No light rail or subway dispatcher in this city ever wants to get a Code 54, but that’s just what City-Suburban Transit Authority (CSTA) officials received when the 314 Orange Line local hit, then ran over what appeared to be “skeletal human remains” just past the Vespid Avenue stop Monday afternoon. The driver was virtually inconsolable, according to those on the scene, and passengers in the front car were understandably upset, as were thousands of other subway riders, when the incident caused delays up and down both the Orange and Brown lines.
After questioning by authorities, the front car (it being a potential crime scene) was detached from the rest of the train and the passengers were ushered into more rearward cars and taken back to the Vespid Avenue platform, then upstairs to emergency buses which were trying to take up the transit slack.
Police began their investigation of the scene. Was it a hobo who’d wandered into the tunnel long ago? That kid who was rumored to have disappeared while playing Dungeons and Dragons in the subway system in the 1970s? As soon as the “skeletal human remains” were recovered from underneath the train, however, it became clear that they were fake- constructed of plaster and plastic, with highlights of green fluorescent paint here and there. What sort of sick prank was this? Whoever had done it would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law (a rather specific one, the “Matthew Thomas Act,” instituted in 1994 after a teen was killed while engaging in urban exploration under the abandoned Osberger’s store stop- he fell two levels down into the path of an oncoming Brown Line express train). Who had thrown the city’s subway system into upheaval? Who could have taken the trouble to do such a terrible thing?
The City-Suburban Transit Authority, it turns out.
From 1978 to 1987, the CSTA conducted an annual “Haunted Railway” ride during the last week in October on an unused spur, running from Dawson Avenue to the Willkie Bridge interchange. It was integrated back into the Orange Line in 1990. Of course, the stretch just beyond the Vespid Avenue stop was part of this spur and, apparently, the CSTA did not quite get every last prop out of the area.
So, for the next few days, trains will be rerouted to their pre-1990 paths, extra buses will be pressed into service and CSTA workers will comb the area looking for any other props which may be lurking in the rafters.
The News compared the incident to another one years ago, when the CSTA put a special bus rigged to celebrate their 50,000,000th passenger on the wrong route and a 73-year-old man had a fatal heart attack when he dropped his token in the slot and confetti exploded and air horns sounded.
- RJ White