As he was waiting for the El at 34th Street Station Friday afternoon, Jeff Taylor witnessed what he called “every parent’s nightmare.”
When Taylor, a biomedical technician at CHOP, arrived on the platform heading east, he took note of a young woman on the opposite side. She was rolling a stroller up and down the walkway, paying attention to the precious cargo inside, and not much else.
A westbound train pulled up — and a crush of passengers rushed to board. Taylor couldn’t quite see what happened, but as the cars began to rumble away, a shriek echoed through the station.
“My baby!” the young mother screamed. “My baby is on the train!”
Apparently, she had pushed her stroller onto the train, but the doors closed before she herself was able to get on. The baby was on the train rolling its way to 40th Street, while she was left behind.
Though SEPTA spokesperson Andrew Busch confirmed the incident, no one Billy Penn spoke with is exactly sure how the separation happened. It could’ve had to do with crowding. The time was around 2:45, so the station wasn’t quite rush-hour busy, but it was definitely pretty full.
“That time of day is school dismissal time,” Busch said, “so there’s a pre-rush hour rush.”
Plus, 34th Street Station was likely extra packed on Friday, Taylor noted, because it’s where people would get off on their way to the Penn Relays.
As the young mother wailed in distress, observers looked at each other nervously, wondering how they could assist her. “It’s one of those humanizing situations,” Taylor said, where the regular barriers between strangers disappear — but there was still not much the bystanders could do.
Luckily, there were two SEPTA Transit officers standing nearby who were better equipped to help.
“One officer got on his radio, it was on his shoulder,” Taylor recounted, “and called to tell them to hold the train.”
Thanks to some quick back-and-forth, SEPTA dispatch was able to contact personnel at 40th Street Station and have them meet the train there. The stroller — which turned out to be carrying a baby not more than a year old — was safely retrieved by officials, per Busch, who stayed with it until the Transit Police arrived with the young woman and were able to reunite mother and child.
“There’s only a minute or two between those two stations,” Busch said, noting that without efficient communication officers and operators, the situation could easily have escalated.