By: Sherwin Sze-Wai Lau Edited by: Jean-François Obregón August 29, 2022
Warning: This article deals with a serious issue that may disturb some readers. There may be details of a graphic nature. If you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health crisis, please get the help that you or they need. Help is available by calling Talk Suicide Canada 1-833-456-4566 and for youth Kids Help Phone 1-877-974-1067.
There have been numerous cases involving track-level injuries recorded in Toronto in recent years. City Council dialogue regarding the installation of doors to minimize damage has been ongoing since the early 2000s, especially after three teens were pushed onto the tracks at Dufferin station in 2009. Attention to track-level injuries were recently brought back to public attention when a 39-year-old woman was pushed onto the tracks earlier in April 2022. The media has reported that pricing and prioritizing other projects have been major obstacles for the TTC and the City Council in installing Platform Safety Doors (PSDs).
Platform Safety Doors (PSDs)
PSDs, alternatively called platform edge doors, are found in metro systems across major cities in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. They were invented in 1908, which were safety fences and gates for railway platforms with vertical bolts and stakes that prevented riders from colliding with oncoming vehicles and tracks. When these edge doors were first invented, many required manual operation.
Looking at modern examples of PSDs and automatic platform edge doors globally, both types of transit doors are focussed on preventing injury. However, PSDs are not always full ceiling height. They sometimes only go up to a passenger’s waist. Automatic platform edge doors offer a more modern solution of a ground-to-ceiling automated glass door for open-rail stations.
These two types of platform doors are currently the primary forms of safety doors in the global metro systems we researched to prevent damage to riders and accidents. It is undisputed that these doors have demonstrated benefits to different cities. These doors saved countless riders from accidentally falling onto tracks, getting too close to rails, and even reducing the amount of wind caused by passing trains which wastes heating costs (Portillo-Villasana, Huerta-Barrientos, AndradeIn, 2017).
The Situation In Toronto
With many cities seeing more pros than cons, it begs the question of why more cities do not opt to install them. The answer for the City of Toronto, as well as other cities not installing them, is the high cost. According to CityNews Toronto in 2018, the TTC Board argued many benefits to safety barrier doors in Toronto. However, it would cost between $10-15 million (CAD) per station to retrofit doors, according to 2018 City of Toronto’s then-budget committee member Councillor Joe Mihevc. When asked in 2009, Mihevc answered: “Barriers could cost between $5 million and $8 million for each of the subway’s 64 stations.” This can only mean that the longer we delay, the more construction projects for barriers will only go up, especially with high inflation recently.
Unfortunately, this issue may not be going away. Just in 2020, 35 suicide attempts were made inside TTC stations. We have seen media reports of safety barriers being proposed in Toronto in 2002, 2009, 2014, 2018, and 2022. What political will do we need to get them built?
Places That Have Doors, Places That Saw Positive Impact
In Mexico City, PSDs undoubtedly prevented harm to human life. Poisson regression and chi-squared test were used. A significant reduction of 59.9% (p=0.0003) in railway suicides was found after the PSD installation. (Portillo-Villasana, Huerta-Barrientos, AndradeIn, 2017) In data science, the Poisson regression is a mathematical term that allows researchers to determine the sum of counted rate and percentage rate data by looking at variables. The chi-squared test allows researchers to use more calculations to determine the percentage of expected frequencies and observed frequencies of a recurrence. In this case, recurring track-level self-harm.
After a study was conducted for New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), researchers found that platform doors could be immediately installed in a quarter of all subway stops. This amounts to about 128 stations out of 472 stations and would cost more than $9 billion (CAD). Other issues preventing older metro facilities from renewing stations with PSDs included proper hardware protocol and exact measurements under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires exact space for platform equipment.
Credit: Charles Gans via StreetsblogNYC
In 2015, the Mexico City Metro subway system served over 1.6 billion passengers. However, between 2010-2015, 84 men and 31 women committed suicide inside the property of the Mexico City Metro system. Many of the casualties were males between the ages of 31 to 59 years old. This cost the city over $650,000 (CAD) per death due to clean-up costs, loss in revenue (due to closures), legal fees, etc (Portillo-Villasana, Huerta-Barrientos, AndradeIn, 2017). Since 1970, Mexico City’s suicide problem in transit services went up to 400% and has been considered a public health problem (Portillo-Villasana, Huerta-Barrientos, AndradeIn, 2017). Similarly, Toronto Public Health has also added suicide prevention within stations to their list of priorities of public health risks in recent cluster cases.
Mexico City officials have proposed for more safety doors to be considered. Simulations done as part of a study showed that without physical barriers the rate of suicides was 84%. In the second simulation scenario, considering the installation of physical barriers, the rate of suicides was just 24%. (Portillo-Villasana, Huerta-Barrientos, AndradeIn, 2017) This second simulation points out that passengers with the intention to commit suicide at the Metro are simply discouraged, not stopped by safety doors (Portillo-Villasana, Huerta-Barrientos, AndradeIn, 2017).
Credit: JapanToday 2014.
Japan, known for having a high-stress work culture and a fast-paced environment, has also been addressing platform-related deaths. A study was done for three major city subway stations in Japan, Tokyo, Kanagawa, and Osaka to assess the correlation of suicide/ platform deaths with variating hours of sunlight and increasing UV within stations to simulate daytime and nighttime. Within that specific study, it pointed out that the installation of blue lights at the ends of railway platforms in Japan reduced suicides by 84%. A different analysis using governmental data listing all railway suicide attempts in Japan from April 2002-March 2012, showed that in 2012, 119 platform-related injuries were reported within six months. This data was reported not of suicides alone, but because passengers queued too close to platform edges; charged at doors; or simply fell into the tracks from being pushed.
Between 1997 to 2007, the effectiveness of installing PSDs for the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway was assessed. This was done through the data collected from suicides and other rail-related injuries from the railway operators and the Hong Kong coroner’s court. With said information in mind, the results found in this 11-year study were 59.9% of reduced railway suicides after PSD installations.
Credit: Hin Lee Plastic & Screen Printing Ltd.
PSDs and other safety barrier door designs across the world have proven their purpose of saving lives and minimizing self-harm amongst passengers. Unfortunately, the cases that catch the most public attention are of passengers getting pushed or assaulted onto train tracks. However, anyone concerned about this issue should raise red flags to their respective transit agency. TTC and Toronto Public Health have recognized suicide and self-harm within stations as public health concerns. With a municipal election this fall, this is an issue worth raising with candidates.
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Photographs: https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2022/02/01/opinion-the-mta-should-equip-stations-with-railings-for-safety/ ; https://japantoday.com/category/tech/train-platform-door-tech-promotes-safety ; https://www.hinlee.com.hk/MTR-PSD; Feature Image is of Seville, Spain. Credit: Jean-François Obregón