VANCOUVER—Two more transit agencies in Canada are now considering platform safety barriers to prevent people from falling onto the tracks — and a brand-new transit system being launched in Montreal in the 2020s will have all 26 of its stations equipped with the life-saving devices.
The announcements come weeks after a series of stories by StarMetro examined the 1,200 track-level deaths that have taken place on railway corridors across the country since 2007. These fatalities are a source of anguish for both the families of those killed as well as the transit workers forced to bear witness.
While not all the deaths are suicides, transit agencies have been forced to find multiple ways to handle people experiencing a mental-health crisis.
Critics say the installation of platform safety barriers could save numerous lives, particularly in urban centres. As recently as this summer, Canada’s largest transit workers union, the Amalgamated Transit Union, called for the installation of the devices in stations across the country.
In Vancouver, TransLink has announced that all trains purchased in the future will have matching door alignments, so all of its trains would be compatible should the agency install a universal set of platform safety doors.
Tony Rebelo, president of CUPE 7000, a union representing transit workers in Vancouver, said his union would be in favour of any barriers that completely prevent commuters from accessing the tracks.
“It’s all about putting the right barrier in place,” Rebelo said in an interview. “It is for passenger safety. It would definitely reduce incidents that would happen of this nature, which in turn helps our members.”
The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) said five stations in its $3.9-billion Blue Line extension will be constructed to be compatible with platform safety barriers. Between 2007 and 2016, there were 173 attempts or successful suicides on STM’s system.
STM spokesman Philippe Déry said the barriers are being considered due to a growing number of commuters using the system.
“When the early planning of the Blue Line extension was in study, platform screen doors were immediately included in the requirements for the new stations,” Déry said.
And since the Blue Line is expected to significantly increase passengers on the existing Orange Line, the decision was made to study how to install barriers at 13 stations on the older line as well.
While those upgrades are merely under consideration, Montreal’s new $6.3-billion transit network will indeed come fully equipped with platform safety barriers.
In a statement, Réseau express métropolitain (REM) said the barriers would increase passenger safety by preventing commuters — as well as their possessions, such as cellphones — from falling onto the tracks. The barriers, the transit agency said, also make the system as a whole faster and more reliable.
REM’s director of engineering for rolling stock and systems Serge Mai said his organization did not specifically seek out systems equipped with barriers.
“We went to the market, we asked for requests for interest, and all companies came back with a proposal that included platform screen doors,” Mai said.
REM’s system will be built to the same level of automation as Vancouver’s SkyTrains, which don’t require any staff on board. This level of automation is often considered a prerequisite for any rail-based transit system to be compatible with platform-side doors. The stations themselves will be a mix of above-ground, surface level and underground stations.
Earlier this summer, the Toronto Transit Commission announced it is studying the idea of installing platform edge doors on all new extensions and lines and retrofitting its existing stations.
Michael Mui is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @mui24hours