More platform barriers

Progress on installing protective barriers on Japan’s train station platforms have stalled, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. Railway companies have installed platform barriers on only 34, or 14 percent, of the 235 stations (with 100,000 or more passengers per day) for which the ministry had requested barriers.

The lack of barriers at the more crowded stations means that millions of passengers walk, stand and wait in dangerous conditions every day.

Nationwide, according to the ministry, only 539 of 9,500 train stations were equipped with platform barriers by September of this year. Along the Yamanote Line in central Tokyo, only two stations, Ebisu and Meguro, have barriers for the 3.7 million passengers who wait and walk on the platforms at Yamanote’s 29 stations every day.

Japan’s train system is the envy of the world. Trains run on time, go almost everywhere and are generally comfortable. However, they should also be safe.

Train companies have claimed that their efforts to improve safety are hampered by high costs and technical difficulties. New train lines now have protective barriers, but retrofitting old lines remains a problem.

Many lines run differently designed trains, which makes it hard to install barriers that uniformly match all the different positions and sizes of doors. That difficulty, though, is not insurmountable. The safety of passengers should come first.

A law passed in 2006 to establish universal access for physically impaired people also stipulated that train stations need platform barriers. For visually impaired people, Braille blocks along most platforms are helpful, but not as good as a barrier at the platform’s edge.

The goal of universal access for all people to reach their destinations by public transport means getting there safely, too.

Many stations have recently added elevators and escalators, a helpful change for many passengers. But those additions also make platforms more crowded than ever.

Surely, planners and managers should pay as much attention to safety as to comfort. When the trains are delayed, and at peak times, platforms at many stations become dangerously overcrowded. Suicide by jumping in front of trains continues to be a problem, too.

Some progress has been made. Tokyo Metro, which runs many of the capital’s subway lines, now has barriers at 78 of 179 stations. Plans for the Yamanote Line show most stations will have barriers by 2015.

A few companies have developed new platform barriers that adapt to different types of train design.

The ministry and train companies should understand that platform barriers are effective. In stations with platform barriers, no accidents have been reported.