Restarting local trains? Study says rework stations for safe commute during pandemic

Updated: 12 September, 2020 07:02 IST | Rajendra B Aklekar | Mumbai

Global NGO's research says suburban stations need overhaul and better space management for safe commute during the pandemic

The ever busy Churchgate station is currently not so crowded as only those allowed to travel by train are seen there. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The ever busy Churchgate station is currently not so crowded as only those allowed to travel by train are seen there. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Given the public and political pressure, local trains could soon be back, but how will the Railways handle crowds safely? Global public transit think tank World Resources Institute (WRI), that has been conducting studies on the Mumbai suburban railway, said the solution is to redesign existing railway stations after the lockdown for physical distancing.

A research paper authored by Madhav Pai, executive director of WRI India Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities and two of his colleagues, research analyst Leona Nunes and senior manager Lubaina Rangwala, states that attention to station design to create more space for distancing will be the key. It was recently put up in public domain by WRI.

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Both Western Railway and Central Railway chief public relations officers said they had used the lockdown period to work on improving services and infrastructure for the post period. FILE PIC/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

"Now, when traffic is lower than usual, is the time to experiment with changes," Pai said, adding that Mumbai's suburban railway has fundamental problems with crowding and station infrastructure.

Accommodate increased capacity

"The answer, to start with, lies in redesigning access areas, including platforms and staircases, to accommodate increased capacity and create additional waiting spaces. The idea is to consider the rail system from the user's perspective and to consider qualitative measures, instead of focusing solely on quantitative measures of success. We are analysing crowding patterns across platforms, staircases, entrances and exits, and foot over-bridges," he added.

currently only essential services staff and a certain few such as medical shop staff, are allowed to travel by trains, as seen here at Kurla. PIC/Sayyed Sameer AbediCurrently only essential services staff and a certain few such as medical shop staff, are allowed to travel by trains, as seen here at Kurla. PIC/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Other solutions offered include creating more space by widening existing foot bridges, building more of them and linking them.

"Universal design principles for the safe movement of specially-abled people, women, children and the elderly should be followed, including lighting, colour and tactile cues," he said.

Essential services staff at Kandivli railway station. The research paper gives solutions for a post lockdown situation. FILE PIC/Satej Shinde
Essential services staff at Kandivli railway station. The research paper gives solutions for a post lockdown situation. FILE PIC/Satej Shinde

"Dynamic data capture and crowd monitoring could allow trains to be held up when platforms are too crowded for offloading. We are also exploring how AI-enabled technology can provide ways to analyse video feeds and simulate scenarios to understand people's behaviour," he added.

WR, CR already on the job

Western Railway's Chief Public Relations Officer Sumit Thakur said that this is exactly what the WR had been working on, not just in Mumbai, but across the zone. "We have converted this crisis period of lockdown into opportunity, and done capacity argumentation and infrastructure bottlenecks removal work. Extension of platforms from 12-car into 15 car on the slow line to improve capacity should be complete by December 2020. Other works include removing age-old speed restrictions to speed up trains so that the overall network capacity is also increased. The re-girdering of the Frere Bridge to make it wider is an example," he said.

Madhav Pai, executive director, WRI India Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities
Madhav Pai, executive director, WRI India Ross Centre for Sustainable Cities

Central Railway's Chief Public Relations Officer Shivaji Sutar said that the CR had been working in similar direction. "We have installed FebriEye — human body temperature screening CCTV cameras - at outstation termini and may extend this AI technology for suburban commuters. In the lockdown period, we reconstructed 25 foot over bridges, repaired four, and constructed two new ones in Mumbai. We have also started QR code-based entry mechanism along with floor markings to ensure social distancing," he said.

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First Published: 12 September, 2020 06:53 IST

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