Use the Singapore example to avert human tragedies on Indian Metro and train stations

With the growing number of human tragedies happening on railway platforms, it is time for people to collectively demand installation of innovative screen doors to enhance safety standards on all Metro and railway platforms in our country

Urban transportation is gaining importance in our country, with a number of cities going for Metro Rail or Mono Rail projects, which have become a necessity with the rising population and inadequate surface transportation prevailing at present. With the growing popularity of Metro rail in Kolkata and Delhi, similar metro rail projects are in progress in cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kochi where they are expected to be operational within the next couple of years. 

But the most important aspect of passenger safety appears to have not been taken fully into account by these projects, whether already operational or under implementation. This is evident from the media reports flowing every now and then about the human tragedies taking place in Metro stations, creating a feeling of insecurity in the new way of life proposed for the urban dwellers through the Metro rail system being put in place. Here are a few media reports which highlight the extent of tragedies happening both in India and abroad, as this phenomena exists not only in India but also in other parts of the world.

Mail on-line. New York: Dec. 4, 2012: “Suspect Naeem Davis, 30, admits to pushing 58-year-old Ki Suk Han onto subway tracks at 49th Street in Manhattan. Han, a father of one, killed by oncoming Q train as he tried to pull himself up from tracks”                       

The image appeared on the front page of the New York Post with the headline ‘Doomed’. The 58-year-old can be seen looking at the train with his arms outstretched he tries to heave himself out of its path. The 30-year-old suspect, who believed to have pushed the father-of-one to his death, confessed to the crime.

The Hindu International: Dec. 29, 2012: New York: “Indian shoved to death at NYC subway, suspect in custody”    

The NY Police detained a woman, who allegedly pushed a 46-year-old Indian origin man to death in front of a subway train in New York, sending shock waves among millions of commuters who use the city’s expansive transit system daily. Sunando Sen was killed after the woman shoved him on to the tracks of an oncoming train in a Queens subway station.  It was revealed that the man pushed to his death under NY subway by a “mumbling woman” was a hardworking business owner from India pursuing his American dream. The lady who committed the crime reportedly told the police: “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers I’ve been beating them up.”

India Today. in: March 7, 2012: “Man jumps to death before Delhi Metro train

A youth jumped to his death under a Delhi Metro train at the Mayur Vihar Phase 1 Extension Metro station on 7 March 2012. The police said the 22-year-old, who committed suicide, was seen loitering around the platform for a while, possibly re-considering the jump. He reportedly died on the way to the hospital.

PTI: Feb. 25, 2013.Kolkata: “Suicide attempt thwarted at Kolkata Metro”

A teenaged girl, who tried to kill herself on Monday by jumping in front of an approaching Metro train at Jatin Das Park station in the city, was saved by an alert motorman, officials said. The motorman of the train applied emergency brakes as soon as he saw the young girl on the tracks. The prompt on-duty station staff took her to the Chittaranjan Hospital, where doctors declared her to be out of danger. This was the 256th attempt at suicide in the popular underground train service since 1988, out of which 128 lives could not be saved, they said.

Ndtv. com: June 4, 2012: Delhi: Woman jumps in front of Metro train, dies.

A 31-year old woman jumped in front of a train at Delhi's Tilak Nagar Metro station. She was rushed to hospital but she succumbed to her injuries. The woman has been identified as Seema Anand. No suicide note was found in her possession.

TOI: Bangalore: March 6, 2012: “16-yr-old throws himself before Metro train, dies.”

Namma Metro, just four and a half months old, saw its first suicide when a 16-year-old boy threw himself under a train at the MG Road station. S Vishnu Sharan was a first-year student of St Joseph's PU College and a resident of Jayanagar. As the train entered the station, Vishnu threw himself under it. The train ran over Vishnu before grinding to a halt. Mumbai Suburban Train Network: “On an average, 3,700 people die annually on the Mumbai Suburban Rail network.”

It has been revealed that over the past 10 years (2002-2012), more than 36,152 lives have been lost on the tracks and 36,688 people have been injured. This is said to be the highest number of fatalities per year on any urban or suburban railway system. Most of the deaths are of those crossing the tracks on foot, instead of using the foot bridges provided for going from one platform to another, and are hit by passing trains.

How to avert these tragedies? A Singapore example

The above reports show the extent of tragedies happening all over due to three reasons, accidental fall, suicides or enmity which is growing everywhere in the world. Singapore, a small country has found a way out to totally eliminate such tragedies by installing what are called Platform Screen Doors on all stations. The Singapore Mass Rapid Transit System (SMRT) was the first rapid transit system in Asia to incorporate platform screen doors in its stations in 1987. 

