“This is my personal nightmare,” said a straphanger sitting next to me yesterday evening on a Brooklyn-bound F train. He was taking shallow breaths, with beads of sweat dripping down his face.
At that point we’d been stuck underground on a sweltering F train for close to 30 minutes with no idea what was happening. The air was thickening and the windows caked with fog.
The train was crowded at 6pm with a standing-room rush hour crowd. As the minutes ticked by, the nervous tapping, fanning, and darting eyes signaled a mounting tension.
At the time, I was working on my own deep breathing, sucking in fragments of the thin air, trying to tamp down a swarming panic that we were all going to suffocate without anyone knowing we were sitting without A/C or circulating air.
The same announcement kept repeating over the loudspeaker “we are stopped due to train traffic ahead. We apologize for the inconvenience” until it began to feel like a scene in a horror movie. The lights flickered on and off.
“I’m getting very anxious,” shouted one passenger in my car. “And this is making me late for my therapy.”
After about half an hour, we were let in on the truth. “We are experiencing severe mechanical problems,” a man’s voice flickered on the intercom.
In other cars, sweaty passengers left in the dark (both figuratively and literally) began planning their escape route and fearing the worst, discomfort morphing into waves of panic. “People started to yell things like please get me out and I feel sick,” wrote passenger Michael Sandy Claus Sciaraffo on Facebook. Others reported people stripping down to their undergarments and sitting slumped on the ground.
— Samantha Mushnick (@SamanthaMush) June 5, 2017
Approaching 7pm, the train began crawling and jerking forward in fits, coming to a stop and then pulling forward a few more inches. When we finally pulled into the station, straphanger cheers were punctuated by a stern message from the intercom. “Please please do not exit the train until the doors are open.”
We sat trapped for a few more minutes at Broadway-Lafayette, with a throng of commuters on the platform gaping at the chaos inside the cars and whipping out their cameras.
But some had already burned through their reserves of patience. One straphanger filmed a video showing fingers from inside the steamy windows, prying open the doors.
— Chelsea Lawrence (@chelseahbelle) June 5, 2017
“The worst part was the feeling of utter powerlessness,” said one dizzy passenger after we were let out and clamored to get out of the station in a daze. “We didn’t know what was going on, and there was nothing anyone could do.”
— Ilan Moss (@ilanmoss) June 5, 2017
An MTA spokesperson told BKLYNER that the southbound F train was unable to take power north of the Broadway-Lafayette station, and began moving slowly toward the station around 6:45pm on Monday, June 5.
NPR reported that another train had to push the derelict F into the station, which accounts for the jerky motion of the train through the tunnel.
The spokesperson said that they’re reviewing what happened in the initial train crew communication to passengers. “We need to continue the push to minimize both the frequency and the duration of system failures and delays. That is the goal of the six-point plan announced last month.” (The MTA’s proposal to address chronic delays plaguing the transit system)
The hellish, hour-long ordeal was just the latest in a string of rush-hour subway glitches and station closures that have enraged passengers and city officials.
But not everyone was shaken — or surprised — by the malfunction, thin air, and paltry communication on the train car. “I grew up here, it takes a lot to get me, claustrophobia-wise,” said Boro Park resident Jay Singer, who, although sweating profusely, remained calm while I muttered angrily and squirmed in my seat.
“City boy skills,” he said, stoically wiping his brow with a stash of tissues.