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Mumbai Train Safety
June 20, 2011 1:55 AM   Subscribe

"Track trespassing is the largest everyday cause of unnatural deaths in Mumbai." Every day, an average of 7 million commuters ride the Mumbai Suburban Railway. Every day, an average of 10 people are killed crossing the train tracks. Can the lessons of Cognitive Neurology and Behavioural Economics change this? The results of a pilot public safety project seem promising.
posted by beisny (54 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Every day, an average of 10 people are killed crossing the train tracks.

HOLY krap.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:03 AM on June 20, 2011


I thought it'd be higher. 10 out of 7m a day probably puts it on par with driving in Australia in the 80s.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:10 AM on June 20, 2011


I wonder if it's the same mentality drivers have: the feeling they can beat the train.

Trains are fricking scary because your perspective gives you the false impression that the train is moving slower than it actually is, and by the time you realise you've made a judgement error the damned thing is on top of you.
posted by bwg at 2:13 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


bwg, misjudging the speed is one of the things they tried to address, seemingly with good results.
posted by hat_eater at 2:33 AM on June 20, 2011


are killed

A certain percentage are no doubt suicides in which case improved signage will have little effect.

Maybe a signwith the picture of f a crying wife and child next to a body with rail-road tracks over it?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for reducing the number of accidents, but only to the extent that "cognitive neurology and behavioural economics" doesn't become a replacement for more expensive (and more effective) brick and mortar measures such as getting rid of level crossings and building pedestrian subways.
posted by three blind mice at 2:51 AM on June 20, 2011


In Mumbai, you'd want to build pedestrian overpasses rather than subways, but yes that would help.
posted by atrazine at 3:16 AM on June 20, 2011


Couldn't the Mumbai municipality just build some public toilets instead?
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:17 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


(by which I mean, these people aren't trespassing on the tracks because they need to go somewhere; they're trespassing because they need to go somewhere. Anybody who's ridden a train through Mumbai will know what I'm talking about)
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:21 AM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


A certain percentage are no doubt suicides in which case improved signage will have little effect.
Not so modest:
This modest tinkering has had dramatic results. In the six months before the experiment went live in December 2009, Wadala had recorded 23 track-crossing deaths, said M. C. Chauhan, a manager with the Central Railway’s Mumbai division. Between January and June 2010, that number had dropped to nine; in the next eight months, up until February 2011, only one death was registered. “We think the project is a huge success,” Chauhan said.
posted by maudlin at 3:50 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Yeah, that was supposed to be a blockquote.)
posted by maudlin at 3:51 AM on June 20, 2011


an average of 10 people are killed crossing the train tracks

This is insane. Everyday? Holy . . .

This is Mumbai's 9/11.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:04 AM on June 20, 2011


Interesting article. Thanks beisny.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:07 AM on June 20, 2011


As much as I'm glad that there's a method for reducing deaths, the bigger issue seems to be that there are vast slums and no way for the poor folks in the slums to cross the tracks easily. In a sense this is about people being reckless, but it's also a disaster of capitalism. I wish that societies would put a little less effort into massaging the effects of inequality and more into ending it. (Around here, for example, they could cut out those crap "hey men of color you should totally be good fathers!" motivational posters and start up, say, a jobs program.)
posted by Frowner at 4:37 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting article, small changes can have a significant impact.
posted by arcticseal at 4:39 AM on June 20, 2011


It's hard to judge the train's speed. The couple is just strolling across the tracks, then they realize how fast the train is coming. Youtube clip
posted by jjj606 at 5:13 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The couple is just strolling across the tracks, then they realize how fast the train is coming.

Yikes!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:17 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fascinating. Thanks for posting.
posted by josher71 at 5:20 AM on June 20, 2011


It's hard to judge the train's speed.

Yeah. We're much better at angular changes than distance changes when judging speed, and by the design of railways, when you're trying to cross a track, a train is coming right at you. Similar is beating a car across a road.

The idea of painting groups of ties yellow, turning the entire section of track into a giant ruler, is very clever -- as long as the grouping isn't too small or large. Too large, and you don't get how fast it's moving because the information comes in too slowly. Too small, and innumeracy hits -- "It's 1300 some units away, we're fin...."

