back to the Black Table

Lying in a shallow pool of dirty rat water may seem like a fate worse than death, if you're stuck on subway tracks, and a train is entering the station, it may be your only option.

This was the situation Brandon Crismon found himself in after being bumped off a crowded Union Square platform last August as headed


to work. With the train lumbering down on him, Crismon thought quickly. He lay in the space between the tracks, peering at the train that barreled over him two feet above. Crimson escaped with minor injuries.

A top fear plaguing New Yorkers, besides losing our rent controlled


apartments, is that we'll somehow be pushed, thrown or just fall drunkenly onto the subway tracks. The MTA does not endorse a "stop, drop and roll" method like the one Crismon used, but hopes the constant announcements of "stay away from the platform edge" will keep us from becoming 12-9s, subway conductor radio code for "person under the train."

But accidents do happen (people do drink a lot in this city) and when you have already fallen onto the tracks, it is a little too late for the MTA's warnings. On June 23, Joan Olaizola fainted onto the tracks at the Brooklyn Bridge of the 6 train. Like most people, her first instinct was to scramble back onto the platform. Unfortunately, she did not have time and was killed by the train while she tried to climb the five feet to safety.

Published statistics of people killed or injured by New York City subways simply do not exist. According to various city newspapers, there have been six 12-9s since the end of June. In search of the unauthorized word on track survival, I headed to the streets and subway stations for tips on subway survival.

Here's some tips on surviving:

#1. Stand Behind The Yellow Line, Dummy.

Of course avoiding death on the tracks seems easy enough; you just stand behind, way behind, the yellow line. Yet, in a five-minute, unscientific observational study, nearly one-third of people can't resist peering over the edge in hopes of catching a glimpse of the train's double headlights. Another portion was standing in the two-foot wide yellow caution strip closest to the platform edge.

Why? "I'm always running late. By the time I get down there, I think if I see the damn thing, I can make it pick me up faster," explains Kristen Kemp, a 30-year-old straphanger.

#2. Don't Jump In.

Hanging onto our belongings as our heads bob into the black space of the tunnel is a big problem. Even with signs posted in several languages telling riders, "whatever you do, don't go onto the tracks yourself," Jean Eng jumped in on the morning of February 3 to retrieve her purse and was killed by a 6 train.

There are safer ways to get your stuff back -- ask the station agent for help, call 311 or the NYCT Lost and Found at 212-712-4500. New York City Transit will send somebody trained to deal with live subway tracks to recover your valuables.

#3. Go Horizontal.

All it takes is a false step, a bump, a push or even a momentary lapse of common sense to fall from safety and into the dark dangerous depths below. If this happens to you, there may still be hope.

"If you are lucky enough to be on tracks with a gully [on above-ground tracks] and you have time, crawl in the middle section, lie flat," says Tony, an MTA train operator who isn't allowed to reveal his last name. "There is enough room for the train to just past over." This seems to be common knowledge among subway workers, but the MTA doesn't publicize the trough as the amazing escape-hatch from death. Guess they don't want to get sued anymore than the rest of us.

On July 11, a drunken man was electrocuted at the Spring Street station after he fell and touched the third rail, the infamous steel track (the one with the wood cover) that conducts 600 volts of electricity to power the trains.

Even without top billing, the trough is the reason Brian Jemmotte is alive. After suffering from a seizure on the morning of July 16, Jemmotte fell into the gully and the 7 train rolled above him. Jemmotte didn't know to roll into the middle space between the tracks; he just fell in the right spot. With a mix of luck and instinctual know-how, Jemmotte was one of the lucky ones. He kept his head.