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Common Platform Safety Challenges

Platform safety is a paramount concern for public officials in cities across the globe.  As the world continues to develop economically, city planners increasingly rely on mass transit rail to move large numbers of commuters safely and efficiently.  However, these systems present a number of hazards to user safety, due to high train speeds and open station environments.  The risks that commuters face include the following:

  • Falling into the path of approaching trains, either due to people trying to retrieve dropped items or falling onto the tracks because of intoxication, vision impairment, mental impairment, or simple inattentiveness.
  • Users of wheelchairs or other mobility aids rolling towards the tracks due to downward-sloping platform surfaces.
  • Being struck by a train while standing on the platform or injured by the rush of wind that accompanies arriving trains.
  • Slipping and falling while standing on, or moving across, platforms.


The following methods are used to mitigate these risks.


Platform Screen Doors

Also known as platform edge doors, these screens place a physical barrier between commuters and the trains, except during boarding and disembarking times.  While widely used in Europe and Asia, adoption in the United States has lagged behind other developed nations. 


These platform safety screens offer a number of benefits, including the following:

  • They prevent falls onto the tracks due to accidents, suicides, or homicide attempts.
  • They block the overpowering wind that rushes ahead of arriving trains.
  • They prevent collisions between trains and persons standing too close to the tracks.
  • They dramatically lower climate control costs within the station, by blocking heat and air conditioning flow into the transit tunnel.
  • They prevent commuters from dumping litter on the platform area.
  • They make station intercom announcements easier to understand, by filtering out most of the sound caused by trains arriving and departing.


Automatic Platform Gates

Like platform screen doors, these devices create a physical barrier between commuters and the embarking/disembarking area, opening only when needed to permit foot traffic to move.  They accomplish many of the same goals as full screens but lack their climate control benefits.  However, they cost far less to install and are a good choice in station areas where climate control isn’t a priority, such as places that are open to the outdoors.


Between Car Barriers

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that metro trains prevent those sight impaired from mistaking gaps between cars for train doors.  Between Car Barriers must be used to alert these users of potential dangers and prevent them from stepping off the platform between cars.  Similarly, tactile tile should be used to warn the visually impaired of the nearby platform edge.


Sloped Grades

As mentioned earlier, users of wheelchairs and other mobility aids often have trouble stopping in time before they tumble into the rail conduit.  One way of reducing these occurrences is to create a slight upward grade on the platform as it nears the edge of the tracks.  Designers must use care, however, to prevent the grade from being too severe for other users to stand or walk safely.


Anti-slip Platforms

The modern world could not exist without sealed concrete, which most of the public facilities across the globe, including train platforms, are built from.  However, this infinitely useful material tends to be very slippery, especially when wet.  This has caused thousands of falls in stations over the years.  Keeping the floors dry throughout the day is simply not feasible.  Thousands of commuters rushing into stations carry with them the rain or snow their shoes picked up outside, dispensing it on steps and platforms.  Spilled coffee and other beverages add to the problem. 


The most obvious solution to this hazard is to increase the amount of traction on platform surfaces.  This is easily accomplished by installing fiberglass floor panels imbedded with industrial diamond grit or similar substances.  These initiatives, along with regular housekeeping, hazard markers, and public education campaigns, have helped to prevent falling accidents on train platforms around the world. 



The need for mass transit will continue to increase for the foreseeable future, as more and more nations enjoy the benefits of economic development.  As long as this is the case, the danger of train-related deaths and injuries will be ever-present.  While no solution can completely compensate for human error, the platform safety measures discussed in this post will continue to make platforms safer for all who use them.