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TTC looks at installing safety screens on subway platforms

Subway Crowd

Posted: May 23, 2008, 6:26 PM by Rob Roberts

By Allison Hanes, National Post

The TTC is looking to install safety shields on subway station platforms after three Toronto transit riders survived death-defying plunges on the tracks in a month.

Platform-edge screens - which block the precarious precipice until the train stops in the station - are used in many newer subway systems in Asia to prevent suicides or avoid the kind of near-miss accidents that have frightened Toronto passengers.

A man waiting for a train at College Station early Wednesday was deliberately shoved from behind by a stranger. He fell onto the tracks but managed to clamber back up on to the platform with a hand from a fellow passenger.

Later Wednesday, a possibly inebriated man in his 60s stumbled and fell on to the tracks at High Park Station. He too managed to scramble to safety before a train pulled in.

On Mother’s Day, Teresa Kelly miraculously emerged with just a gash on her head and broken bones after rolling under the lip of the platform as a train entered Spadina Station. She had tripped over a bag sitting at the bottom of the stairs.

“I think it’s a concern for all of us,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc (St. Paul’s), vice-chair of the Toronto Transit Commission. “Anyone who rides the subway feels a little queasy as one approaches the edge and it is clearly a safety issue - especially when we have larger crowds. And as we hope and expect to have larger crowds, it becomes even more of a pressing issue.”

Although the TTC insisted that its subway platforms are safe - albeit after reminding riders to exercise due caution - Mr. Mihevc said it may time to take a look at the enhanced security measure.

A series of studies have already been planned to look into the technical, logistical and financial implications of retrofitting all 69 existing stations as well as making them a feature of new stations slated to be built.

Mr. Mihevc said that it would be cheaper to put the screens in when the Spadina line is extended northward than it would be to add them later on.

But a number of major challenges stand in the path of both new construction projects and renovations, including technical requirements and cost.

Before any screens can be put in, the entire signaling system must be upgraded to allow the kind of precision required for trains to stop so their doors are lined up with those on the shield.

Money for that major work is already set aside, said Brad Ross, a spokesman for the TTC. For the Yonge-University-Spadina line alone, the implementation of an automated system is expected to cost $342-million and take until 2016.

The price tag of renovating existing stations would come on top of that figure.

“The cost you’re looking at is in the range of a billion to retrofit the entire system, depending on what type of door you use,” said Mr. Ross. The safety shields come in varying heights - from a three-quarter rise on the low side, to a floor-to-ceiling wall on the high end.

The height of the screen will likely also impact ventilation, since existing TTC stations rely on fresh air flowing in through tunnels propelled by the momentum of the trains.

Councillor Howard Moscoe (Eglinton-Lawrence), a former chair of the TTC, said safety screens have been studied in the past, but always deemed too costly.

Another option for improving platform safety proposed training cameras on the tracks to allow drivers to see if anyone fell in their path before they arrive in the station. “That’s quite affordable actually,” Mr. Moscoe said.

Mr. Mihevic said there are many questions that must be answered before any decisions are made on installing the safety mechanisms.

“I think it would be fair to say we are at the initial exploratory stage,” he said. “We want to know how they would work, where they would work, what the costs are, what the pros and cons are.”

Photo of St. George Station by Nathan Denette, National Post