The SMRT system consists of over 157 km of metro rail line with 107 stations, covering the entire city of Singapore. It has one of the most sophisticated and largest underground Automatic Train Operations (ATO) with a few divers-less trains running under its Circle Line. To ensure safety of passengers, they have completed installation of full height platform screen doors on all underground stations and half-height screen doors on all elevated stations. These doors will remain closed while passengers are waiting for the trains to come, and will open only after the train arrives through the sensor system. These platform doors are synchronized with the doors of the trains, and when trains leave the platform, they close automatically, preventing access to the tracks for the waiting passengers.

In underground stations, where full-height screen doors are installed, the rail tracks are not even visible to the passengers, so much so, it is a fool-proof safety system by preventing unauthorized access to restricted areas. On elevated stations, to reduce cost, they have installed half-height screen doors, where by passengers have no access to the tracks, though tracks are visible from outside. Automatic half-height platform screen doors are chest-high sliding doors at the edge of railway platforms to prevent passengers from falling off the platform edge onto the railway tracks. Like full-height platform screen doors, these platform gates slide open or close simultaneously with the train doors.

As per the Wikipedia report, these safety doors help in reducing the risk as under:

  1. It will prevent accidental falls off the platform onto the lower track area, suicide attempts and homicides by pushing on to the tracks. 
  2. If full-height screen doors are installed, it will reduce the wind felt by the passengers caused by the piston effect which could in some circumstances make people fall over.
  3. It might reduce the risk of accidents, especially from service trains passing through the station at high speeds.
  4. Where full-height screens are installed, it will improve climate control within the station (heating and air conditioning are more effective when the station is physically isolated from the tunnel).
  5. It will improve security—access to the tracks and tunnels is restricted.
  6. It may prevent litter build up on the track which can be a fire risk.
  7. It may improve the sound quality of platform announcements, as background noise from the tunnels and trains that are entering or exiting is reduced.

Why Metro trains in India do not have safety doors on platforms?

It is very surprising that the planners of Metro rail systems in our country have not thought of these safety measures, even after several deaths occurring on the platform tracks, which could be easily avoided through these safety doors. The fact that installing these doors will increase the project cost is no reason for compromising on the safety of passengers, which should take precedence over everything else in the interest of saving human lives at least in new projects coming up in Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad and expansion projects planned in Delhi and Kolkata. Even in existing stations in Delhi and Kolkata, immediate steps should be taken to gradually provide these platform screen doors so that the entire network will have this safety doors within a stipulated time frame.

As per media reports, in India the platform screen doors are reportedly used only on the platforms on the Delhi Airport Metro Express, a Delhi Metro line which links the New Delhi Metro Station to Dwarka Sector 21, linking it to the Indira Gandhi International Airport. If this is so, it is all the more desirable that this should be extended to the entire Metro network in Delhi and Kolkata without any further delay.


Indian Railways should take the lead to provide safety doors  Mumbai:

In Mumbai, where the suburban train network is under the Indian Railways, it is imperative that immediate steps should be taken to provide appropriate half-height platform screen doors because of the heavy crowding of passengers noticed at almost all the suburban stations throughout the day. The Indian Railways should hereafter provide enough resources to upgrade a certain number of stations every year and year after year, so that the entire network of Indian Railways is covered with safety doors at all stations within a time-frame of say five years to serve as a model for others to follow.


These safety doors also serve to prevent people running after the trains to catch them even after they have started moving, causing a number of accidents in the process, which are a common sight in the Indian Railways. 

Today with a large number of people, young and not so young increasingly using hi-tech gadgets like mobile phones, iPods, iPads, tablets, etc even while on the move, which restricts their outside vision while using these gadgets, the risk of accidents has increased manifold. This necessitates installation of innovative screen doors to enhance safety standards in all Metro and railway platforms in our country.

Will our planners at least do everything possible now to ensure the safety of train passengers, whether in urban or suburban metro stations or on regular railway platforms and mitigate the risk of railway travel in our country?  With the growing number of human tragedies happening on railway platforms, it is time for people to collectively demand these improvements in passenger safety standards for the good of our people, who deserve much better safety standards than exiting at present.

As Victor Hugo said “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.”

Other stories from Gurpur

 (The author is our regular columnist and he writes for Moneylife under a pen-name ‘Gurpur)

1 decade ago
Is the author knowledgeable enough to understand Mumbai trains?
Has the impact of installing this kind of safety system on Mumbai platforms analyzed?

I have traveled in Mumbai for years and I think it is a premature idea. The time for this idea has not yet come. This can only be done if there is good infrastructure to carry the current number of passengers properly?
Replied to Bhavsar comment 1 decade ago
This system will work on the METRO lines for sure. Let us not get biased between our "janta" suburban trains and the premium metro trains - the travelling cost cannot be afforded by every "aam" aadmi. Delhi and Kolkata metros were built by the government, with controlled costs. But in Mumbai and everywhere else, the lines are in private hands - they will ensure that fares will be much higher.
Replied to Bhavsar comment 1 decade ago
The idea is very good. It is already prevalent in many places in the world. Once it is put in, the people and the administrators would have to work with the new reality.
Certainly an idea whose time has come.
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