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After a Four-Day Safety Review, Subway Work Is Resuming

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By William Nueman - New York Times

Published: May 4, 2007


Transit officials said yesterday that they planned to resume regular maintenance and construction work on subway tracks and tunnels this morning, returning workers to the job after more than four days off for a safety review prompted by the deaths of two track workers struck by trains.


The Transport Workers Union president, Roger Toussaint, said that the return to work comes as New YorK City Transit has agreed to a series of safety improvements, including equipping work crew supervisors with radios to improve communication with train controllers on the movement of nearby trains.


He said discussions would continue on additional safety measures. Those include possibly increasing restrictions on the speed and movement of trains running on tracks adjacent to those that employees are working on, and exploring new ways to alert work crews to oncoming trains, like developing portable alarms.


Mr. Toussaint said there had been briefer work suspensions for safety reasons, referred to as stand downs, in the past, but that this one appeared to have produced a more profound change in attitude.

“There is a clear message and commitment being communicated to have this situation mark a turning of the corner from the kind of routine stand downs and formalistic kind of measures,” he said. He called it “a beginning of a series of substantive changes, trying to figure out how to get to the culture, how to change behavior.”


New York City Transit said in a statement that maintenance and construction work would resume at 8 a.m. after a hiatus of four days and eight hours. During the stand down, only emergency repairs and track inspections were allowed to go ahead, and those were done with extra safety measures in place.


New York City Transit’s president, Howard H. Roberts Jr., ordered the stand down on Sunday night after a G train struck two track workers at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Downtown Brooklyn. One worker, Marvin Franklin, 55, was killed, and the other, Jeff Hill, 41, was injured.


Sunday’s accident came five days after a downtown No. 3 train struck and killed a track worker, Daniel Boggs, near the Columbus Circle station.


“The kind of stuff we’re trying to come up with right now are immediate changes that both the union and New York City Transit agree would materially enhance the degree of safety on the tracks,” Mr. Roberts said. He said that once the investigation into the two deaths is complete “there will be another and more comprehensive look at the causes of the accidents and what could be done beyond what we’ve done initially to further decrease the probability that that is going to happen again.”


The return to work comes after thousands of workers whose jobs put them on the subway tracks — including track maintainers, signal workers, lighting crew members, crane operators and others — received a refresher course in safety.


Percival Thomas, a track worker who knew Mr. Boggs, said that he sat through a training course on Tuesday night that lasted from about 11 p.m. until 5 a.m., as part of his regular work shift.


He said that the session involved a productive exchange with the two supervisors who were leading the class and that it went far beyond a mere recitation of the rules.


“There was a lot of discussion,” he said. He was particularly impressed because when workers had questions about safety procedures that the supervisors could not answer, one of them would leave the room to call an agency official for more information.


“Previously it seemed like our opinion did not count, and right now it seems that people are reaching out for our opinions and at least writing them down,” he said.


The transit agency said that 18 scheduled maintenance and construction projects on 12 subway lines were suspended during the stand down.

“Everything’s off schedule now,” said one official. “There’s a lot of catching up to do, hopefully safely.”


Mr. Toussaint said that radios in the hands of crew supervisors could save lives.


The train that killed Mr. Boggs had been routed onto the express track because of a stalled train farther uptown. Mr. Toussaint cautioned that the investigation into the accident is continuing, but he said that “if the track crew had a radio they would have been aware of the situation with the stalled train” and that could have changed their behavior.


Mr. Toussaint said he also plans to increase the number of union safety representatives who monitor work in the subway system.

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