Transit Officials and Safety Experts Agree: Don't Flee a Train in a Subway Emergency

What to Know

  • A subway train derailed in Harlem on Tuesday; many passengers became anxious in the dark cars, and some even jumped out of the train
  • Photos posted to social media show passengers walking along the tracks in a dark subway tunnel, using their phone flashlights as a guide
  • Experts say it's more dangerous to venture into the subway tunnels than to stay put and wait for rescuers

Safety experts and the MTA chief agree on one thing: jumping out of a subway train isn’t the safest thing to do in an underground emergency.

But that’s exactly what some passengers did after a packed subway train derailed Tuesday morning in Harlem.

Many passengers were overcome by anxiety in the darkened, smoke-filled cars, and some felt their only option was to escape.

"I'm thinking, 'I just want to be off this train,'" one rider said. "And that’s scary too because you don’t know what’s going on, on the tracks."

Isaiah Turman, who was on a train behind the derailed train, said the subway tunnels, with their live rails and hurtling subway cars, are more dangerous than inside the train car.

“Our train was still moving when the power went off,” Turman said. “Somebody could have gotten hit — it could have been worse.”

Turman’s train and other trains behind the derailed train came to a halt when power to the tracks was shut off. Many of those passengers were able to evacuate onto subway platforms.

“Two of the cars went right into the 125th Street Station, so people were able to get out right on to a platform,” MTA Chairman Joe Lhota said. “Some people decided to go out the back way, which we never encourage.”

Kevin Govern teaches emergency management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He says escaping the train car is an unsafe move.

“The bottom line is, jumping in between rails or on top of rails is incredibly dangerous,” Govern said.

Pointing to an MTA subway emergency evacuation video from 2008, McGovern says in these types of situations, people should first look for guidance from train personnel instead of jumping out, which carries the risk of coming in contact with the deadly third rail.

“In any kind of emergency situation, taking a moment, taking a breath, taking stock of your situation is incredibly important,” Govern said.

He says riders should also be aware of their surroundings, including what the last and upcoming subway stops are. 

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