Why Do Subway Conductors Always Point After Pulling Into a Station?

May 12, 2016

If you’ve ever been able to tear your eyes away from your targeted entry point when the subway doors are about to open, you might’ve noticed that every time a train pulls into the station, the conductor is pointing out his window at something. And believe it or not, he isn’t calling out the crazy person screaming on the platform or gesturing to his fellow employees in the booth. This is actually a required safety precaution.

Halfway down every subway platform is a “zebra board,” a black and white-striped wood panel that’s meant to line up perfectly with the conductor’s window, signaling that all cars are at the platform. “Because opening the doors without a platform to step onto is such a serious concern, conductors are required to point at the sign every time to show that they’ve stopped at the right spot,” Mental Floss explains.

NYC subway, MTA, zebra signs, subway safety

The zebra boards were implemented around World War I, when new technology allowed all train doors to be opened at once. Previously, there was a conductor between every two cars to manually open the doors. It wasn’t until 1966, though, that the pointing became a requirement, and it was influenced by Japanese railways. In Japan, conductors used pointing for several safety measures, including speed indicators, upcoming wayside signals, and, of course, position. In 1999, when the New Technology fleets were introduced, another layer of protection was added. “All new trains include the installation of Door Enable systems. This system requires the train operator to ‘enable’ the conductor by activating the door controls only on the platform side of the train after it is properly berthed,” according to the MTA.

Check out this video of New Yorkers having a little fun with the pointing rule:

[Via Mental Floss]


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  1. S

    Wow, never knew or noticed this. Great piece!