Emergency Brake

I did something I’d never done before today — pulled the emergency brake on a subway train.

The first thing I noticed was a loud disturbance at the other end of the southbound A train carriage at a station, and a whole pile of people running off the train in a panic.

I turned out there was a loud and increasingly violent-looking domestic dispute taking place at the other end of the carriage from me, where a guy was shouting at his evidently-estranged ex-wife/ex-girlfriend in front of their child in a pushchair, while another guy — who’s role was unclear, possibly the woman’s new boyfriend, or possibly just a concerned bystander — stood around trying (unsuccessfully) to calm things down.

I watched the dispute get increasingly heated until the estranged father punched the woman in the face, at which point I jumped up and pulled the emergency brake cord, narrowly beating another guy to it.

The train braked hard and came to a stop in a tunnel, and the main lights (which had only been half-working beforehand) went out completely, leaving just the emergency lights on. But it seemed to have the desired effect — the estranged father came up to our end of the carriage, very emotionally distressed, pacing up and down and muttering and cursing at the woman over not being allowed to see his son since April.

Then he went down to the other end of the carriage, and they started talking more quietly, until eventually the mother let him sit with his son for a while.

And the train sat dark and motionless in the tunnel. And then sat in the tunnel dark and motionless some more.

After half an hour, the guard came lumbering into the carriage and walked to the far end of the carriage before returning, at which point I told him that I’d pulled the cord because there was a violent domestic dispute going on. He relayed this to his controller via radio, reset the emergency brake, and went back to his guard car, and the train eventually moved off again.

What shocked me was how long it took for anyone to come. Maybe pulling the emergency brake wasn’t the right thing to do under the circumstances, but I wasn’t going to get physically involved in a domestic dispute (I’ve learnt from experience that this is pretty much always a bad idea), and doing nothing wasn’t an option either. But for a city supposedly on an “elevated” state of alert, it seems scandalous that it took 30 minutes for anyone to come.

One thought on “Emergency Brake

  1. Anonymous

    Yeah. Pulling the emergency break’s verbotten unless someone’s fallen from your carriage and you don’t want them run over. After such a pull, all you get is the motorman meandering around at no particular pace looking for the cause of the break (they’re thinking technical difficulty, not Bush-Heightened-State-of-Emergency-and-Someone’s-Punching-His-Girlfriend’s-Lights-Out) For disputes like the one you witnessed, or instances of actual terrorism, they want you to wander yourself and find the motorman or conductor and have them radio ahead to the proper authority who can meet the train when it pulls into the next station. But, in any case, though your plan may have held up 675 busy New Yorkers, it did seem to do the trick to stop this guy from pounding on his G.F. – at least for now. Cheers! Elizabeth NYC

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