OPINION: The MTA Should Equip Stations With Railings for Safety

Over the last few weeks, proposals have been floated to improve subway-rider safety by installing walls and operable doors on platforms — a costly measure that would take many years, according to the MTA. But there’s another way to substantially improve safety, for a fraction of the cost of those measures: installing standard, fixed railings at the platform edge in the area between the subway car doors.

Late last week, the MTA released a 3,000-page study from 2020 of potential “platform barrier systems.” The study concluded that such systems were only feasible on about one-third of stations and, even then, the cost would be $7 billion, with another $119 million in annual upkeep. MTA Chairman Janno Lieber stated that MTA would review options again because the agency believes that “there is an urgent problem and we need action today” because of the rising incidence of subway pushings and the tragic murder of Michelle Alyssa Go at the Times Square subway station on Jan. 15.

Lieber is correct that this is an urgent problem; the MTA could take action today — and not in the indefinite future — by adopting the truly feasible, relatively simple solution of standard, fixed railings.

I’ve worked in real-estate development and construction for 20 years, including seven in the public sector. I spoke with contractors I’ve worked with who gave me a cost to furnish and install stainless-steel railings of $350 to $400 per foot. (That cost may strike some as high, but this work is on the platform edge, steel prices have risen recently, and the installation is calculated at “prevailing-wage” rates, which is the cost of union labor on public projects.)

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At that rate, I took four busy stations in Manhattan and the two busiest in each of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx and came up with a total cost of only $13 million to add protection to all 10 stations. Across just the 10 stations, the treatment would protect about 200 million riders annually. (The precise stations to be upgraded should be the subject of discussion among the MTA, elected officials, and community leaders. I chose the 10 stations — Times Square, Grand Central, Union Square, Penn Station, Third Avenue-149th Street, 161st Street-Yankee Stadium, Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center, Jay Street-Metrotech, 74th-Broadway/Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing-Main Street — for illustrative purposes.)

For context, in 2017 the MTA spent $24 million on largely aesthetic upgrades to the Prospect Avenue R train station. Only 1.6 million rides originated at that station in 2018.

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