Bodies of subway fatality victims can be left in MTA break rooms for hours, transit workers union says

The bodies of people who are struck and killed by subway trains can be temporarily kept in MTA worker break rooms for hours before being properly removed, according to the union representing MTA employees.

The practice raises sanitary and mental health concerns, according to the union, Transport Workers Union Local 100. The TWU is calling on the mayor’s office to improve the response times of the city medical examiner’s office, which must arrive at the subway station to remove the bodies.

“Mayor de Blasio and his administration have failed to provide enough staffing for the Medical Examiner’s Office to quickly retrieve and remove bodies from the subway after these tragedies,” the union said in an issued statement. “It’s unacceptable that transit workers have to endure this on the job.”

While the MTA is a state agency, the handling of a death on the tracks is primarily the responsibility of the NYPD and the city medical examiner’s office, according to MTA spokesman Shams Tarek.

The MTA first cuts power to the track to provide safe access for emergency responders; police arrive nearly “instantly” and a crime scene may be set up, Tarek said.

When there’s been a fatality, police call the medical examiner’s office to tag and remove the body. In the meantime, the body is moved to a “non-public space” and train service is restored, according to Tarek. That space could be near the rail right of way, but, because of a lack of options, it could also be MTA worker break or utility rooms, Tarek and the union said.

“It’s of the utmost importance that anyone who dies in the subway is removed from tracks and public spaces like platforms as quickly as possible, to restore service quickly and to give humane treatment to the deceased and their family,” Tarek said in a statement. “We’re discussing with TWU officials how any of the current practices can be enhanced for the comfort of our workers.”

The union’s issue is that it takes “two hours or more” for the medical examiner’s office to arrive at a station and remove the body, according to the TWU.

Average medical examiner wait times for all emergencies have dropped from 2.4 hours in fiscal year 2016 to 1.9 hours in fiscal year 2017, according to a mayoral spokesperson. The de Blasio administration attributes the decline to added staff and expects the wait times to continue to decrease. Since 2014, the mayor has added $11 million to boost staffing at the medical examiner’s office, adding 127 jobs to bring a staff total to 650 people, the city hall spokesperson said.

That funding “has allowed for examiners to arrive at emergency scenes faster than ever before,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “The medical examiner and NYPD are committed to reducing our response times even further to ensure both the humane treatment of the deceased and the health of subway workers and straphangers.”

In 2015, 50 people were killed after being struck by a subway train.