by Barbara Nevins Taylor
When the E train pulled out of 34th Street and then stopped in the tunnel around 6:10 p.m., no one looked up. But the lights dimmed and the electric signs that display the subway route faded to black, and we began to look around at each other.
“This doesn’t seem so good,” I said. The guy standing in front of me, watching a movie on his iPad, rolled his eyes and the two men seated next to me groaned in unison.
Then we heard the ding. And a second later, a disembodied voice said, “Ladies and gentleman, this is your conductor. There’s a problem at West 4th Street and we’re being held. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.
No electricity. No Internet. Some played with their phones. Others kept their eyes down. Then again the ding.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor. We lost power on the E train and they’re working to find out what happened and restore it. Thank you for your patience.”
The E train lost power and stalled in the subway station, but the conductor reassured passengers and kept them calm. The man watching the movie said, “I think he’s my favorite conductor.”
We sat some more. Three guys who looked like they had just left the office and planned to hit a bar found that the door between cars opened. “Can we get out?” one said. “If we crawl out, we can do it,” another said. “Okay. So now we have to have the balls to do it.”
They circled around the open door and looked out.
A woman sat down on train floor and burrowed into a device. A woman across from me kept her eyes on Ordinary Grace, the book in her lap, by William Ken Kreuger. Another tried to read the latest New York Magazine. And on my left Sandra Diaes fiddled with her phone, poked me and said, “I’m trying to find my flashlight. Oh. Here it is. Look. You never know if we might need it in the tunnel.
And then we heard the ding. “Here we go again,” the man on my right said.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor. The power is out on the 8th Avenue and 6th Avenue lines. They are working to restore it. I’ll let you know what’s happening as soon as I know. Thank you for your patience.”
People laughed and shook their heads and we sat. I admit my thoughts ran to gruesome scenes where trains stalled and bad things happened. Clips from horror videos of the imagination played out in my mind and I pushed them aside.
The three men who thought about escape stood between the cars and leaned out.
Ding. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor. They are working to restore the power. Please don’t leave the train. When we get power back, it could be very dangerous if you are on the tracks. Please don’t leave the train. Thank you for your patience.”
More than an hour after the train stopped, we heard the ding again. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor. We have power. But there are trains in front of us. So it may take a few minutes for us to move. Thank you for your patience.”
The lights went on, and we heard the rumble of an express train traveling in another direction. A few minutes later: Ding. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your conductor. The train will be going backwards to 34th Street. Please stay inside the train. Thank you for your patience.”
The train came to life and rolled backwards and lurched to a stop. People stumbled. Ding. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the conductor the backward movement triggered the emergency brake. We’ll be moving in a few minutes.”
And an hour and ten minutes after the train stopped in the tunnel, we’re back in 34th Street and everyone got off the train.
Conductor Herbert Sansom gets a big nod here. The subway loses power and conductor’s reassurance says it all. Thanks Mr. Sansom for keeping us informed.
The MTA says a manhole fire south of West 4th Street damaged cables and caused the outages. There may be delays on the trains on the A, C and E trains on Friday morning.