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A subway menace pulling emergency brakes has plagued NYC commutes for years

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“This is stupid, it’s dangerous, it’s selfish and it’s gotta stop,” said NYCT President Andy Byford

A mystery straphanger has spurred subway delays possibly for years.
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

A malevolent straphanger has stymied subway commutes by pulling emergency train brakes—possibly for years, MTA officials said Wednesday.

An individual or group has been disrupting the train system by sneaking onto cars, pulling emergency brakes, forcing trains—and in some cases entire lines—to slam to a halt during hectic rush hours, said New York City Transit President Andy Byford.

“This is stupid, it’s dangerous, it’s selfish and it’s gotta stop. So we’re starting to put together a pattern of where these instances are happening,” Byford told reporters after the MTA’s May board meeting. “The NYPD are all over it; they’re hopefully going to be able to catch these people and hold them to account for what is a completely unacceptable behavior.”

The disruptions are “not an isolated incident and may have been happening for several years,” according to MTA chair Patrick Foye, who urged the public to keep an eye out for the subway menace.

“We want to enlist the public’s help—our customers’ help—in catching these potential criminals who are impacting the lives of thousands of our customers and endangering the lives of New York City Transit men and women working on the subways, and ask them to report any suspicious activity they see,” Foye said during the board meeting. He was initially reluctant to discuss the matter publicly for fear of encouraging copycats.

Byford, who said he only became aware of the troubling trend last night, says a “pattern is emerging” with several “unexplained” incidents of emergency brakes activating across the the 2 and 5 lines. The MTA believes whoever is sneaking into restricted rear train cabs—which go unused when the train is moving in the opposite direction—has somehow obtained a master key. “There is no evidence that the doors have been forced and we’re pretty certain that they have keys and it’s extremely concerning,” Byford said.

Emergency brakes are engaged if a train hits something or speeds, for example. But recently, brakes have mysteriously activated without a clear reason, making Byford wonder if those unexplained incidents are connected.

“It’s a bit of jigsaw puzzle at the moment,” said Byford. “We’re piecing it together and a pattern seems to be emerging. That’s the evidence that I want to put before the NYPD in order [to] then hone in on who’s doing this, and we can nail them.”

Jalopnik, which first reported on the subway scoundrel, cited April 19 internal reports by MTA employees of an “unruly customer” surfing on trains, tampering with safety cables, and ultimately discovering that someone had pulled the brakes in a locked rear cab. The 4, 5, and 6 lines suffered major disruptions that day.

It is unclear when the mischief maker began unleashing chaos on the system. The MTA is in the midst of determining how many delays may have stemmed from the stopped trains. The person may have struck as recently as Tuesday night on a north-bound 2 train, said Foye.

The NYPD is investigating the matter and has deployed extra officers into the system to hunt for the subway scofflaw. The brake-puller could face criminal charges including criminal tampering, reckless endangerment, and obstructing governmental administration, the NYPD said.

“We’re going to be investigating as reckless endangerment,” said Dermot Shea, the NYPD’s chief of detectives, at a Wednesday news conference. “We’ll go from there. It’s not something that I would categorize as common—certainly, hopefully not—but it poses a danger and a risk to people. We will investigate it accordingly and we’ll go from there to determine what the motive is.”