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Botched subway alerts led to man getting run over


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A subway motorman and conductor didn't hear repeat radio calls warning about a man lying on the tracks - a costly mistake that ended with the man run over and badly injured, the Daily News has learned.

 

A Transit Authority probe found nearly three minutes passed from the time a token booth clerk was told of the man on the southbound tracks at the 137th St. station in Upper Manhattan to the time of the accident.

 

That was plenty of time for the clerk to call Station Command and for three radio warnings to go out to trains in the area. Still a southbound train didn't get the message.

 

The chilling account emerges in a 15-page report obtained by the News that details the series of increasingly frantic calls that failed to stop disaster.

 

The report also notes it took too long to shut off power because the clerk didn't request a shutdown directly from the operations center.

 

The report recommends toughening procedures, including ensuring that transit workers make sure their radios are working and that token booth clerks make direct calls to turn off the third-rail.

 

Reviewing recorded transmissions and interviewing witnesses, investigators recreated the events of Jan. 4 second by second.

 

The incident began around 7:30 a.m. that Sunday when Ronald Melichar, 62, an official in the city Department of Small Business Services, was en route to church.

 

He claims he has no memory of the morning, but an unnamed detective who interviewed him says Melichar told him he was "depressed" over the recent loss of a loved one.

 

Cops classified the incident as an attempted suicide, the report states.

 

Melichar, who left the hospital after several weeks and is recovering at home, declined to comment.

 

Records of audio transmissions show at 7:34:05 a.m. a clerk called Station Command to report a man on the tracks.

 

Forty-five seconds later, a station supervisor relayed the information to another supervisor, who then sent the information to the radio dispatcher.

 

Half a minute later at 7:35:30 a.m., the dispatcher warned trains near 137th St. Station of "an unauthorized person on the roadbed."

 

They were told to "proceed with caution," which means to slow from the usual 35 mph to 10 mph. A northbound train leaving 125th St. got the message and slowed.

 

At the precise moment the first warning was going out, the Southbound train was pulling into the 145th St. station - one station away. Two more warnings followed.

 

The Southbound motorman later said he never heard any warnings on his radio, which was attached to his belt.

 

The conductor said she didn't hear it because the radio was in her purse on the floor of the cab.

 

The motorman also claimed he tested his radio that morning, but investigators found no evidence that he did.

 

In the report investigators theorized the radio volume was turned down or off or noise in the 145th St. station obscured the message.

 

At 7:35:41 the token booth clerk reported that the person was lying on the third rail, an announcement that should trigger an immediate power shutdown.

 

It was too late.

 

The northbound clerk now "realizes the train is coming and appears to become emotionally upset," the report states.

 

At 7:36:51 a.m. - two minutes and 46 seconds after the clerk first calls Station Division - the train pulled into the station. Melichar lay 100 feet away.

 

Investigators believe the motorman was traveling at the normal 35 miles per hour and didn't have time to stop.

 

The motorman said he saw a person waving frantically on the platform and then saw a man step out from between columns and lie on the track. Other witnesses said Melichar was lying there the entire time.

 

The motorman couldn't stop fast enough and ran over Melichar, who suffered massive injuries but lived.

 

On tape, the northbound clerk "is heard crying hysterically after the customer is struck," the report states.

 

Both station clerks and the motorman went off duty "due to emotional trauma stemming from the event," the report noted.

 

Investigators concluded that because both radios were working, the southbound crew should have heard the three warning broadcasts.

 

They also discovered that it took more than two full minutes to shut down the third rail - too long to have made a difference in this case.

 

The report found specific procedural problems and recommended changes:

 

*Transit should change a "proceed with caution" order, which is "subject to interpretation," to "operate at restricted speed with extreme caution."

 

*Train crews should be reinstructed to test their radios and wear them on their belts at all times.

 

*Token booth clerks should be instructed that they can directly request third-rail power off "if it appears likely that someone is going to come in contact with the third rail."

 

"In life safety critical situations, such as a person lying on top of the third rail, employees are not only required but are expected to request the immediate removal of power," the report states.

 

By Greg B. Smith

DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

April 14th 2009

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A subway motorman and conductor didn't hear repeat radio calls warning about a man lying on the tracks - a costly mistake that ended with the man run over and badly injured, the Daily News has learned.

 

 

They also discovered that it took more than two full minutes to shut down the third rail - too long to have made a difference in this case.

 

 

 

So which is it? They also leave out the fact that in a power off situation, T/Os are instructed to attempt to coast into the next station.

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I agree...it is a SHAME that they don't say a thing about dead spots with radio communications, heck, the same things happen with cell phones. The ONLY person at fault here is the person who was hiding and then went down to the tracks right before the train came.

 

I don't believe that he was lying down on the tracks for three minutes straight, since nobody does that, and he would be visible from afar, I believe he was hiding, just as the motorman says.

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There should be override controls for signals for trains approaching the station in the booths if you ask me.

 

All it would take is the flip of a switch in the event of a man on the tracks to stop incoming trains by giving all red without having to completely shut down the station by cutting power.

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I know most TA workers must have an authority issued flashlight on them at all times. Is this true for booth workers? If it is, that worker could have stopped that train very easily.

 

Rule 3.58

3.58(a) Moving the hand, flag, light or any

other object to and from across the track

means, “STOP.”

A flag or light of any color placed on the

track between the running rails means,

“STOP.”

