Fanling MTR station recently found itself in the news for two railway suicides. The tragic incidents, among other things, have underscored the need to urgently install platform screen doors (PSDs) in the remaining rail stations that currently lack such safety feature.
Based on international and local experience, PSDs has proven highly effective in preventing both accidental falls and suicide attempts from happening in railway stations.
Over the years, the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of the University of Hong Kong has been monitoring the numbers of accidental falls on rail tracks and rail suicides in the city, and calling upon the MTR to install PSDs along the East Rail line.
Since 2002, MTR Corporation has started installing screen doors in its station platforms that were underground.
According to figures provided by the MTR, during the five years (1997 to 2001) before the installation of any PSD, there were a total of 38 railway suicides.
Nevertheless, in the subsequent five years (2003 to 2007), following the introduction of PSDs, the numbers of suicides were down significantly, falling by over two-thirds.
In the meantime, service delays caused either by accidental falls onto rail tracks or attempted suicides saw a significant reduction of 1,200 minutes.
After a series of railway suicides in 2005, the then Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) pledged to spend HK$100 million to install PSDS in all of the 13 stations along the East Rail line.
Then in a document submitted to the Legislative Council in 2011, the MTR Corporation anticipated that by 2018 to 2020, all stations along the Ma On Shan line and the East Rail line would be fitted with PSDs.
Unfortunately, during the intervening period, over 10 accidental falls and attempted suicides took place and resulted in an average 3 deaths every year.
In recent years, those numbers have been continually on the rise and become a growing cause for concern in society.
Worse still, it is disappointing to note that, despite the recent railway suicides, the MTR has appeared to be quite indifferent to this worrisome trend, as if it weren’t responsible for these tragedies at all.
As a matter of fact, installing PSDs can not only save lives and reduce the occurrences of accidents, it can also substantially cut down service delays, inconvenience to commuters, as well as the indirect social and economic losses caused by service delays.
As such, installing PSDs in the railway stations is definitely worth doing both from the perspective of enhancing cost-effectiveness or promoting social responsibility.
Yet the plan of installing the platform screen doors in the MTR stations, which is apparently behind schedule, is believed to be likely to be further exacerbated by the corner-cutting scandals of the Shatin-Central Link.
A number of studies in the past have indicated that limiting people’s access to the means of suicide is, a certain degree, linked to a falling number of suicide cases.
For example, more than a decade ago, our city saw a rapid growth in the number of suicides by charcoal burning.
In 2006, the CSRP formed partnership with retail outlets and launched a one-year pilot scheme in Tuen Mun, under which barbecue charcoal in those stores would be available to customers on request only.
During the implementation of the scheme, suicide rates in Tuen Mun were down by 31.8 percent, and remained on a downward trajectory throughout the following 18 months.
As the largest and the sole railway operator in Hong Kong, MTR must bear responsibility when it comes to protecting the citizens.
Rather than just talking the talk by pledging “safe, reliable and highly efficient” train services to passengers, what the MTR should do is to walk the walk by devising some truly solid measures to protect the safety of commuters — such as expediting the installation of platform screen doors along the East Rail line.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 25
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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