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Is it time to install platform barriers on all Underground stations?

After a casualty on tracks at Oxford Circus, the age old debate of barriers has cropped up. Rush house is notorious for taking lives and with more and more casualties being reported, is it time for passengers and Transport for London (TfL) to consider platform barriers on all Underground stations?

Another casualty on tracks at Oxford Circus Station revives the age old debate of having barriers on Tube stations. The large number of accidents reported especially during rush hours, brings up the question: “Is it time for passengers and Transport for London (TfL) to consider installing platform barriers on all Underground stations?”

The Jubilee Line has had Platform Edge Doors (PEDs) since its extension in the late 1990s. All Underground stations on the line have PEDs that open automatically when the train’s doors open. These are designed especially to prevent fatalities like the one at Oxford Circus on the Victoria Line platform on November 20, 2019. Appearing to have a “medical episode”, a man fell onto the tracks during rush hour, leaving spectators in extreme shock. Fortunately, emergency services were quick to respond and although the man in question is in a critical state, he has been hospitalized and stabilized. The station was evacuated right away.

North Greenwich Station. Source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bd/North_Greenwich_stn_termating_platform_look_west.JPG

Despite this, the topic of passenger safety remains a grave concern for both passengers and TfL. According to a research conducted by Susanna Martin and Muzzafal Rawala, the mean annual rate of suicidal acts from 2000 to 2010 was 5.8 per 100 million passenger journey stages. During this period, a ‘person under train’ trend seems to be an unchanging one. While in most cases, a stable trend is more than acceptable, it’s unacceptable when it comes to such a case – where a passenger’s life is put into danger due to lack of secure facilities. 

Some reactions to the incident:

(Anonymous) Reddit users on the incident and PEDs.

Another Redditor speaking about his experience at Oxford Circus.

To be fair, TfL has been continually trying to raise awareness against the problem by issuing posters, making service announcements on the PA and having service messages carried out by platform assistants during rush hour. These announcements urge passengers to be careful of their surroundings, stay behind the yellow line and to “mind the gap”. Despite this, there are some accidental or sometimes purposeful incidents that happen, which are beyond TfL’s control. In such a case, would PEDs everywhere be a suitable solution?

For years now, TfL has been promising PEDs on Central, Picaddilly, Bakerloo, and Waterloo & City lines under the New Transport for London Programme. However, this programme is only due to start mid 2020, but until then, it’s clear that these incidents aren’t going to stop. The good news, however, is that the Elizabeth Line (due to open in 2021) will have PEDs on every Underground station. The main thing to remember about this is that a lot of Elizabeth Line stations share stations with most of the above lines. Therefore, the Elizabeth Line can be seen as an alternative to non-PED lines. 

 

Should Platform-edge doors be installed on every Underground station?

Yes:

  • Safety and security of passengers will be ensured – lower suicide counts (on the Underground network) and less number of ‘person under train’ incidents.
  • No more “Mind The Gap!”
  • Stop people from wandering off platform and in tunnels. (Some people have done this!)
  • Improves climate control in stations, reducing the need for heating and air-conditioning. (Have you noticed how it’s always chilly at Waterloo Station?)

No: 

  • Each PED is extremely expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive. (Exact cost is unknown, but TfL is said to  have found more price-competitive systems.)
  • Suicides on the Underground-level platforms will lower in number, but what about the Overground? More than 50% of the Underground network is overground. (Would we need PEDs on overground platforms too?)
  • PEDs are set up with technology which is currently only suited to work with the Jubilee Line trains.
  • A lot of Central, Picaddilly, Bakerloo, and Waterloo & City line platforms have curved platforms, and logistically, it’s harder to install PEDs on these platforms.
  • Overcrowding on platforms will still be an issue and deaths caused due to being pushed up against the barriers could be a reality.

Whilst my initial reaction to incidents involving passengers on the underground tracks would be that we need more platform-edge doors, I understand that other factors have to be taken into consideration. TfL is more than notorious to be extremely slow with big projects – Crossrail/the Elizabeth Line is a perfectly apt example among others. Not only will it disrupt many stations, but it will take from 6 months to a year to fit one station with PEDs. As a frequent tube passenger, I strongly recommend avoiding Underground stations during rush hours (especially central London stations and any major stations) as much as possible.

 

Writer at Roar News.

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