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Transit workers want answers after fatal fall as MTA upgrades subway safety

Fiberglass railings are being installed after St. Clair Richards-Stephens' death.

After MTA worker St. Clair Richards-Stephens died when

After MTA worker St. Clair Richards-Stephens died when he fell inside a Harlem subway tunnel Tuesday, the transit group Progressive Action held vigil and spoke out about safety concerns. Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz-Gordon

The MTA has begun taking steps to prevent the tragic death of track worker St. Clair Richards-Stephens from happening again, agency brass said Wednesday, hours before transit workers gathered to memorialize his life and seek answers.

A protective wooden railing snapped early Tuesday morning, leading to Richards-Stephens’ fatal fall from the upper-level tracks of the 6 line to the lower-level express track for 4 and 5 trains at the 125th Street station.

NYC Transit president Andy Byford said crews worked overnight to replace the damaged railing with a fiberglass equivalent. Fiberglass railings were also installed along “a number of other locations” on the same lines, and the MTA is currently surveying other areas to make the same changes, Byford added.

“The location in question had wooden railings. There were two railings: One about waist-high and one a bit lower that were protecting this drop from the higher to the lower level, or were ostensibly there to do that,” Byford said. “For whatever reason yet to be established, the rail did not manage to restrain our member of staff when it appears that he leaned on that (the railing).”

Later Wednesday afternoon, dozens of current and retired transit workers marched from the 125th Street 4/5/6 mezzanine in Harlem to the downtown platform, where they lit a candle, prayed and sung to honor Richards-Stephens.

Tramell Thompson, a conductor who works mostly on the Q train, criticized the Transport Workers Union leadership for what he sees as insufficient focus on worker safety and too much coziness with the governor.

“The MTA is responsible for his death. Cuomo is responsible for his death,” Thompson said after crouching to light a memorial candle.

“SAFETY OVER PROFITS” read one sign held at the vigil. “R.I.P. OUR BROTHER” read another.

TWU Local 100 President Tony Utano met with the Richards-Stephens’ family Wednesday to provide consolation and offer the support of the union.

“These guys are playing politics with this young man’s tragic death,” Utano said. “It’s just horrible and disgraceful. This isn’t a time for politics. It’s time to help plan a funeral and make sure the family is taken care of.”

When he fell, Richards-Stephens was in the process of what’s known among workers as “clearing up,” or the act of moving off the tracks and out of the right of way of an oncoming train, a union source said.

An investigation into the incident is still ongoing, said MTA chairman Joseph Lhota, who held a moment of silence for Richards-Stephens at the beginning of Wednesday’s board meeting.

“I can’t overemphasize enough the amount of work and the amount of strenuous work that all of our transit workers do day in and day out,” Lhota said. “And, as Tony Utano, the president of the union said, while we sleep at night thousands of transit workers are down in the system making sure it’s prepared and getting it to a better and better state of reliability.”

Byford met Tuesday with the family of Richards-Stephens, 23, who began working for the authority about six months ago. The Transit president said he arranged for a staffer to organize Richards-Stephens’ benefits for his family, to streamline the process during the difficult time. He also gave the family a direct line to reach his office.

“The one thing I do not want is that family, you know, encountering NYCT bureaucracy,” Byford said.

Ronald Limage, 39, of the Bronx, brought his wife and kids and a bouquet to the vigil, even though he didn’t know Richards-Stephens.

“This type of thing could happen to any one of us,” said Limage, an afternoon conductor on the 1, 2 and 5 lines. “I see a lot of people on the tracks all the time. I say ‘what’s up’ to them. They’re like family.”

Eric Josephson, 66, a retired track worker and inspector who left the job in 2013 after nearly 30 years with the MTA, said: “It’s a shame and a crime the way that this newly hired brother was pretty much sacrificed to keep the trains running.”

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