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Blood on the Tracks

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The N train at the 59th Street station.  

“No, no,” Mike said. “Send one of the other guys.” A flagman is never supposed to get distracted, never supposed to do more than just that one task.

The foreman, however, was insistent. “We got this,” he said, abandoning his flagging post and walking over to help Mike.

On the other side of the tracks, nineteen feet inside the subway tunnel, Marvin and Jeff hoisted their half of the dolly onto the catwalk extending from the end of the platform. As they were lifting it, Jeff noticed a light above Marvin’s head. He assumed it was the foreman flagging for them. Or maybe it was another worker. A second or two later, he realized it was too high and too bright to be a flashlight.

Across the way, on the southbound track, Mike and the foreman heard a train brake. Kooooooosh. It stopped abruptly, with only two cars in the station, a telltale sign that something was very wrong.

“Man under!”

It was Marvin’s voice.

Mike dashed in front of the first subway car and catapulted himself onto the platform. That’s when he saw a single black work boot resting on the platform, a few inches from the edge. There was no doubt the boot belonged to Marvin; the standard worker’s boot didn’t fit him right, Mike knew, so Marvin had gotten a special one.

To his left, Mike could see Jeff hunched forward, clinging to a railing just past the end of the platform, his torso crushed inside the tiny sliver of space between the train and the concrete. Only the outline of his vest was visible in the shadow of the tunnel. He was silent, unmoving. Mike didn’t know if he was dead or alive.

Then Mike saw Marvin. He was lying in the trough between the rails, wedged underneath the second car of the train. Marvin looked as though he were sleeping, with his head resting against his hands and his eyes closed. He had been calling “man under” for himself.

These days, visitors to the Transport Workers Union can ride the elevator to the sixth floor and see Marvin Franklin’s name engraved on a plaque in the lobby, the last name added to this solemn list. After his death, New York City Transit convened a board of inquiry to investigate precisely what went wrong. Mostly, they blamed Lloyd London, the foreman, though he claimed he never acted as a flagman and that he hadn’t ordered the men to carry the dolly across live tracks. (London was later demoted to subway cleaner.)

But the board’s 33-page report also spread the blame around a bit, noting that Jeff and Marvin “could have carried the equipment up an available platform staircase to the opposite platform and avoided entering the tracks altogether.” Asked what percent of trackworkers would take this more onerous route, carrying a heavy piece of equipment up a set of stairs, over a mezzanine, and back down—instead of across live tracks—Roger Toussaint, the former trackworker who now heads the union, says, “Ten out of ten people will not do that.” In truth, the accident and the inquiry were an indictment of the entire system. What is written in the employee rule book does not reflect what goes on hour-by-hour down on the tracks.

Last week marked the first anniversary of the accident, and for everyone involved it was a tough year. Everton Marcus, the motorman who was driving the G train, was found to have done nothing wrong: He had entered the station at about 21 miles per hour, two miles less than the speed limit. Since the accident, he has been unable to return to work. In fact, he has not even been able to ride the subway. He sees a psychiatrist and a psychologist, takes psychiatric medications, and attends group-therapy sessions for motormen and conductors who were involved in “12-9s”—transit code for instances in which a train hits somebody. “If I have a moment to myself, I think about the flashbacks,” he says. “Driving the train and then coming around the curve and the screaming. Just to see someone on the tracks like that … ”

Jeff is still recovering from the accident as well. The G train broke two of his ribs, ripped open his right arm, and injured his shoulder, leg, neck, and back. It’s amazing that he survived at all. If not for his last-minute decision to grab the railing, he too would have been dragged under. These days, his gait is slow and labored, and stairs are especially difficult. He only recently stopped using a cane. But in some ways healing his mind has proved more difficult. He, too, has flashbacks: the moment when he saw two headlights coming at him, when the train snatched Marvin’s body, when he felt the lip of the subway’s doors smash into him again and again. When he rides the subway and hears the screech of the brakes, he can feel his heartbeat accelerate.


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