If you have ever taken any sort of train you have seen that foreboding red device, the emergency brake.  When do we use it?  The New York Times’ City Room blog recently featured a video answering just that question.  The video–”Emergency Brake”–is by Casey Neistat, who risked arrest and prop limbs in the making of his production.

The basic moral of the story is that the emergency brake should never really be used while a train is in motion.  Do not use in the case of a fire, you’ll burn.  Do not use in the case of a medical emergency, the person will be caught in greater peril.  Do not use in case of a crime, you’re trapped with a criminal (probably armed and now angry).  The emergency brake should be saved for those times when the train is in the station and somebody is in danger, either caught in the door or fallen onto the tracks.

As Neistat clearly illustrates this a is a problem of signage and communication.  What the agencies think of as clear communication just has the average commuter confused.  Money quote from the Gothamist:

According to the Times, straphangers should pull the brake if “someone gets caught between the train’s closing doors, or between subway cars, and is about to be dragged to an unenviable fate.” In other circumstances, pulling the cord could make it harder for help to arrive. That’s what happened on a D train last November when a straphanger fatally stabbed another commuter and frightened passengers pulled the brake. The agency has told Gothamist that when a straphanger pulls the cord, it brings the train to an immediate stop using compressed-air brakes. The train crew must notify a control center, which in turn alerts police. The NYPD then advises the control center on how to respond, and that message is relayed to the train crew. It can take between 5 and 15 minutes for the crew to reset the braking function and get the train moving again.

Commuters pull the emergency brake about 1,000 times per year when there is no clear emergency. In 2009, the agency recorded 15 instances in which straphangers pulled the cord to respond to an emergency, like a sick rider, the paper notes. Some subway riders, like Brooklyn resident Zev David Deans, said the agency should more clearly outline when straphangers should, and shouldn’t, use the emergency brake. “They could put it in big letters — ‘Pull in case of …’ — and then the few reasons why,” he said. “If it just says ‘emergency,’ you’re going to pull it for any reason.” An MTA NYC Transit spokesman said the current instructions are more than sufficient: “We think that it is clear.” (bold mine)

MBTA near miss

Last week’s SEPTA strike was deeply unsettling to me and momentarily made me rethink my approach toward transit workers.  However, even if the SEPTA workers were greedy and stubborn, I still believe we should appreciate those who get us from here to there and back.

In particular, we should all be thanking Charice Lewis who operates an Orange Line train for the MBTA in Boston.  On Friday night Lewis managed to pull her emergency break in time to save the life of a passenger who drunkenly stumbled onto the track (the picture above has a link to more photos and the article linked to has video).

The fact that this train stopped is a minor miracle.  The passenger fell off at the front of the platform such that the train had the least amount of time to stop.  Of course the woman who fell off the platform had been drinking for several hours prior.  She managed to survive with just scraped knees.  While the operator should be heralded, the passengers who took care to wave down the train should also be congratulated.  Though it is not quite as impressive as the man who jumped into the NYC subway in 2007 to save another man’s life.

So, thank your public transportation drivers, they are critical to your movement and routine, and just might save your life.  Oh, and please stand behind the yellow line!

Dubai Metro 1

The great era of subway building in America occurred well before my birth, with construction of lines in Boston, New York and Chicago occurring as early as the end of the 19th century.  America still has an infrastructure boom, but when it relates to public transit most construction involves buses or light rail, as in Houston and Seattle.

However, Dubai, the land of the perpetually intense infrastructure accomplishment, is building a brand spanking new subway system.  The first line on the 318 km system is slated to open in September.  The subway system will consist of a red line and a green line.  Granted, most of the system will be above ground (largely on elevated track), but much of it will be below ground as well.  From the first-person video below, the system looks mighty comfy and has all the tricks we expect from public transit like dual sliding doors and symbolic maps showing stops in multiple languages.

The Metro will be equipped to run as frequently as every 90 seconds.  All the above ground viaducts will not intersect with highways.  With a current population of 1.5 million and a projected population by 2020 of 5.25 million people, the system is expected to handle 1.2 million riders.   Yet the trains are not without a little old-world Arab “charm.”

The driverless, fully automated trains are fully air-conditioned and designed to meet Dubai’s specific requirements. Unusual for metro operation, the trains will offer standard ‘Silver’ class, a women and children only section plus a first class ‘Gold’ section (‘carriage for VIPS’). Five-car sets will be approximately 75m long, seating around 400 passengers but with standing room for many more. Numerous double doors will allow fast and smooth flows.

So all you transit fans, if you plan a trip to Dubai to see some of the world’s newest subways, enjoy a pleasant ride, just don’t expect to do so in an equal-opportunity kind of way.

As airlines seek to combat growing fuel prices by charging passengers for everything from sodas to luggage, Boeing (in what is slightly old news) tested the first hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft in April. Given how much fuel the industry uses, this could be a significant development. Even if commercial airplanes cannot operate on fuel cells alone, the fuel cells could perform important auxiliary functions or help with smaller planes. For those of you like me who barely understand internal combustion, here is the Dept. of Energy’s explanation of fuel cells. (more…)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.