 1,094 in 2020 and 1,062 in 2019.

Eugene Resnick, an MTA spokesperson, said the agency is beginning to implement recommendations from a task force that was put together last December to investigate track trespassing.

Mayor Eric Adams speaks at a Times Square vigil for Michelle Go, who was killed after being pushed in front of a subway, Jan. 18, 2022.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

In a statement to THE CITY, Resnick called the door pilot “part of our comprehensive approach to tackling track intrusion, along with promising new technologies like Track Intrusion Detection Systems and forward-facing cameras on trains.”

The MTA has also continued long-running efforts to deploy object-detection systems in the subway and on its two commuter railroads. 

THE CITY reported in January that the agency was looking for ways to utilize artificial intelligence, laser detection and thermal sensing that can spot intrusions — and tell the difference between a human and non-human intrusion from distances of up to 600 feet.

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