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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 08/19/2009

Stopping Metrorail Suicides

By editors

By Donald E. White
Falls Church

On Aug. 12, for the fifth time since June, someone was struck and killed apparently after intentionally stepping in front of a moving Metro train. Many people might agree with the Orange Line passenger who commented afterward: “There’s not really much the system can do about that kind of accident.” But Metrorail suicides are preventable.


The aviation industry has had a comparable success for years, thanks to the development of those clever enclosed passenger ramps known as “jet bridges.” These entryways channel passengers directly from waiting areas into airplane cabins, preventing the falls, injuries and even fatalities that can occur with the use of aircraft steps and moveable stairs.

If employed at subway stations, would such channeled access be more costly than the current open access? Yes. But would it be a workable solution despite large numbers of passengers? Again, yes. The benefits? A quick end to commonplace fatalities on subway platforms in Washington, New York and elsewhere.

How could Metro adapt its stations to do this? It could wall off platform edges and install sliding doors that only opened when aligned with newly arrived subway cars. This concept has worked well for about a century now to ensure the safe use of another people-moving mechanism. It’s called the elevator. Hall doors open in tandem with interlocked car doors, after the elevator car has arrived and leveled with the floor, so there is no oppportunity for passengers to step downward to their deaths, intentional or otherwise.

One added benefit? Such platform walls would provide Metro with abundant advertising space to sell, which could offset the costs of their installation.

The writer is director of safety and security at the Northern Virginia Mental Health Institute and a former safety investigator with the U.S. Transportation Department.

By editors  | August 19, 2009; 6:30 AM ET
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Metro could also stave off suicides by actually running competently, for once. I know I feel like killing myself when there's yet another 20-30 minute Red Line delay during rush hour...

Posted by: alphahelix | August 19, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

I've seen glass platform walls with doors in London (Jubilee Line), Taipei, and Tokyo (Namboku Line). The Taipei walls were retrofitted.

Posted by: DaveoftheCoonties | August 19, 2009 2:11 PM | Report abuse

I too have seen the recommended sliding doors in action - in Paris (Ligne 14) and in the underground stations of Singapore' MRT. They would be difficult to retrofit to any system where the doors are not in the same place on all rolling stock, however, a policy change to adopt sliding doors as stations are renovated would necessarily require transit companies to standardize the specs on their rolling stock. Such doors should also enable the transit company to reduce its energy bill for heating and cooling stations.

Posted by: MatthewinNYC | August 19, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

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