Groups of 5 ties sounds good -- I'm guessing it's about a meter/yard, and that's a scale we live with all the time, so it has meaning to us. I'm not certain if it's a meter, but it's in the same order of magnitude.
posted by eriko at 5:30 AM on June 20, 2011


Meanwhile, in Thailand.
posted by empath at 5:33 AM on June 20, 2011


Anything that lowers the death toll is good, but I also agree with Ubu that this can't really be thought of separately from why people are on the tracks.
posted by Forktine at 5:37 AM on June 20, 2011


eriko, five ties would cover about 2,5 to 3 m - standard tie spacing is about 20 inches (50,8 cm) to two feet (61 cm). And there are whole groups of people on the net discussing this topic, who knew.
posted by hat_eater at 5:49 AM on June 20, 2011


This is Mumbai's 9/11.

That position is taken. In any case, a steady death toll that builds up gradually is precisely not what 9/11 was. If you want to compare it with something American, pick something with a similar profile (accidental but due to man-made artifacts, linked to poverty, constant death toll without sudden spikes, little press attention).
posted by atrazine at 5:54 AM on June 20, 2011


Oh, and who else felt enormous relief when Mr. Krishnamurthy mentioned hiring the actor? Am I the only one who was had? Granted, they could have made 10 such photos a day had they wished, but I might serve as a good proof of effectiveness of their approach - the news of 10 deaths per day shocked me, but what really drove the message home was the image...
posted by hat_eater at 5:56 AM on June 20, 2011


...but it's also a disaster of capitalism.

Sorry, I just have to say it:

It is much debated, but many argue that India's economic reforms (i.e. market liberalization), which began in the early 90's, have had a huge effect in terms of reducing poverty and creating India's quickly growing middle class.

Even the communists are begrudgingly acknowledging some success.

I am not so sure that a blanket dismissal of capitalism is the answer in terms of reducing poverty and slum-dwelling in India.
posted by beisny at 5:57 AM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


eriko, five ties would cover about 2,5 to 3 m - standard tie spacing is about 20 inches (50,8 cm) to two feet (61 cm).

And here's that estimation problem again! :-) I basically visualized staring down at the track at the L station and measuring. Only missed by a factor of three...

But still -- 2.5 to 3m is roundabout 10 feet -- still a useful and comprehensible distance.
posted by eriko at 6:25 AM on June 20, 2011


The couple is just strolling across the tracks, then they realize how fast the train is coming.

You know, there's a reason most places regulate train speeds going through stations and populated areas. Damn.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:37 AM on June 20, 2011


I've had three wow-moments in the course of this thread:

1) How many people were killed on a daily basis in 2010
2) How effective these measures have apparently been
3) How many people clearly haven't read the article, but have still proceeded to fit the headline into their weltanschauung.
posted by the cydonian at 6:50 AM on June 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anybody who's ridden a train through Mumbai will know what I'm talking about

Why don't you just say what you mean? You seem to be implying many of these deaths are related to people having to pee. Can you explain?
posted by ericost at 7:27 AM on June 20, 2011


Sort of off-topic, but I read through the Wikipedia article on the Mumbai Railway.

It says they’re about to finish receiving a new set of 129 trains, at a total cost of about 431 million USD. The trains are 12 cars each, so that's 1548 cars, or about $275,000 each. That’s absurdly cheap, compared to the New York City Subway’s newest cars, which cost almost 1.3 million dollars each. The cars don’t look shabby, either.

Also, this image is really striking in terms of the sheer number of handholds available for standees. Says something about the expected ridership.
posted by spitefulcrow at 7:31 AM on June 20, 2011



It says they’re about to finish receiving a new set of 129 trains, at a total cost of about 431 million USD. The trains are 12 cars each, so that's 1548 cars, or about $275,000 each. That’s absurdly cheap, compared to the New York City Subway’s newest cars, which cost almost 1.3 million dollars each. The cars don’t look shabby, either.


I guessing the India trains don't have as many safety features. It's normal for them to run with the doors wide open.
posted by KaizenSoze at 7:55 AM on June 20, 2011


As stated above, my first response was 'who the fuck let's them run trains through a station at that speed???'
posted by spicynuts at 8:03 AM on June 20, 2011


2) How effective these measures have apparently been

This reminds me of when I was driving about a decade ago in Southern California when I saw a yellow road sign with what appeared to be the outline of a man and woman and a child running across the street. Here is what I mean.

Being from the East Coast I was a bit naïve so I says to my friend, "Is that what I think it is?"

