Fire exposes lack of safety on subways
By G. Dunkel
New York
Published Oct 27, 2005 10:35 PM

Several hundred thousand New York City commuters were delayed getting to work on Friday morning, Oct. 21, by an electrical fire in the West 4th Street station. Instead of dealing with the conditions that created this fire, however, the city is planning to spend hundreds of millions on a new surveillance system in the subways.

The fire started around 8 a.m. and shut down seven subway lines until the afternoon. Thirteen firefighters were reportedly treated for smoke inhalation. Eight subway trains carrying 2,000 to 2,500 people had to be evacuated through the smoke at West 4th Street, which was “absolutely safer than evacuating them through the tunnels,” according to NYC Transit President Larry Reuter.

Tens of thousands of people wandered the subways looking for trains that never came and waiting for information on how to get where they were going.

Station agents, part of whose job is to provide information, didn’t have a “clue as to what’s running,” as one of them explained to a tourist who wanted to get to the former World Trade Center site from 57th Street and 7th Avenue.

Some stations, especially in Manhattan, have public address systems that are generally hard to hear. Often the information is confusing, incomplete or wrong. On Friday, some stations in Manhattan announced that just one of the seven lines was out of service.

The people evacuated through the smoke at West 4th Street weren’t told anything more than to “please leave as fast as possible.” Even train crews didn’t know what was going on, and took their passengers into potentially dangerous situations.

Of course, 131 stations out of the 490 in the system don’t even have a PA system. The Transit Authority has a plan to put PAs in 60 of these stations by 2009, but hasn’t announced any solution for the others. (Daily News, Sept. 7)

However, the TA is planning on spending $791 million to install 1,000 video cameras and 3,000 motion sensors in 299 stations. (New York Times, Aug. 24) This job is so complicated that the TA is going to hire Lockheed Martin, the defense contractor, to plan it and do the actual work. They claim it could prevent a London-style bombing.

Preventing a London-type bombing was also the justification given for random searches earlier in October of some of the 8 million daily riders on the MTA.

While the TA is willing to spend three-quarters of a billion dollars on high-tech surveillance equipment and a substantial, but unspecified, amount on random searches, it can’t get its act together to install PAs that would inform its passengers and personnel on what is happening, or rewire its stations so it can more effectively fight electrical fires, or even pick up the trash that overflows from containers. These are steps that would obviously improve the physical security on the subways and cost far, far less than the cameras and motion sensors.

Given their budget priorities, the TA and the city administration of billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg are far more interested in surveillance and control of the people of New York than in providing for their security.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Support independent news