The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Track Trespassing Task Force has issued a report that details a host of actions the MTA and its partners are taking to address track trespassing and provided new data on the incidence and cause of track intrusion.
In December 2021, MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber directed the formation of the Track Trespassing Task Force to address the issue for the subway and commuter railroads, with MTA Construction & Development President Jamie Torres-Springer leading the implementation. Chair Lieber took this step in response to a 20% increase in track intrusions between 2019 and 2021.
The report found the rate of track intrusions in the subway system declined in April, following a spike in the winter of 2021-22 with a January 2022 peak of 160 intrusions, the highest single-month total over the last three years. April saw 100 intrusions, a figure more in line with previous historic norms but still an unacceptable number of incidents that impact service and cause injuries and fatalities. The report also details specific reasons for intrusions in 2022, made possible due to the improved data collection methods put in place by the task force.
A majority of the 537 total intrusions through the first four months of the year involve someone voluntarily entering onto the tracks and people experiencing mental illness accounted for approximately 20% of intrusions.
“Track intrusion is illegal and incredibly dangerous,” said MTA Chair and CEO Janno Lieber. “This report demonstrates that most instances of track intrusion are done voluntarily by individuals who are not only putting their lives and the lives of transit workers in danger, but also disrupting travel for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers. The MTA cannot tolerate the status quo and intends to test all available options to prevent these incidents.”
“The Track Trespassing Task Force is continuing its work to identify and implement solutions to bring down the number of track intrusions and related injuries and fatalities,” said Jamie Torres-Springer, President of MTA Construction & Development and Head of the Track Trespassing Task Force. “This includes high-tech capital projects like Track Intrusion Detection Systems and front-facing cameras on trains, as well as a data-driven partnership with the MTA’s mental health outreach and law enforcement partners, among other efforts. The result will be fewer track intrusions and better responsiveness to those that do occur.”
At a February meeting of the MTA Board, the task force recommended a series of customer communication, operations, and capital investment initiatives to enhance customer safety and prevent service disruptions. These recommendations are moving forward, including through capital project funding.
The MTA continues to expand its messaging by leveraging the thousands of digital signs throughout the system to educate passengers about the dangers of getting on the tracks.
Of the 105 collisions this year, 27 were suicides or suicide attempts, representing a 50% increase compared to the first four months of 2021. Suicides or suicide attempts accounted for just 4% of overall track intrusions from 2019 to 2021, yet they accounted for 25% of collisions and 35% of fatalities. In 2021 specifically, 47 of the 200 collisions were suicides or suicide attempts, and 23 of the 68 fatalities were suicides.
To reverse this trend, the task force drew upon resources from several suicide prevention organizations and associated experts, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, SAVE.org, and the New York University and Columbia University Departments of Psychiatry. The MTA is partnering with the New York University’s Department of Psychiatry to develop and deploy more effective suicide prevention messaging campaigns and other ways of preventing self-harm in the transit system, including through an information campaign about the new National Suicide Prevention Hotline 988 number.
Blue Lighting Pilot at Stations
The MTA will pilot the use of blue lighting at stations to complement the aggressive messaging measures being undertaken to curb suicide attempts.
The Task Force reviewed published research on the utility of blue lighting as a suicide prevention tool. Studies have suggested that blue lighting provides a “nudge effect” that is calming and can reduce the incidence of individuals committing suicide by jumping or otherwise trespassing on tracks. Nudge techniques are a category of subtle methods for influencing behavior that can have surprisingly large impacts.
The Long Island Rail Road already has blue lighting at 16% of its stations from a 2019 initiative and is in the process of installing blue lighting at an additional seven stations. The MTA will pilot the effectiveness of blue lighting at subway and Metro-North stations to study the impact it has on suicides or suicide attempts.
Subway Safety Plan
In collaboration with the City of New York and the NYPD, the Subway Safety Plan was launched earlier this year. The plan detailed ways to address the safety concerns surrounding the homeless population within the transit system, while also compassionately supporting individuals experiencing homelessness. The Task Force shared a list of high-priority stations with the NYPD to increase the uniformed presence at those stations.
