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Good God Can We Finally Replace The Lousy Emergency Brake With This

Illustration for article titled Good God Can We Finally Replace The Lousy Emergency Brake With This
Photo: Michael Ballaban/Jalopnik

There is are extremely few circumstances when you should pull the emergency brake on a train. Like, almost zero. We should get rid of it entirely, and replace it with this thing. An emergency handle just to let the train driver know something’s up.


The emergency brake is a plague upon the subway system of my fair city of New York. People seem to pull it all willy-nilly for all sorts of reasons, justified or not. Someone mean-mugged you from across the way? Pull the brake. A nice old lady puked? Pull the brake. You just want to see what would happen, bored on your endless commute, and want to cause maximum emotional pain to others? Pull the brake.

But in fact, you should NOT pull the brake. There’s rarely any time you should. That then leads to the natural question of why the hell they even have it on the train, to the point that the New York Times answered it back in 2010:

But despite its name — clearly labeled in bold print — the emergency cord carries a counterintuitive caveat: In most emergencies, it is not meant to be used.

Every subway car in the city is equipped with a placard titled “Emergency Instructions.” The first instruction: “Do not pull the emergency cord.”

So what emergency, exactly, does this emergency brake refer to? The explanation, transit officials say, is simple. If someone gets caught between the train’s closing doors, or between subway cars, and is about to be dragged to an unenviable fate, pull the cord. The train will stop, possibly saving a life.


So if the train is already stopped, and you don’t want the train to move at all, that’s when you’re supposed to pull it.

But it’s such a poor piece of design that, as the Times reported, people pull it when the train is moving. Sometimes for emergencies, sometimes not, but especially in one instance where it shouldn’t have been pulled at all:

This confusion played out on a more dramatic scale in November, when a man was stabbed to death on a D train traveling through Midtown on an early Saturday morning.

As frightened riders scrambled away from the killer, a passenger, Vincent Martinez, pulled the emergency cord, stopping the train between stations.


Panic set in after the brake was pulled, and the train stopped in the dark tunnel, said Paola Nuñez Solorio, 30, a photography student who was in the train car where the stabbing occurred and took photos of the aftermath.

“You felt trapped there with the killer,” she said in an interview.

In any situation where you may become confined in a small metal box with a murderer holding a knife, you may want an option other than to make that small metal box more stationary. Especially because, after the brake cord is pulled, it may take as much as 15 minutes to get the train going again. That’s an excruciating amount of time, especially if the train is caught between stations. Or if there’s a stabber on the loose.

Instead, what we should have is this, which I saw on the London Underground a little while back:

Illustration for article titled Good God Can We Finally Replace The Lousy Emergency Brake With This

That, right there, is genius. It was also accompanied by this little explainer of what you should do, should you feel an emergency oncoming inside yourself:

Illustration for article titled Good God Can We Finally Replace The Lousy Emergency Brake With This
Photo: Michael Ballaban/Jalopnik

Three times (yes, three times) in the past year I’ve been a witness to some sort of medical emergency on the New York City subway. In the first two instances, we shortly arrived at a station, at which point I ran out of the train car and down to the train car where the conductor was sitting so that they could alert emergency personnel. In the third instance, someone passed out on the train, landed on the floor with a loud THUD, and because we were stuck on the Manhattan Bridge due to the continuously bullshit excuse of “train traffic ahead,” we all had to just sort of stand there, in the subway car, with some dude’s body just chilling there, offering this poor unconscious man some water. He came to eventually, and seemed fine, if a bit dizzy.

But if only there had been some way to alert the driver of the train to get a move on. If only there had been a handle we could’ve pulled to alert the driver that there was an emergency, and we needed to be in the next station RIGHT NOW.


Throw the lousy emergency brake into the trash. Get us the emergency HURRY THE FUCK UP handle instead.

Deputy Editor, Jalopnik. 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross.

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So, something I’ve always wondered, why do these trains have drivers? We live in the 21st century.

Our system in Vancouver is the world’s longest and oldest fully automated system and works just as well.

I get New York’s system is more complex, but automation should still be easy to acheive.

I honestly want to know the answer, even though I suspect it is “unions”