Faulty design can cause irreversible damage to human life and health – as seen in the recent case of sixteen-year old Monica More who lost her arms in an accident. Monica's accident is yet another reminder of how unsafe our railway stations are. She slipped just as the train had just begun moving, and went through the gap between the footboard and the platform onto the tracks. This is a malady afflicting local Mumbai trains particularly – because the platforms are designed for outstation passenger trains. A staggering statistic suggests that in the past four years, almost ten thousand commuters are reported to have met with terrible accidents – of which many can be attributed to this horrifying gap between the platform and the train rakes!
But why does it seem like the accident rate has meteorically zoomed in the recent past? The answer to this is that the local railways have undergone a lot of refurbishment! The older rakes, it seems, were lower (with the gap between platform and rake being about 8 inches) and also the air-suspension design of the older rakes was poor, thereby the passenger overload would further pull them down. The newer rakes are taller (with the distance between platform and rake now being 14-18 inches) and are made with superior air-suspensions that can absorb a lot more overload!
The height prescribed for platforms is 30-33 inches and this is a standard specification across the country. The distance between the platform and the rake of a train is about 8-10 inches in case of passenger trains; which also have steps. Local trains do not have steps, and the newer rakes are taller, therefore the distance is about 14-18 inches – explaining the increase in number of fatalities and injuries in accidents.
A seemingly simple design solution to this issue is to raise the height of the platforms to 36 inches and thus narrow the gap between the platforms and the new rakes of local trains; and apparently a request has been made to that effect four years back. But that creates a risky situation for the outstation passenger trains. And therefore no action has been taken; as it is only a viable solution all-around.
Another possible design solution would be to have distinct and dedicated platforms for local and outstation trains; where height of the local train platforms can be raised to over 36 inches, while those for the outstation passenger trains can be kept unchanged. This solution has been successfully implemented at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) by the Central Railway Authorities. But expecting every station in Mumbai to have distinct platforms for local and passenger trains; is a bit too far-fetched. And this long-drawn process will be riddled with the major issue of time-management of the local schedules.
However why aren’t we looking at another very obvious and realistic option, of changing the design/specifications of the newer rakes of the local trains? The ones henceforth manufactured could be re-designed to be of lower height; while existing ones could have steps added to them. Both of these are extremely practical and realistic design solutions – in the face of the imminent damage to life and health caused by the faults in design!!