Filling the gap between the carriages

For many year the gap between the train and the platform has been of concern to safety regulators. But there is another gap that people can also fall down – that between the carriages.

Siemens 729M approaches South Kensington on a down Werribee service

Mind the gap

This can be seen on Melbourne’s fleet of Siemens trains.

Original style gangway bellows fitted to Siemens 831M-2566T-832M

The carriages are linked by rubber intercarriage gangeways.

Looking down the aisle of a Siemens train

But they feature a gap between it and the platform.

Big gap between Siemens train carriages and platform with the original style gangway bellows

But a recent change has been made – a new style of bellow.

New Hubner gangway bellows fitted to Siemens (703M-2502T-704M
New Hubner gangway bellows fitted to Siemens (703M-2502T-704M

Which closes the gap.

Smaller gap between Siemens train carriages and platform with the new Hubner gangway bellows

According to Metro Trains Melbourne.

Siemens trains are receiving significant upgrades, with new bellows now installed on 20 per cent of the fleet.

The bellows provide an “outer wall” that fills the gap between the train and the platform, making it safer for passengers and rail employees.

The story behind the rollout

In 2002 Martin Stewart fell into the gap, losing his lower right leg and right arm at Richmond station.

Martin Stewart warned everybody that a catastrophe like this was bound to happen. He didn’t anticipate that it would happen to him.

Mr Stewart, 39, has been blind since birth, but he had lived a normal life. He has a wife, Katrina, who is also blind, two small children and a job that he used to travel to every day by train.

“Public transport is critical for blind and vision-impaired people,” he said. But he had always known of its dangers. For years he lobbied the State Government and the railways on the risks to blind people of injury or death on a system that no longer had guards or platform staff.

Then, in February, Mr Stewart stepped into what he thought was an open carriage doorway and fell into the space between carriages and on to the tracks at Richmond station.

Despite the desperate attempts of an onlooker to flag down the driver, the train took off and dragged Mr Stewart 200 metres along the tracks. The train tore off his lower right leg, his right arm and the top of his left ear. It fractured his cheekbone and ribs and left him with painful friction burns down the front of his body.

Starting a crusade.

Mr Stewart is not seeking sympathy but he is determined to do everything he can to ensure he is the last blind person to suffer like this. In the 1980s he worked with an advocacy group, People in Equality, Not Institutions, that unsuccessfully fought the loss of train guards and conductors because of the safety implications for people with disabilities.

Maryanne Diamond, executive officer of Blind Citizens Australia, said the association got about a call a week from a blind person who had had an accident on the transport system. Most were not reported to authorities because they did not involve injury, she said, but some blind people now refused to travel by train because they felt unsafe on stations.

She wanted all stations fitted with tactile ground surface indicators – long narrow grooves that indicate direction and lines of raised dots that indicate hazard. “It helps blind people walk in a straight line and prevents them walking off the platform,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Connex trains could not comment on Mr Stewart’s case as it was being investigated by the Transport Accident Commission. She said the company knew of two deaths involving people with wheelchairs and seven other cases of minor injury involving people with disabilities. One involved a blind man and his guide dog who walked off the end of a platform. She said Connex was working with researchers and disability groups to improve the system.

A government spokesman said yesterday: “Obviously this is a terrible tragedy. The government has already raised the issue with Connex and is investigating whether anything can be done to make sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the future.

“Government representatives will also be meeting friends of Mr Stewart next week to discuss the issue further.”

But the government forgot all about the gap during the design of the new High Capacity Metro Train fleet.

Cab of the HCMT mockup

A similar concertina gangway provided between the two carriages.

Concertina gangway between the two carriages

With a gap so big that the mockup train required a piece of plywood from falling into the gap.

Concertina gangway between the two carriages

A flaw replicated on the first HCMT set to emerge from the factory.

The 'arrow' decals on the side of carriage 9101 don't actually form an arrow

But advocacy group Blind Citizens Australia didn’t forget.

In June 2019, the Victorian government will begin the roll-out of 65 new high capacity trains on the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, with plans to introduce more if they prove successful. BCA and other organisations were consulted during the procurement process, and as a result, we recognised four critical design flaws in a prototype train.

We’re very pleased to report that those flaws won’t appear in the new trains when they’re introduced next year. BCA was represented by Martin Stewart, who energetically and eloquently lobbied for the correction of the errors he discovered. This consultation process has resulted in a historic advocacy victory, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Martin.

In the prototype, Martin discovered a large gap between each of the train’s carriages. This was an error that could cause serious injury or death.

To fill that gap, Martin had to get personal. At one meeting, frustrated by slow progress and determined to defend his community from the trauma he’d suffered, he deliberately removed his artificial leg. “I said this will be the result. And then I touched my arm. Here’s another one.”

