The Nightmare of a 12-9 Underground

“Imagine spending the whole day on that train,” a motorman named William Martinez once said in a Bronx diner near the end of the D line, his route for several years. “It’s an exercise in staying awake. I was telling somebody it’s like watching the same movie 1,000 times, but having to watch for that one detail in it that’s different every time.” The NY Times today profiled a motorman and the nightmare of passengers falling beneath the train’s wheels–a 12-9.

For Mr. Martinez, it had come in Harlem in November 2002, when a woman standing with her husband on the platform at the 125th Street/St. Nicholas Avenue station abruptly started running toward the edge, then jumped. When he saw her legs flip up into the air before she disappeared under the train, he feared the worst, but somehow she survived. Back at the control center, someone congratulated him: The delay in service was only 17 minutes.

“Among subway workers, among train operators and conductors, people that work on the tracks, the one incident during everybody’s career that is life-altering is a 12-9,” said Jimmy Willis, a former conductor and Transport Workers Union official. “After someone has a 12-9, those thoughts begin to crowd their awareness. There are people who are involved with a 12-9 who never get back on a train.

“You go to Great Adventure and you’re standing on line for a roller coaster, and you can’t get near the tracks because there’s a barrier,” said Dr. Matthew Clarke. “You go down into the subway station, and all that’s between you and the tracks is a yellow line. And subconsciously, we all realize how vulnerable we are. That yellow line is all that’s there.”