Sunday, April 20, 2014
Vernon Clark / The Philadelphia Inquirer
PHILADELPHIA — A veteran dispatcher for the city's transit police said Thursday that she was stunned to receive an emergency call reporting that a stroller carrying a toddler had rolled off a train platform and fallen onto the tracks below.
Gale Walker, a 20-year employee of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, didn't even understand how the mishap could have happened on Wednesday afternoon. But she knew she had to act fast.
"I ran over to the train dispatchers and told them to stop the trains because there's a baby in the track area," Walker said.
Surveillance video would soon tell the story: An apparently distracted mother at the 56th Street station didn't realize that the stroller carrying her 14-month-old daughter had started rolling toward the edge of the platform, which is slanted slightly for drainage purposes. The stroller fell about 5 feet onto the tracks, and the mom jumped down after it.
An alert bystander then used an old-fashioned call box to notify authorities of the accident. Footage shows her talking into the speakerphone, which linked her with Walker at SEPTA's control center in downtown Philadelphia.
Walker was about 4 miles from the drama unfolding on the Market-Frankford elevated train line, one of the sprawling subway system's busiest lines, with trains running every 6 to 10 minutes. But her desk is only a few feet from where SEPTA train dispatchers sit and watch over the system.
Dispatchers held a train at the preceding station until the 28-year-old mother and people who had gone down onto the tracks with her had made it back onto the platform with the toddler, the stroller and a diaper bag.
"The baby had a laceration on her face but (was) still breathing and conscious and didn't hit the third rail, thank you, God," Walker said.
SEPTA has call boxes installed throughout its subway, el and underground trolley routes. Though they were upgraded over the last several years, system safety director Scott Sauer said they're not used very frequently.
"In the cellphone age, people's first reaction is to go for their cellphones and call 911," he said. "And that's OK, too."