Martin’s dramatic approach certainly did have an impact. At a recent stakeholder meeting, Michael Dunn, Assistant Director of governance and reporting for the project, announced that all the new high capacity trains would have “gangway gap barriers” built in, to prevent passengers from falling between carriages.

Dunn also told Martin that this protective feature would be included in all future Melbourne trains. That moment was the absolution he’d waited 16 years to find. “Yesterday was the most satisfying advocacy day that I have ever had,” he told us after that meeting.

The end result – gap filling panels progressively fitted to the new HCMT sets.

Rubber gap filling panels between the carriages

And the improved bellows being added to the Siemens train fleet.

But work still to come

X’Trapolis train from the 2000s also have rubber gangway bellows between carriages, but only leave a small gap.

Rubber gangway bellows between X'Trapolis train carriages

But the Comeng trains from the 1980s that form the bulk of Melbourne’s fleet of suburban trains were built with open walkways between carriages.

Unidentified antenna fitted to end of Comeng carriages 667M and 668M

But with doors either side.

Onboard the 'M' car of an Alstom Comeng train

In 2017 work started on the Comeng Life Extension project, which saw the trains patched up for a few more years of service.

'Comeng Life Extension' project signage at the Macaulay Light Repair Centre

One of the upgrades was enclosed gangways between carriages – supposedly to prevent train surfers gaining access to the carriage roof.

Intercarriage connector fitted to EDI Comeng 1053T

But these gangways still leave a gap between the carriage and the platform.

Concertina fitted between the carriages of a life extension EDI Comeng train

A flaw that I don’t see being addressed in the short time these trains have left in service.

Footnote: going backwards on the Washington Metro

In 2017 the Washington Metro introduced new trains that lacked the safety barriers that their previous trains had, with predictable results.

For years, David Kosub lived in fear of falling onto the train tracks during his daily Metro commute.

Then, it finally happened.

He was attempting to board a Red Line train — one of Metro’s new 7000-series trains — when he stepped into the gap between two rail cars, falling onto the tracks and finding himself wedged between “giant metal behemoths.”

Kosub believes the reason he fell between the train cars was because Metro used a new, untested design on the new fleet of 7000-series trains.

On older trains, all the gaps between cars feature a simple chain barrier that is meant to protect riders from mistaking the empty space for a doorway into the train.

On the new trains, some of those barriers are guarded by a pair of rubber shields that are recessed from the edge of the platform and feature a nine-inch gap in the middle — just enough space to create what Kosub called “a David-sized hole, just perfectly sized for me to slip right through.”

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7 Responses to “Filling the gap between the carriages”

  1. Andrew says:

    Martin Stewart. What an incredible human being.

  2. Rob says:

    For too long, the government has ignored the needs of people with disabilities. The glacially slow upgrade of tram stops is a perfect example. Major vertical and horizontal gaps on train platforms (Richmond, West Richmond etc.) is another shameful example

    I would like to see the government actively engage and employ people with disabilities to highlight the key issues and rectify them, removing just some of the barriers people with disabilities face in daily life

  3. Heihachi_73 says:

    The platform gaps at stations should be of much more importance than the gap between two carriages. Speaking of disabled access, platform 3 at Auburn is a complete joke, the first carriage has to stop on a wooden(?!!!) platform extension made some time early-to-mid last century which is about a foot lower than the rest of the station which was built well over 100 years ago (which is already low because the standard Melbourne platform height was designed so that the trains that were built in the 1800s wouldn’t get their outward-swinging doors stuck when the train was crush-loaded).

    Large gaps and platform height aside, the condition of most of suburban Melbourne’s platforms is appalling too, with moss growing on a fair number of stations (even premium stations) and brown gunk leaking down the walls of too many subways/underpasses to mention (Flinders Street and Glenferrie are notable enough); the older style tactile bumps installed in the Connex era are smooth on top and make people slip over in the wet (if the plastic bumps haven’t disintegrated, ended up on the tracks or are jutting out a mile because they were joined in strips and half have fallen out, making you trip over instead); a lot of platforms have dips in them (even when recently resurfaced!) which end up turning into large puddles as soon as Melbourne’s trademark weather does its thing. Never mind the fact that the newer stations have about a 2 metre gap between the train and the canopy (roof awning) so you get wet anyway. That’s before I mention the bus bays that are a mile from the station and in the open, with a tiny shelter if lucky – sorry, a glass canvas to make money off advertising, which may not even come with a seat when you’re waiting for that typically once-an-hour bus (putting a seat in the way of illuminated 8 foot tall signs or LCD panels is never a good thing apparently, especially when advertising something like Toyota around public transport).

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