JR West switches platform bench orientation to thwart drunken tumbles


Most of the drunk passengers who fall from train platforms in Japan do not stagger along and stumble off, but rise from an alcohol-infused slumber on benches and march headlong onto the tracks, a study has found.

The finding has sparked a review of how the benches are placed. In one large station, the seats have been rotated 90 degrees so passengers face the ends of the platforms instead of the tracks, in the hope that booze-fueled somnambulists will come to no harm.

Late-drinking salarymen are well-served by extensive urban train networks that whisk them back home at the end of the night. While the worst that happens to most corporate warriors is missing their stop, a small number are hurt or killed in stations every year by plunging onto the tracks.

To reduce the number of casualties, West Japan Railway Co. examined all 3,300 falls that occurred in its service area during 2012, using footage from CCTV cameras and focusing on the 1,900 or so that involved alcohol.

Its probe — whose English title is “Behavioral characteristics of drunken passenger leading to falling down from platform and bumped into the car” — contained some startling findings.

Only 10 percent of tipsy tumblers had weaved their way along a platform before stepping off the edge.

A further 3 out of 10 had been stationary when their sense of balance failed and sent them crashing onto the tracks.

The remaining 60 percent had been slumped semi-conscious or unconscious on a bench and had suddenly risen and rushed forward onto the rails, the study found.

It appeared, according to the report’s authors, they were suffering from “confusion of their (situational) awareness because of the influence of alcohol.” In other words, they didn’t seem to know where they were.

“We found that many drunken people walk headlong off the platform and onto the track and that this often happens very quickly,” a JR West spokesman said. “This was a surprising result for us too.”

The carrier said it was carrying out a pilot study in busy Shin-Osaka Station to test the effects of reorienting the benches away from the tracks.

“It’s too early to tell at the moment, but we thought changing the direction may help prevent accidents,” the spokesman said.