Asmall aircraft slams into a New York skyscraper and sends shudders through the city's psyche. As plane crashes go, it wasn't much - killing a baseball star and his flight instructor in the aircraft, and no one else. But to New Yorkers, the image of a tall building on fire because a plane had just hit it brought back every terrorist nightmare imaginable. The accident led to calls for tougher regulations governing small planes flying over Manhattan, and a clampdown seems assured. But for those of us who don't take a private plane to our work or our weekend residence, the real risks may lurk underground, in the city's subway system we use every day. While the subway feels far safer than in the 1970s and 1980s, when crime created deep fears, the danger from fires, blackouts and terrorism may have increased. City council members heard this month of how little has been done to train staff from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subway, to deal with an emergency. They held a hearing on the subject because thousands of passengers had been stranded for hours this summer, and some had been injured, after trains stalled in two separate incidents. One train operator, named D.J. Small, told the meeting that staff received just eight hours of fire-safety training when they started, with a refresher course every three years at best. He said there hadn't been any change in the training since September 11, and the transit workers had to rely on common sense rather than instruction to deal with panicking passengers. There is no training, for example, on how to evacuate a train on a bridge above a river - which, in a city of bridges, is more than a little worrying. And that isn't half of it on a system that carries 5 million commuters each day. The floor-to-ceiling turnstiles in many stations that allow only one person through at a time could become death traps in emergency evacuations. The broadcasting system on the trains rarely works well enough to allow people to hear official announcements and leaves commuters sitting in the dark when a train is halted in a tunnel or as it hangs over a river. And while passengers are told that they must 'say something' if they see something suspicious, they will often have a problem doing so. The two-way communication systems popular in many Asian and European cities don't exist in New York, and mobile phones won't work in the tunnels. 'Say something to whom? To your fellow passengers?' asked John Liu, the chairman of the council's Transport Committee. Mr Small had the stunning final word, telling the hearing that if there was a terrorist attack, most train crews were trained only enough to put on breathing masks and 'run for their lives'.