Hypothetical situation: You’re on the train going to work. There is a loud bang. The train stops in the middle of the tunnel. There are no announcements and there is suddenly smoke in the air. There’s no MTA personnel in sight, because they’ve been incapacitated. How do you escape?
Sadly, how to escape from a subway tunnel is information that few citzens in NYC know or understand. No one outside of MTA personnel and *maybe* first responders know the basics of safety within the tunnels of the subway system. With millions of riders a day, and the average real response time to any emergency 10-15 minutes (see this post for further info) – it’s imperative that anyone commuting via the NYC subway system understands how to survive and escape the tunnels. Subways are a prime terrorism target. Even before 9/11 we had our own wackos to deal with.
Fortunately for us, Avid LTVer SR notes that the Washington DC subway system doesn’t have the same hang ups that the NYC MTA concerning providing its riders all the information they need to escape from a subway tunnel in cases of extreme emergency. This diagram to the left is most helpful – showing how to exit the train and make your way out of the nearest exit. Everything you see in this diagram can also be applied to the NYC subway system.
The most deadly things you’ll find in an NYC subway tunnel is the third rail and moving trains. Never walk on the tracks when it can be avoided – and expect a train to come in any direction on any track at any time. There is generally a ledge on the side of the tunnel that is a clear safe path for walking on. Find one of the many short ladders and climb onto it.
To do this you might have to step over a third rail. The third rail is the large honking one right next to the 2 tracks you’d expect to see. The powered portion of the rail is on the bottom – the top is a safety cover. Step wide over the entire rail.
You will have to find the nearest exit. Often the closest exit to the street is the nearest station. Stations are easy to find, as they are very brightly lit. Emergency exits are generally located halfway between each station (though there are tunnels without ‘EE’s or ‘hatches’ as we call them – hell, there’s an entire flickr group dedicated to being down the hatch).
Emergency Exits are generally found along the bench wall and are marked with yellow paint and a red ‘Emergency Exit’ sign. Take a mental note of any number on the bottom of this sign.
Once you arrive at the exit, follow the signs up the stairs until you come to a set of steps that dead end at an iron plate. You are just below the sidewalk now. In the middle of this place there will be an iron bar going across it. Push hard on the bar and it will swing open.
These exits are very rarely used, so it may be hard to get it to pop open. You may need two people pushing the bar or to squeeze under it with your back to the bar and push up with your legs. Once the hatch is open a little it will swing the rest of the way, as it does contain counterweights which will help it open once set into motion. Exiting the hatch will place you on the sidewalk, usually near an intersection. In an actual emergency involving other passengers it’d be wise to dial 911 to direct responders to this intersection so they can aid anyone having trouble navigating the tunnels/stairs/ladders up to the street.
All exits are alarmed with a silent trigger on the hatch as well as motion sensors which will set off some bells and whistles down at MTA headquarters – don’t rely on that though to get their attention – once you’re on the surface, make that 911 call. If you don’t know / can’t find the street name and number you’re now on, tell the operating the number of the emergency exit you just came out of – as the MTA will know where those are and we can only hope that local first responders also know (and if they don’t, at least they can be directed there by someone at the MTA, one should hope). If all else fails, block traffic, yell, ring doorbells, etc – cause a scene. You never know who’s around that could be very helpful in getting people out. During those first few moments after an incident occurs, chances are very likely you’ll have to rely on your own wits and those of others around you to get out and help others out where you can.
So that’s it for lesson one in tunnel survival. We’ll get more in depth on certain aspects of this later on. For now though it is really imperative for your own safety to understand these basics. Feel free to post questions under the comments, and we’ll address those next time.