Overcrowding (large concentrations of rail passengers) will frequently occur usually without any serious consequences. Unfortunately, on occasion the rail platform’s inadequacies can result in serious injuries and fatalities. Platform overcrowding results in passengers losing movement control. Overcrowding raises key concerns for the rail passenger, including the personal impact of the platform crowd, the information provided in order to make informed decisions, the physical space available to them, the architectural features that constrain movement and the duration of the overcrowding.
While motor vehicles are usually confined to roadways, rail passengers are able to move in any direction subject to their own physical capabilities, and are able to accelerate and decelerate at a very high rate. While motor vehicles are fixed to lanes on the roadway, platform passengers can expect interactions from all directions, and can reverse their direction in the same travel path and exit the same way they entered. It is difficult to articulate the intense psychological and physiological pressures faced by passengers on an overcrowded platform when their movement is severely restricted. Most overcrowding situations can be prevented by applying simple management strategies, design modifications and advance planning.
There are many factors that affect rail platform overcrowding:
· Physical layout of the platform
· Obstructions on the platform that slow the passengers’ movement
· Location of staircases, escalators and elevators
· Time of passenger arrival
· Train timetables
· Lack of coordination between train and bus lines
· Use for multiple train lines
· Outside weather conditions
· Restrictions in people flow
· Passenger conflict areas
· Passenger gathering points
· Peaks in passenger flows
· Accommodating passengers with restricted mobility
· Transit staff available to passengers when needed
· Effective information available in different formats, (audible and visual)
· Extra staff available on short notice
· Effective crowd management plan
· System delays
· Platform areas that are of little use (end of platforms beyond the area of major flow of passengers)
· Areas around signs, benches, stairs, columns and other platform obstructions
The platform dimensions are a key factor in overcrowding at the station, as well as the lack of stairway capacity that causes passengers to bunch at the access point to the stairs. After disembarking from the train, passengers at the station surge toward the staircase and bunch around the area closest to the platform edge. This condition makes the platform increasingly hazardous because passengers become frustrated as they exit the platform and are faced with delays when they want to begin climbing the stairs.
The station platform serves different functions during the departure and arrival of trains. For the arrival, the platform must have sufficient area and vertical access facilities for passengers to quickly move through the area. During the departure, the platform serves as a storage area for passengers waiting for a train and as a movement space for passengers distributing themselves along the platform.
The platform area facilitates multiple passenger circulation functions, including circulating along the platform, boarding and alighting from trains, queuing at the platform edge while waiting for the next train, transferring between trains, waiting for the next train, queuing (stairways, escalators and elevators), and waiting at benches and information kiosk. The disruption of train service can also lead to dangerous overcrowding of the platform with the risk of passengers falling onto the tracks. Because of these complex and often conflicting characteristics, overcrowding on the platform creates potentially dangerous situations where passengers are crowded near the platform edge. The station platform presents challenges for the circulation of passengers, including the fact that linear queues for stairways must mix with less flexible bulk queuing for boarding that may extend laterally across the platform. In addition, disembarking passengers have to compete with boarding passengers in the areas along the length of the platform, which coincides with the queuing space for the stairways. Also, the platform serves the needs of loading and unloading (sometimes two platforms at the same time), and for the disabled sidewalls and other references are not available for location and safety.
The available platform area is determined by deducting the 2-foot safety edge (tactile strip) along the length of the platform and the footprint areas of any stairs, columns, or other space-consuming features on the platform (plus an 18 inch buffer). The location of the stairs will affect the distribution of passengers along the platform, and it is known from various studies that passengers will cluster around platform access stairways. The effective platform area required is based on maintaining a minimum level of service for queuing and for passenger circulation. The platform as designed and operated has a critical passenger holding capacity, which if exceeded, could result in passengers being pushed onto the track area. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also affects the operation of the platform, including the platform edge treatment. The ADA does not directly affect the overall area or width required for a platform, but an accessible route of at least 36-inches wide must be maintained along the platform. When the accessible route is next to the platform edge, the 24-inch platform edge treatment area is not included, so the clear width along a platform edge must be 60 inches.
The National Fire Protection Association Standard for “Fixed Guideway Transit and Passenger Rail Systems” does not directly affect the overall platform area unless obstacles require additional platform width to provide egress capacity past an obstacle such as a stairway. The standard specifies that egress routes must be at least 5 feet 8 inches wide. When a walking path passes between the edge of the platform and an obstacle, an additional width of one foot 6 inches must be provided at the platform edge, and one foot must be provided next to the obstruction since a minimum clearance width of 8 feet 2 inches is required in such a case.