Effect of station design on death in the London Underground: Observational study
Drainage pits underneath the railway tracks of London Underground trains greatly reduce the number of deaths from people falling or jumping in front of trains, claim Mr Tim Coats and Mr Darren Walter from the Royal London Hospital in this week's BMJ.
Coats and Walter studied 58 cases of patients falling or jumping in front of trains during the 15 month period between January 1996 to March 1997. They found that of the 25 patients who survived, 18 had been involved in an incident at a station with a pit. and only five had lived after falling or jumping at stations with no pit (for two patients the existence of a pit was unknown).
The authors say that many attempts have been made to reduce the number of deaths on the London Underground. Pits were introduced for engineering reasons and it is purely "fortuitous" that they seem to be contributing to an increased chance of survival for people going under trains, they say. They explain that the pit increases the clearance between the train and the ground, probably allowing a casualty to fall away from the train's wheels.
Coats and Walter express concern that the new Jubilee line trains have less ground clearance, leaving less room for a body to escape the wheels. They also suggest that, expense aside, the most effective means of preventing deaths under trains would be to introduce sliding doors on the platform that open only when the train has come to a halt.
They conclude that the mechanics of the interaction of the human body with a train are poorly studied and present rolling stock and stations are not designed to maximise survival.