Yesterday, 58-year-old New Yorker Ki Suk Han was pushed onto the subway tracks and killed by an oncoming train. Thousands of people who happened to see the New York Post's Tuesday-morning cover were forced to confront Ki Suk Han's plight first-hand — all of us wondering, what should I do if that ever happens to me? There are a lot of schools of thought here, but the one that seems to make the most sense is: run away from the train.
First, you should be aware that the MTA doesn't have an official policy on this, largely because of the many different kinds of train equipment and station design. Slate's explainer runs down some of your options:
Obviously, the optimal choice is to get back onto the platform, often with the help of bystanders. Dramatic subway rescues are somewhat common. In 2009, for example, an off-Broadway actor rescued a stranded man by hoisting him back to safety. (The good Samaritan said his stage role at the time required him to lift and carry other actors.) If you can't boost yourself up in time, look for a space beneath the platform edge. In some stations, particularly in Manhattan, there is enough room between the train and the platform to accommodate a person. If the platform appears flush with the approaching train, you could take shelter in the space between the two sets of train tracks. This is a dangerous choice, though, because you'd have to traverse the third rail, which carries 660 volts of electricity, more than enough to kill a person. A final option is to simply lie flat — there may be enough clearance for the train to pass over you.
Unfortunately, not a single one of those four suggestions can really qualify as universal advice: you don't know if bystanders will help you, or take your photo; you can't tell till you're down there if there's space under the platform lip; you run the risk of frying yourself if you try to get between tracks; and some trains and tracks don't have clearance to lie down. (Worse, you have too many options, and if you fall down disoriented and spend your time trying to figure out which escape plan is for you, it end up with you getting flattened or fried by the third rail.)
The best thing you can do is run as far down the platform as you can (in the opposite direction from where the train enters the station) and wave your arms frantically to get the train operator and passenger's attention. Believe me, the passengers WILL be doing the exact same thing, as nobody wants to see you get run over and their train get delayed. If you can get to the far end of the platform, it gives the train more room to stop, and there is a ladder at the end of each platform where you can climb back up — do NOT try to climb up from where you are. So many people have been killed trying to jump back up rather than getting away from the entrance end of the station.
Do NOT trust the pits between the tracks —- they are often right next to the third rail which can be just as dangerous (and note that the wooden planks are not designed to hold a human's weight - they are there to protect the energized rail from drips and weather) and the train operator is less likely to see you if you're in there. And don't duck under the train, because most stations do not have enough clearance for the average human. And do NOT jump down onto the tracks to try to save someone else. The best thing you can do is run on the platform towards the tunnel where the train enters so you can get the operator's attention sooner. Waving your arms over the tracks will tell the operator to stop immediately.
Since every station has a ladder (and often stairs) at the end of the platform, you know you'll be able to get up on that end without anyone's help. And consider this: the train's engineer will almost always see you on the tracks — and see bystanders waving frantically to stop the train — and will put on the emergency brake. The farther away you can get from the train, the more time you give it to slow down, and the better chance you have of getting away.
It's not exactly good advice. But this is not a situation where there's a lot of good advice.