Keeping commuters safe; mobile station barriers

October 20, 2011


Platform barriers on train stations seem to offer the most effective means of preventing people from falling or jumping into the path of speeding trains.

But finding a uniform way to accommodate trains of different size and door configurations has bedeviled efforts to install a one-size-fits-all system.

Researchers and engineers now say they may have the answer. After much trial and effort, movable platform barriers are being developed. The barrier's position can be adjusted so that the entry/exit portions open right in front of the train door.

Groups representing people with sight problems and others clamored for the installation of protective barriers on platforms following an accident at Mejiro Station on the JR Yamanote Line in central Tokyo in January. A sightless man fell onto tracks and was killed by an oncoming train.

The National Council of Visual Disabled in Japan says there have been at least 38 instances nationwide of passengers falling from station platforms since 1994, resulting in 18 fatalities.

According to Tokyo Metro Co., operator of commuter trains and subways in the Tokyo area, no such accidents have occurred at stations where platform barriers are installed.

The company first installed platform barriers at subway stations on the Nanboku Line, which started operations in 1991, and then on the Marunouchi and Fukutoshin lines, which also handle a large volume of commuter traffic.

Work is under way to construct protective barriers on the Yurakucho Line.

The transport ministry, in conjunction with railway companies, has been trying to come up with a system that will fit all train and subway stations.

In August, the government announced plans to install platform barriers at stations where 100,000 or more people pass through daily.

To date, only 509 stations, or 5 percent of all such facilities nationwide, are equipped with protective barriers.

In the metropolis itself, trains of different companies share lines. Thus, the location of car doors varies from company to company.

Tokyu Corp.'s Toyoko Line, for instance, has a through service to the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line.

When Tokyu train cars and Tokyo Metro cars are compared, the length differs by 2 meters and the number of doors is different.

Kobe Steel Ltd. and Tokyo University have been jointly developing a new movable platform barrier since 2009, aiming at commercialization in fiscal 2013.

Under this system, a rail for the barrier is installed on the platform, on which door guards and the barrier slide, adjusting places for the open door.

Speed and durability tests are being conducted to prevent passengers from hurting themselves when the barrier is moved.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism allotted 36 million yen ($470,800) for research and development of the system this fiscal year.

A public relations official at Tokyu Corp. made clear the company is keen to put the new platform barrier into practical use as soon as possible.

"This is an epoch-making development," the official said. "I am sure many railway companies want to have such platform barriers."

Atsushi Kutsunoya, who heads the new platform barrier development team at Kobe Steel, said, "We want to develop a barrier that will ease the burden on railway companies and be widely used."

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