NYC Subway Conductor Reveals The Gruesome Side Of Working Underground

mta hudson yards subway construction

Photo: MTA

More than 1.6 billion people use New York City’s subway system every year, travelling over 660 miles of tracks.Still, most of us know very little about the hundreds of blue-shirted men and women responsible for getting us to and from our destinations safely and efficiently every day.

So what’s it like to work the rails of one the largest underground transit systems in the world?

We came across this revealing thread on Reddit created in 2011 by a first-year MTA subway conductor that answers some of our most burning questions about NYC’s underground railway and the people who operate them.

Please take these statements with a grain of salt: An MTA spokesman told us that parts of this account were grossly inaccurate, though he would not confirm or deny specific statements.

NOTE: Reddit uses anonymous sources, which we can’t confirm. But the conductor did post this snapshot of his uniform as verification.

Often times it actually IS a sick passenger though -- sick usually refers to some kind of bodily injury, rather than someone puking or passing out, and the delays are mainly from the MTA doing an investigation to cover their butts when that customer eventually files a lawsuit.

Source: Reddit

Suicides by train happen about twice a week

It happened 136 times in 2010 (statistic includes accidental deaths). So about twice a week. It hasn't happened on one of my trains yet, but I did witness it happen on a train right across from mine.

Source: Reddit

Subway conductors worry about being attacked by angry customers

Whenever I think something is about to happen, I close and lock my window. Not so much because of random crazy people, but pissed off customers who think I deliberately closed the train doors on them personally. So far I've been very lucky with the passengers who actually make it onto my train -- I've had two people removed by police so far.

Source: Reddit

Conductors sometimes forget which station is coming up next

Yes, it's very easy to forget which station is coming up next. I sometimes have to cheat and look at the wall signs while coming into the station, especially if it's after an express run. Train operators (the person up front) can zone out even easier, since they never get to see the station activity.

Source: Reddit

Conductors that operate numbered lines cannot operate lettered lines (and visa versa)

I work in the IRT, which is the numbered lines (1,2,3,4,5,6,7). I've worked each of these lines multiple times. The BMT/IND (lettered lines) has a completely separate crewbase, since they use different equipment, so I never touch any of those lines.

(Another commenter added some useful information on the difference between numbered and lettered lines):

The system maintains two separate fleets of cars, one for the IRT lines and another for the BMT/IND lines. All BMT/IND equipment is about 10 feet (3.0 m) wide and either 60 feet 6 inches (18.44 m) or 75 feet (23 m) long whereas IRT equipment is approximately 8 feet 9 inches (2.67 m) wide and 51 feet 4 inches (15.65 m) long.

Source: Reddit

Service will be disrupted for about a half hour, usually. I've seen it mess up things for as long as 3 hours though.

Source: Reddit

Conductors risk their lives in training

One of the first things you do in conductor training is stand in one of those little clearance holes in the wall and let a train pass, and it's what really separates the men (and women) from the boys.

Source: Reddit

A few conductors make more than $100,000/year

Some parts of the 123 remake were incredibly accurate (the rail control centre was an almost perfect replica of the real life one!), while others were laughingly bad - train operators do NOT operate from the left side of the train....I can't believe they actually went out of their way to move the console to the other side.

Source: Reddit

If you fall onto the subway tracks, the worst thing to do is try and climb back up

The best thing you can do is run as far down the platform as you can (in the opposite direction from where the train enters the station) and wave your arms frantically to get the train operator and passenger's attention. Believe me, the passengers WILL be doing the exact same thing, as nobody wants to see you get run over and their train get delayed.

If you can get to the far end of the platform, it gives the train more room to stop, and there is a ladder at the end of each platform where you can climb back up -- do NOT try to climb up from where you are. So many people have been killed trying to jump back up rather than getting away from the entrance end of the station.

Do NOT trust the pits between the tracks -- they are often right next to the third rail which can be just as dangerous (and note that the wooden planks are not designed to hold a human's weight -- they are there to protect the energized rail from drips and weather) and the train operator is less likely to see you if you're in there. And don't duck under the train, because most stations do not have enough clearance for the average human. And do NOT jump down onto the tracks to try to save someone else.

Source: Reddit

Train operators have to be prepared for naked people and knife-wielding lunatics

I met the train operator who got attacked by a knife-wielding maniac who actually jumped through the cab window from the platform and tried to get the train moving so that he could run away from his imaginary enemies. That occurrence takes the cake from most co-workers I've asked.

There was also the train operator who saw a guy and a girl, both completely naked, both pointing a gun at his train from the platform. He floored it, 'forget it, the customers can stand to miss one little station at 3am.'

Source: Reddit

Subway conductors get their birthdays off

A summary of the MTA's benefit package:

Pension (25/55), 401K, Health-Vision-Dental-Prescription insurance, and almost foolproof job protection once you have at least 1 year in your title. Plus lots of job growth opportunities for those who want it (you can come in as a conductor, but go into an electrician apprenticeship, at full pay, for example). Longevity payments once you're here for 15 years, 2x holiday pay, up to 5 weeks of paid vacation a year, sick days, and your birthday off.

Source: Reddit

Older trains can hit 65 mph underground

The older trains can do 65, the newer trains 55. The fastest I've ever seen one of my trains do was 53 mph, in the 4 train tunnel under the East River.

Between stations they usually run 20-30 mph. On good express runs (72 to 42 St on the 2/3 is one of the better ones), they can get above 40.

Source: Reddit

Some emergency exits have been converted into dens by underground dwellers

Source: Reddit

Now learn the hidden meanings behind other clandestine industry terms.

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