Emergency handles will be installed near center doors in subway cars to allow passengers to escape more easily during emergencies, according to a plan adopted yesterday by a Metro safety committee.
The handles, expected to be approved by Metro's board of directors next month, are designed to open the doors only after a train has stopped. Metro officials said they will urge passengers not to pull the red handles unless there is a fire, dense smoke or a life-threatening emergency.
"In a non-life-threatening situation, it is safer to remain inside the car," a report by Metro officials says. The handles are expected to be installed during the next 1 1/2 years. Until the handles are installed, passengers will not be able to open the doors themselves in an emergency and will have to await help from rescuers.
Metro officials decided in December to alter their emergency procedures as a result of a study stemming from a January 1982 derailment in which three persons died.
Previously, Metro officials had sought to prevent riders from leaving a rail car in an emergency without assistance from rescue workers. They feared that passengers would be endangered by the 750-volt third rail, which normally powers trains, and expressed concern about possible abuse of emergency devices by pranksters.
The transit authority's long-standing emergency policies came under attack, however, from the National Transportation Safety Board and local fire officials. They argued that it might take too long for rescuers to arrive after a severe accident.
Metro officials said yesterday they will act to deter abuses of the emergency devices by seeking legislation from local governments to impose criminal penalties on pranksters. In addition, they said, the handles will set off loud alarm signals.
Officials decided to install the handles only at the center doors, mainly to reduce hazards to passengers during an evacuation. Dangerous electrical equipment protrudes beneath the cars' front and rear ends. Officials estimated the agency will spend more than $1.4 million to install the emergency devices on 600 cars.
In another move, the safety committee recommended that bicycle riders be allowed to take their cycles on Metro trains on weekday evenings, starting May 2. Bicycles now are permitted on trains only on weekends and holidays. The committee's plan, scheduled to be considered by the Metro board next month, would allow cycles after 7 p.m. as a six-month experiment.