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Obstacles blocking installation of platform doors at train stations in Japan

A government call for railway operators to install doors along station platforms as a safety measure has been snagged by the irregular positions of train doors and the constraints of tight train schedules.

The national government has been calling on railway companies to set up doors along train platforms at stations accommodating over 100,000 daily users by fiscal 2020, to prevent deaths and injuries from people falling or stepping onto the tracks.

On Dec. 15 last year, Kintetsu Railway Co. announced it would install rising barriers at Osaka-Abenobashi Station, which handles over 160,000 passengers a day, by the end of fiscal 2018. Unlike conventional doors that slide apart after the train arrives, these barriers are raised and lowered by wires attached to supports. However, the barriers will be limited to platforms used by express and semi-express trains, which have little difference in the positioning of their doors.

A supposed advantage of the rising barriers is that they can be used with trains whose door locations vary. However, in the case of Kintetsu platforms where limited express trains stop, the rising barriers' support pillars would get in the way of some trains' doors no matter where they were placed. The trains that stop at these platforms have 13 different patterns of door placement, and yet more placements are possible if different train cars are included. Additionally, the train platforms don't have much space in the areas next to their stairs and escalators, so supports cannot be installed there, either.

Of all the country's private railway companies, Kintetsu covers the longest distance. The municipal transportation bureaus of Kyoto and Osaka and Hanshin Electric Railway Co. all operate trains that connect to Kintetsu rail. There are 23 types of door placement on trains traveling on the Kyoto and Kashihara lines, and 26 on trains on the Nara Line. To create barriers that could handle the doors of all these trains, an unrealistic 36-meter-long boarding area would be necessary.

Recently, a type of automatic door that can have its opening position adjusted to match with train doors has been developed, but a Kintetsu executive says of this new type of door, "If it malfunctioned, it could completely prevent passengers from boarding or getting off."

Meanwhile, there are 50 stations on five lines run by Tokyo Metro Co. that handle over 100,000 passengers a day, but no platform doors are installed. Arrangements have been made to unify the door positions of trains on JR and non-JR lines connecting to these stations, and the installation of platform doors is expected at 38 stations by the end of fiscal 2022. However, details have not been worked out for nine stations on the Tozai Line and three stations on the Hanzomon Line.

Holding up the installation of platform doors at those stations is the fact that trains would need to stop longer at the stations, potentially impeding their ability to transport large amounts of passengers quickly. Extra time for checking the safety of both the train doors and the platform doors could force the railway operator to cut the number of trains in operation. Tokyo Metro estimates that if platform doors were installed on the Tozai Line, some additional five to 10 seconds would be necessary at each train stop, delaying traveling time from one end of the line to the other by about three minutes.

According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, in fiscal 2015 the Tozai Line ran at 199 percent of its designated capacity, tying with the JR Sobu Line for the most crowded line in the country. If rush hour schedules are spaced out to accommodate the extra time for platform doors, that could cause other sources of danger, such as crowding at stations. A Tokyo Metro representative commented, "We want to consider all the possible options, including a more efficient train schedule."

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