 

3.74(:( (formerly 73b) In an emergency, the hand or any object waved violently to and fro across

the track by anyone on or near the track is a signal to stop.

Edited by INDman
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But to have controls over individual signals would be better, since it would pop up the trip arms, which would be helpful around curved areas. I actually thought that someone DID have such control, but it seems as though that isn't the case. Heck, I bet they do have a centralized control system (doesn't ATS on the IRT set random signals red sometimes???), but the people didn't do their job. This is probably a failure of managment higher up, but as always, we only hear about the hourly workers. Lots of passengers actually blame them for the trains being so slow and late. you can't blame them...not with the idiotic speed limits, and not with the neutered equipment.

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Heck, I bet they do have a centralized control system (doesn't ATS on the IRT set random signals red sometimes???),
ATS = Automatic Train Supervision. ATS is basically "big brother" watching all the movements that T/Os makes. They don't throw "random" red signals. I believe you are referring to timers which wouldn't have anything to ATS or this unfortunate accident.
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One injury should not mean that the (MTA) should modify a signal system that works well. What happened was an unfortunate accident, but proper training and equipment would have prevented this. Had the station agent had and used a flashlight, the train could have stopped in time. The radio system should be upgraded so that it actually works, but I really think that a flashlight could have prevented this.

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But to have controls over individual signals would be better, since it would pop up the trip arms, which would be helpful around curved areas. I actually thought that someone DID have such control, but it seems as though that isn't the case. Heck, I bet they do have a centralized control system (doesn't ATS on the IRT set random signals red sometimes???), but the people didn't do their job. This is probably a failure of managment higher up, but as always, we only hear about the hourly workers. Lots of passengers actually blame them for the trains being so slow and late. you can't blame them...not with the idiotic speed limits, and not with the neutered equipment.

 

Actually that would be bad. Just another thing that can go wrong and force a signal to "flash" and dump a train, and the poor TO gets put through the ringer...no different than when towers make mistakes, if a TO runs a red even if it flashes on him he still gets put through drama. Only now it's just another thing that can go wrong a TO could get blamed for.

 

The best thing to do is immediately request power off and a TA employee flag the train down a few carlengths outside the station to stop him from entering. Correcting radio dead spots should be a real priority however. That too could have prevented this

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Let me first say I disagree with having Station Agent being able to control the signal in the station. They don't have any training for that.

ATS the Rail Control Center can control the signals since they are running the railroad not the local towers they just take over if RCC wants them too. Just putting signal to danger is not responsable as well that can cause people on board the train injury because of the Emergency Brakes being applied and in most cases for no reason. We get reports of people on the roadbed all the time and 9 out of 10 its a false report.

This was just one of those tragic situations and lucky the guy is still alive.

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One injury should not mean that the (MTA) should modify a signal system that works well. What happened was an unfortunate accident, but proper training and equipment would have prevented this. Had the station agent had and used a flashlight, the train could have stopped in time. The radio system should be upgraded so that it actually works, but I really think that a flashlight could have prevented this.

 

Waving a flashlight while in the booth would not have solved anything. Station Agents are not allowed to leave their booths until relieved.

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Waving a flashlight while in the booth would not have solved anything. Station Agents are not allowed to leave their booths until relieved.

 

Exactly, Alex. It appears that a lot of posters fail to realize that each job title has rules that are strictly enforced. Violations, no matter how well intentioned, can and will lead to suspension, demotion, or dismissal. The Station agent in this case, and the S/A and C/R in the sex assault case in the train station did what they were supposed to do. If you want to play "Paul Kersey" or "Harry Callahan" don't take a T.A. job. Maybe NYPD will take you.

Edited by Trainmaster5
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Exactly, Alex. It appears that a lot of posters fail to realize that each job title has rules that are strictly enforced. Violations, no matter how well intentioned, can and will lead to suspension, demotion, or dismissal. The Customer Service agent in this case, and the CSA and C/R in the sex assault case in the train station did what they were supposed to do. If you want to play "Paul Kersey" or "Harry Callahan" don't take a T.A. job. Maybe NYPD will take you.

 

From the news article, it sounded as if the S/A HAD leftr the booth. I know full well that they can't unless releived. Now would taking this kind of action be against the rules if the station agent was one that is posted out side of the booth, roaming the station? I have never come across any document that has stated what the rules for certain titles are so how would I or others on this board for that matter know what certain employees can or can not do. Also, Paul Kersey wasn't a cop, just a concerned citizen.

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From the news article, it sounded as if the S/A HAD leftr the booth. I know full well that they can't unless releived. Now would taking this kind of action be against the rules if the station agent was one that is posted out side of the booth, roaming the station? I have never come across any document that has stated what the rules for certain titles are so how would I or others on this board for that matter know what certain employees can or can not do. Also, Paul Kersey wasn't a cop, just a concerned citizen.

 

Re:Paul Kersey I know that. Now the CSA posted outside the booth is in position to take action. Same for a station cleaner or manager in that location. In the other incident I referred to the S/A and C/R were not allowed to leave their assigned duties. In the C/Rs case you leave the train only in the performance of your assigned duties.

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Now just for further clarification, at the station where the 12-9 took place, is the S/A stationed in the booth? I really have no idea since I have never been to that station.

 

Yes the S/A is assigned to a booth. There's a difference between a S/A ,who is stationary, and a CSA who is located on the platform or near a Metrocard machine location.

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