All the Dogs, Raccoons, and Turkeys Delaying Your Morning Commute
Two goats wandered onto the N line tracks in Brooklyn in August 2018. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit
It’s not just raccoons that have slowed the subway.
Dogs, geese, possums, and turkeys are among the animals that delayed close to 900 trains since 2016 — and 238 last year, according to MTA figures and internal reports obtained by THE CITY.
“It’s one thing to have rats on the tracks, but when it’s other animals that get on the tracks, that’s scary,” said Eric Courtney, 50, who was waiting for a train at the Nevins Street station in Downtown Brooklyn, which in recent months had become home to a pesky raccoon dubbed Chepe.
MTA figures show dogs on the tracks have been responsible for 443 separate train delays since 2016, including 107 last year. Cats, meanwhile, have had been less troublesome, delaying 172 trains since 2016, with only two in 2019.
A pair of kittens famously disrupted Q and B service for nearly two hours in August 2013, when they wandered onto the tracks near the Church Avenue stop in Flatbush. Train service was suspended twice before the kittens were rescued.
Their trek on the tracks led former MTA chairman Joe Lhota, who was then running for mayor, to say he would have kept the trains running, resulting in a screaming “Die Kitties Die!” front page in the Daily News.
While animal interference accounts for a sliver of the nearly 30,000 weekday delays in the subway each month, they did increase slightly in 2019, MTA figures show. Through mid-December, there were 33 incidents that were caused by animals — a third of which were pinned on raccoons. That was up from 29 the previous year and nearly triple the figure from 2017.
One incident can account for multiple train delays.Raccoons delayed 87 trains, coming in second only to dogs.
Raccoons delayed 383 percent more trains in 2019 than 2018. One raccoon hung out on the Nevins Street platforms for months. Nicknamed Chepe, he was dubbed the “new pizza rat.” Photo: Svetlana Foote / Alamy Stock Photo
A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation noted that raccoons, possums, and skunks are the forms of wildlife most commonly spotted on outdoor stretches of the subway, where some are drawn to discarded food or prey on rats.
“The Brighton Beach line on the Q and B has had raccoons and possums getting run over by trains for years,” train operator Canella Gomez told THE CITY. “It’s just now, for some strange reason, raccoons are showing up on platforms. Truthfully, it’s probably from all the food customers throw on the floors.”
Eric Loegel, vice-president of rapid-transit operations for TWU Local 100, said that animal strikes can set off trains’ emergency brakes.
“Any emergency-brake activation where the cause is unknown requires an investigation — it’s a solid 20- or 30-minute delay, sometimes more,” he noted.
Photo: Loren File/Alamy
Feathered members of the animal kingdom got in the way of commuters, too.
A turkey briefly caused delays to N-train service during the June 13 morning rush, an incident report shows, after getting loose on the open-cut tracks near the Eighth Avenue station in Sunset Park.
And a goose on the tracks near the Parkside Avenue stop in Flatbush caused 16 service changes on the Q and B lines last February until police could remove it from tracks.
Goats, at least, managed to stay off the tracks last year after a high-profile jaunt onto Brooklyn N-train tracks in 2018.
An MTA spokesperson said subway supervisors and crews handle animal incidents on a case-by-case basis when deciding whether to slow or halt subway service because of a furry intruder on the tracks.
Last year’s animal diversions began on January 2, when a pooch that had been missing for days darted from the Essex Street station on the Lower East Side onto the Williamsburg Bridge and headed toward Brooklyn. The dog’s dash caused the power to be cut on the tracks, and reports show it led to 39 service changes on the J and M lines over nearly two hours of delays for 14 trains.
Of the 900 animal-related delays since 2016, dogs and cats were usually to blame. Photo: Andrey Kuzmin / Alamy Stock Photo
The dog, named Jake, was reunited with his owners after being plucked from the tracks by police. But another pooch that freed itself from its harness met a tragic end in May after escaping onto the tracks and disappearing into a tunnel at 34th Street–Herald Square.
“God forbid your dog gets loose on the tracks,” said Lucy Blair, 29, a Brooklyn straphanger who was carrying her French bulldog puppy, Ace, in a pouch on her chest. “That’s why I always use a pouch, because you can’t expect a dog to be as responsible as you are.”
This story was originally published by THE CITY, an independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.
*A version of this article appears in the January 20, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!