Amid a rash of subway falls and high-profile pushing incidents, the MTA has stepped up its efforts to promote platform safety. New posters cite the scary numbers: “141 people were struck by trains in 2012, 55 were killed” now joins the daily dose of statistics greeting commuters, along with how many packets of sugar are in three sugary soft drinks (40) and how many of Dr. Zizmor’s patients are happy with their brighter, clearer skin (all of them). Recently, the transit union, which is advocating for the MTA to slow trains down, joined in, passing out flyers informing straphangers that trains coming in to the station—they’re going about 35 miles per hour when they pull in—kill one person a week on average. But wait, hang on, you say: If 55 people who were hit by trains were killed, what happened to the other 86? How can you get hit by a subway train going 35 miles an hour and live?
There are several ways, it turns out. Last week, a man trying to commit suicide laid down in the track bed at Columbus Circle, but in the wrong spot for his purposes. “The train went over him, and afterward he just popped up between the second and third car,” says a police spokeswoman. He was taken to the hospital for a head injury and a psych evaluation. “Another thing that happens,” says MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg, “is people walk into a platform of an unfamiliar station, and they lean their head out to look for a train, and the train comes around the corner and hits them in the head.” He adds, “I think you have to be pretty drunk to have that happen, to not feel the air or hear the noise.” This is a not uncommon factor in subway incidents. The police spokeswoman remembers an intoxicated man who curled up under the platform overhang. “I guess he was going to sleep it off,” she says. Which he might have done, if one of his legs had not been sticking out into the path of the next arriving train.
“We see a lot of facial fractures and head injuries from drunk people taking dares to get close to the train,” says Dr. Soumitra Eachempati, director of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at New York–Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Your feet are on the platform, it hits your face, it will probably knock you sideways,” rather than into the tracks. “Sometimes they stick an arm out, too. We see that probably once a year.” The most dramatic incident he recalls was not a daredevil act but a stumble, at the Lexington Avenue and 77th Street stop. The man was drunk and fell onto the tracks. “Somehow the force of the train kind of catapulted his body, so he ended up sitting on the platform”—but with his legs mostly gone. “The EMS that arrived at the scene were smart enough to put tourniquets on him, we completed the amputation of his legs, and he ended up living. I see him in the office every few months. He has a wife and kids and everything like that. It changed his life. He gave up drinking.” Probably stays well clear of the yellow line, too.