trackworkers.jpgWhat makes the death of two subway track workers in as many weeks so stunning, especially to those who work for the subway, is the relative rarity of such events and increased safety of their jobs in recent history. Transit worker Daniel Boggs was killed by an express train while working on the tracks at Columbus Circle's station on April 24th. Just a few days later, Marvin Franklin was killed by a G train at Brooklyn's Hoyt-Schermerhorn station as he crossed over tracks to retrieve a dolly with a co-worker, who was also seriously injured. New York City Transit released data related to on-the-job fatalities among subway workers since the year 1946. It presents evidence that the men and women who work below the city's streets (and also high above, although less so now than previously) are engaged in dangerous work. It also demonstrates that the safety of the job has increased dramatically over the years.

The descriptions of the deaths throughout the years are not always precise, but by far the most common cause was being struck by a train, accounting for about 150 of the fatal accidents. About two dozen workers were electrocuted on the third rail. Close to 20 workers died in falls, some of them from elevated tracks. Eleven workers died in train crashes or collisions. Three were shot to death in robberies.

238 people were killed while doing their subway jobs since 1946. That is a rate of 3.9 deaths per year, although this figure is highly inflated from the large number of deaths experienced between 1946 and 1959. The number of employees killed during that 13-year period totals 120, or a rate of more than nine per year. In 1948 alone, 17 workers were killed. Excluding that 13-year period from the full 61 years of records, the annual death rate drops to 2.4. Before last month's two terrible accidents, the fatality rate for subway workers had fallen to one per year since 2000. One has to wonder if the historical ebb of deaths on the tracks lulled some transit workers into a dangerous sense of complacency regarding the hazards of their work.

(Track Work, by NYCviaRachel at flickr)