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Updated Friday, December 7, 2012 at 06:01 AM

New Yorkers wrestle with survival on subway tracks

By VERENA DOBNIK
Associated Press

The horrific case of a man pushed to his death on the subway tracks has set New Yorkers abuzz about what they would do - and how they would save themselves - if caught in the same situation.

Safety experts say lying down in the trough between the tracks may work in some stations. If you're not obese, there might be a space between the train and the platform at some stops. And if all else fails, they seriously suggest trying to outrun the stopping train.

Those were only some of the ideas tossed around in the days after 58-year-old New Yorker Ki-Suck Han was shoved in front of an oncoming train Monday and killed as other riders watched. A homeless man is charged with second-degree murder in the case.

Han's death got nationwide attention not only for its grotesque nature, but also because nobody - including a photographer taking pictures of the drama - came to his rescue.

That's why safety experts say it's important for subway riders to be aware of ways to save themselves. While being pushed onto the tracks is rare, commuters are hit by trains a frightening number of times - 147 in 2011, according to Metropolitan Transportation Authority figures. Fifty of those people died, though most of those were suicides.

Social media lit up with the topic in the days after Han's death. A string of Facebook comments suggested that figuring out how to deal with an oncoming train is the urban equivalent of hikers in Alaska planning for how to deal with an enraged grizzly.

Officially, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority says riders in danger on the tracks should seek help from an MTA employee, which may not be the most practical advice with a train bearing down.

When asked for quicker, more helpful action, the agency said it doesn't have a blanket policy because not all the trains and stations are built exactly alike.

Jim Gannon, spokesman for the Transit Workers Union, whose members scour every foot of the system daily, said that on average, people fall on the tracks and survive "a couple of times a week."

The first option, he said, if possible is to clamber back onto the subway platform or find a do-gooder willing and strong enough to lift a person about 4 feet up without falling in themselves.

If no one can pull you up, Gannon said, lying down in the space between the tracks - the trough - is another option that's been used successfully several times because "there is a good deal of clearance." But as the MTA warns, not all stations and trains are built alike and the depth of troughs, and the amount of trash in them, varies.

Looking to the side of the tracks is another option. Many station platforms have a lip, or a concave overhang, that's just deep enough to accommodate all but the largest of people.

Gannon also suggests stepping between the girders that separate tracks, if the station is built that way. But that involves stepping over the dreaded third rail - which carries more than 600 volts of electricity - more than enough to kill a person.

The next option, and the most James Bond-like, is to try to run in front of the train, which travels an average of 25 mph but is slowing down as it enters the station.

Depending on where you fall on the tracks and how far away the train is, you may be able to beat the train to the end of the station stop, where there is usually a ladder that allows you to climb back up to the platform.

"You would need nerves of steel to do that," said Julius Zomper, a New York paramedic whose ambulance has responded to Manhattan subway accidents. "And you'd have to be a quick thinker and run fast."

Still, just about any risk is worth taking, Gannon said, because "if you get hit by a train, your chances of survival are not good."

The suspect in Han's death, Naeem Davis, told reporters Wednesday night that the victim attacked him first. Han's funeral was held Thursday.


WILLIAM C. LOPEZ / AP
Naeem Davis, right, stands in front of Judge Lynn Kotler during his arraignment on murder charges Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, in New York.




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