How Often Does The NYC Subway Derail?

On Friday morning, a New York subway train derailed in a Queens tunnel, causing four serious injuries and 15 more minor scrapes and bruises. Six of the eight cars in the express F train derailed on its way to Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the cause of the accident is not yet clear. Passengers told ABC News that it was a "scary" experience, and that the "sounds and position of the car" made it apparent that the train had derailed.

Authorities are still investigating how the train managed to derail, especially considering that the tracks are no more than 20 to 30 years old, and that there was no switch in the vicinity of the derailment that might have caused the train to veer off its tracks. There were around 1,000 passengers on the train, and the evacuation process took just over an hour to complete.

While this accident ended without mass tragedy, it certainly serves as a source of apprehension for the New York subway system, which is one of the busiest in the world. Approximately 5.5 million people ride the subway every week, and incidents like these are certainly a cause for concern in one of the largest and most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world.

According to MTA Commissioner Thomas Prendergast, the MTA system is quite safe, with the last minor derailment occurring almost exactly a year ago on May 29, 2013. In that case, there were no reported injuries, and the cause of the accident was unclear. However, in August 1991, the New York subway system suffered a major accident in which a drunken motorman caused a train to derail at Union Square, killing five and injuring more than 200 passengers.

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Since then, however, New York subways have suffered few notable accidents, and in September 2013, the MTA created "a Blue Ribbon Panel of six distinguished railroad and transportation experts to examine the circumstances behind recent safety-related incidents at MTA Metro-North Railroad, MTA Long Island Rail Road and MTA New York City Transit." The goal of the panel was to "study the causes behind those incidents, examine the agencies’ maintenance and inspection programs, and ensure they promote a culture of safety within the MTA."

Recently, the most serious accident in New York public transit occurred not in the subway, but rather in a Metro-North train. In December of 2013, four deaths and 63 injuries resulted from a train derailment on its way to Grand Central. In this case, all seven cars came off the tracks, and one rolled down the riverbank, stopping just inches from the water. Metro-North's poor safety record spawned an investigation from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which found that the train "prizes on-time performance at the expense of protecting riders and workers."

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According to the report, "Metro-North has emphasized on-time performance to the detriment of safe operations and adequate maintenance of its infrastructure." These findings came as a blow to a rail system that had previously been heralded as one of the country's best and most dependable.

While Friday morning's accident resulted in blessedly few injuries, it should certainly reinvigorate examinations into the safety protocols of the New York subway system. New York City's population is growing consistently, and has surpassed 8.4 million residents for the first time. This generally means that more people will be riding already cramped subway trains, increasing the possibility of injury should an accident occur.