A Subway Saboteur Is Pulling Brakes Across the System, Causing Big Delays

Posted Thursday, 23 May 2019 ‐ The New York Times

Subway workers began raising alarms in recent months: Emergency brakes on New York City subway trains were being deliberately pulled, acts of apparent sabotage that were setting off major delays on the sprawling system.
There were clues. A man spotted surfing on the back of a train. The door to a rear cabin on another train was breached and the brake pulled. Another time, the safety chains on the back of a train were unhitched.
Then, this week, after reports of cascading rush-hour delays on the 2 and 3 lines that had all the same earmarks, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority declared that a serial scofflaw was loose on the subway.
Officials say hundreds of trains appear to have been delayed since January, possibly by a single man who has pulled emergency brakes on dozens of trains, snarling the system. The result? Havoc for thousands of commuters.
The brake bandit’s spree comes just as the subway — which has been hobbled by constant delays, breakdowns and aging equipment — has begun to shown signs of getting better. But the sabotage highlights how, despite a major push to fix the system, the subway remains vulnerable to disruption, even from just one person pulling a brake.
The transit authority and the New York City Police Department have now turned to the public for help to stop the subway brake bandit whom they believe has been purposely taking aim at rush hour commutes.
On Thursday, they released video of a young man surfing on the back of a northbound 2 train on Tuesday night, in the area of West 14th Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, who they said had been riding on the back of a train and had pulled the emergency brake.
“It’s stupid. It’s dangerous. It’s selfish. And it’s got to stop,” Andy Byford, the subway leader, told reporters on Wednesday.
Transit officials said they had been reluctant to talk about the pattern, fearing copycats. But after extensive delays during the afternoon rush on Tuesday, they decided to disclose what they knew.
A push by Mr. Byford to improve the system has shown results. The on-time rate for trains jumped to nearly 80 percent last month — up from about 68 percent a year earlier.
The brake puller joins a notorious list in New York of people who have deliberately interfered with train operations, either because of an obsessive interest in trains or simple malevolence.
Perhaps the best known is Darius McCollum, known as the “train bandit,” who has been arrested 32 times for impersonating transit employees, stealing trains and buses and driving their routes. He has a passion for trains and his exploits were turned into a documentary, “Off The Rails.”
Now anytime a train’s emergency brakes are activated — something that happens frequently on the subway for legitimate reasons — riders may wonder: Has the subway brake bandit struck again?
Transit officials said that they were analyzing dozens of incidents since the start of the year that involve factors like brake activations or “surfer” sightings to try and determine the actual scope of the brake-pulling spree. They are also reviewing security footage and sharing it with the police.
Each time, it was the same method, officials said. A man surfs on the back of the train, then likely uses a key to gain access to the rear operating cabin. He goes inside, pulls the emergency brake and then escapes onto the track and disappears into the darkness.
The result, Mr. Byford said, is a “double whammy.” The suspect not only stops the train whose brakes are pulled, but when he flees onto the tracks workers have to cut the power to look for him so even more trains are delayed.
At a transit authority board meeting on Wednesday, Mr. Byford called the culprit — or culprits — “morons.”
Mr. Byford also said he wanted harsher penalties for those committing these kinds of crimes. For now, a likely charge would be reckless endangerment.
“I’d like to ban them from the subway,” he said.
Generally, the subway brake bandit has focused on the 2 and 5 lines, authorities said.
According to internal transit authority incident reports obtained by Jalopnik, a news website, train supervisors have spotted the man at least once jumping off the back of the trains, but they have been unable to catch him. He was reported to have pulled the emergency brake on three different trains during a 36-minute span on Tuesday. He also made, the report said, an “obscene gesture” to a train conductor who spotted him.
On the downtown 4, 5, 6 platform at Grand Central Station, subway riders chimed in on the man pulling the emergency brakes.
Given the chance, Joe Allen, 36, a delivery messenger who lives in Queens, said he would tell the brake bandit that he was “inconsiderate,” adding an expletive for emphasis.
He contemplated how he might have to tell his boss he was late because of the scofflaw.
“The Subway Brake Bandit struck again,” he said.
Nate Schweber contributed reporting.

Tag: #MetropolitanTransportationAuthority #NewYorkCity #Subways #TransitSystems

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