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2 Very Different Ideas for Preventing Subway Deaths

2 Very Different Ideas for Preventing Subway Deaths
Nate Dorr/Flickr

This year has been a particularly deadly one for the New York City subway. One hundred forty-four riders have been hit by trains so far, and 52 have died.

Now, the Metropolitan Transit Authority is considering an ambitious, high-tech strategy to protect people on the platform. According to the New York Daily News, the MTA will test four different "intrusion detection" systems, all designed to stop the train after someone has fallen onto the tracks.

Among the possible strategies: cameras and video software that detect large objects falling from the platform; a web of laser beams across the tracks that triggers an alarm when broken; thermal-image cameras to identify heat emitted from the tracks, and radio frequencies transmitted across the tracks beneath the platform edge.

When a fallen passenger has been detected, each system would transmit live video to the Rail Control Center and activate track-side signals that tell the conductor to hit the brakes. Authorities have not released many details about the pilot program, including where the technology will be implemented.

This approach is certainly a step beyond the "aggressive marketing campaign" warning passengers to stay away from the platform edge that MTA CEO Thomas Prendergast demanded in 2012.  But it doesn't do much to stop last-second jumps, trips, or shoves. At the same time, movable screen barriers - the most fool-proof solution seen in the MRT in Singapore - are expensive and probably too difficult to adapt to New York City.

A cheaper and easier option is being considered in Osaka, Japan, right now. Last week, West Japan Railway Company began testing rope-style platform barriers at the Sakurajima station on the rail company’s Yumesaki Line.


A demo of the rope-style barriers just installed in Osaka. 

The barrier, made up of five tiered stainless steel ropes, is 160-meters long. When a conductor on an incoming train hits a sensor, the barrier  moves up to let passengers through. The company will be testing these rope barriers until March 2014 and plans for full rollout by 2017. Currently, some Japanese subway stations - mostly in Tokyo - have screen barriers, but most don't.

Judging by this video, it appears that Gwangju, South Korea, has had a similar rope-style barrier since at least November 2012.  

Top image: Nate Dorr/Flickr 

Jenny Xie is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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