Since the Subway Safety Plan was launched, more than 1,000 additional officers have been deployed across the MTA system. Every officer deployed has a clear mandate to enforce the MTA’s “Rules for the Ride.”
In addition to the increased police presence on platforms, the City, as well as the State, will work to address the mental health crisis. The City will deploy up to 30 interagency collaborative mental health teams. These teams will work to canvas platforms, stairwells, mezzanines, and entrances and connect New Yorkers in need with services.
Additionally, specialized “End-of-the-Line” teams will be deployed to stations at the ends of subway lines, which are among the most effective places to conduct homelessness outreach, as they provide an opportunity to interact with people who are riding back and forth repeatedly on the subway.
Safe Options Support
Governor Hochul has taken steps on a statewide level to address homelessness within the MTA system. Governor Hochul announced the “Safe Options Support” (SOS) initiative in January. The initiative will deploy teams to high-priority locations throughout the state to engage with homeless individuals and provide specialized mental health services. 12 of these teams, totaling 150 staff, will be deployed to New York City.
Track Intrusion Detection Systems
The MTA will move forward with implementation of Track Intrusion Detection Systems, following promising responses to the Request for Information (RFI) issued by the Task Force earlier this year.
The RFI resulted in 28 responses from manufacturers and vendors, including cutting-edge proposed solutions like machine learning tools that could be trained to distinguish between different types of track intrusion incidents, and thermal detection tools.
MTA Construction & Development is currently developing a project based on this information and will initiate the procurement process later this year.
Proof-of-Concept Testing in Collaboration with the Partnership for New York City
The Task Force is collaborating with the Transit Innovation Partnership, a project of the Partnership for New York City, to advance innovative technology solutions to address track intrusions. Through the 2021 Transit Tech Lab recovery challenge, the MTA developed a new project for placing front-facing, super high-definition cameras and infrared sensors on trains that can detect intrusions and stop or slow trains in response, currently in Proof-of-Concept Testing.
Building on that success, this year’s Transit Tech Lab Recovery Challenge included a call for yet more innovative approaches from the start-up community to address track trespassing and other safety issues. Its winners will begin their Proof-of-Concept testing in May 2022.
The MTA will further expand its extensive network of closed-circuit television (CCTV) security cameras, adding to the more than 10,000 cameras across all 472 subway stations. The current capital plan includes $250 million dedicated to additional camera installation and $120 million for fiberoptic network upgrades.
Video analytics technology can help enhance the camera installations by using artificial intelligence to monitor live footage and send out alerts when dangerous behaviors that could lead to track intrusions are detected. The MTA is currently conducting a Proof-of-Concept test of video analytics technology using its CCTV footage and determining the best locations for future camera deployments.
Platform Screen Door Pilot
The MTA is moving forward with a pilot program, subject to detailed construction feasibility review currently underway at the pilot stations, with procurement beginning this year and project completion possible as soon as 2025.
Drawing on the 4,000-page feasibility study on Platform Screen Doors commissioned by the MTA between 2017 and 2019, the Task Force recommended piloting the technology in the subway.
The feasibility study found that just 41 of the 472 subway stations could immediately accommodate platform screen doors, with 128 ultimately feasible once all train car doors are aligned. Still, while there are currently no examples of operational platform screen doors in large public metro systems in the United States, they have been effective at preventing track intrusions in newer systems around the world.
The MTA will review the results of the pilot to determine whether this intervention merits implementation in additional stations.
Laser Intrusion Technology Expansion
Laser Intrusion Detection Systems (LIDS) are already in use throughout the subway system, with 113 fully operational LIDS installed at eleven stations. LIDS help issue an alert to security teams when an unauthorized individual enters the tunnel area. Another 68 LIDS devices at 8 stations have been installed and will soon be brought online.
The Task Force recommended further expanding the implementation of LIDS at the ends of MTA station platforms and emergency entries and exits from tunnels. Specifically, the task force recommended that approximately 90 additional LIDS devices be installed at additional subway stations it has identified as high priority in order to limit track intrusions and enhance systemwide security.
MTA Construction & Development is currently developing a project to install additional LIDS and will initiate the procurement process later this year.