"Yep. It's a Mexican family running across the street. A lot of illegals enter the country here and they literally run across the street. Get mowed down by cars like deer in Pennsylvania."

"Those signs have really cut down on the number getting killed."

And that was that.
posted by three blind mice at 8:12 AM on June 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The image of the man reminds me of the signs you see near some irrigation canals. The ones that say "Certain Death" in big bold letters.

None of the piddling "Caution" or "Attention", just "If you do this, you will die"
posted by madajb at 8:32 AM on June 20, 2011


jjj606: "It's hard to judge the train's speed."

Trivia: I believe that train is the Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi, currently the fastest route in the country.

Besides the obvious explanation that people are careless, complacent morons (any crowded signal crossing in the country will dash any hope that people pay attention to signage), it's also true that the trains are faster than folks are used to.

My grandfather oversaw the introduction of India's first 100kmph+ routes in the 70s (the Rajdhani). He told us how little people were prepared for the speed of these trains, and the first few runs were horrific for death of humans and animals. The trains have gotten much faster now, but people still haven't learned.
posted by vanar sena at 8:47 AM on June 20, 2011


beisny writes "I am not so sure that a blanket dismissal of capitalism is the answer in terms of reducing poverty and slum-dwelling in India."

A criticism of an obvious failing is not a blanket dismissal.
posted by Mitheral at 8:49 AM on June 20, 2011


Also - given the density of population and density of the rail network in the country, fencing off the tracks is effectively impossible at the moment. It's one of the biggest issues facing China-style high speed rail in the country. You can't just cut off vast sections of the land from each other (unless you're China!), and having raised track all the way is just too expensive.
posted by vanar sena at 8:52 AM on June 20, 2011


spicynuts: "As stated above, my first response was 'who the fuck let's them run trains through a station at that speed???'"

Do you know how many stations there are on a given route in India? If they slowed down at every hamlet with a station built as an election promise, a train trip would be a lifelong commitment.
posted by vanar sena at 9:01 AM on June 20, 2011


It's certainly a failing but my point is that it is not obvious at all that the responsibility for this failing rests on "capitalism" at all. In fact the third item I linked to in my comment looks at the argument that the delay of economic reforms had a significant cost and that "had started its reforms earlier it would have had lower infant mortality rate, high literacy, lower poverty etc."

And I don't think that it's obvious that capitalism has brought India only unambiguous good, either.
posted by beisny at 9:11 AM on June 20, 2011


Why don't you just say what you mean? You seem to be implying many of these deaths are related to people having to pee. Can you explain?

Not peeing so much (that's easier to do discretely) as pooping. The urban poor in India lack toilets in a big way; railway lines are some of the only open land that can be used for defecation (though in full view of the train passengers).
posted by Forktine at 9:22 AM on June 20, 2011


I'm finding this 10 a day thing hard to grasp. The conductors must suffer PTSD (attractive job for psychopaths and reformed killers). The maintenance crews must be like working at a morgue cleaning the blood and guts off the train daily. The police must have an entire staff devoted to notifying next of kin, and there's probably a thriving ambulance/mortuary business around it.
posted by stbalbach at 9:55 AM on June 20, 2011


We need a behavioral technique that makes people read the FPP article.
posted by storybored at 11:35 AM on June 20, 2011


3) How many people clearly haven't read the article, but have still proceeded to fit the headline into their weltanschauung.

If that was directed at me, yes, I saw that the article talked about people "crossing the tracks" (eg due to a lack of footbridges, and to move between west & east Mumbai).

However, the article was written by an Indian, and talking of this great new idea applied there. It somewhat undermines the premise of the article if they admit that the reason a lot of people are on the tracks in the first place is because in Mumbai (especially) they're one huge outdoor pooping-field.

Look out a train window in the morning, and you will see scores of people either doing their business or else picking their way to a relatively clean patch of gravel, tin can full of water for ablutions in hand. Track crossing may have pedestrian reasons as well, but "track tresspassing" is clearly a euphemism.

You know as well as I do that this is the case; stop being so disingenuous.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:10 PM on June 20, 2011


That position is taken. In any case, a steady death toll that builds up gradually is precisely not what 9/11 was. If you want to compare it with something American, pick something with a similar profile (accidental but due to man-made artifacts, linked to poverty, constant death toll without sudden spikes, little press attention).

I know it's hard to get over the internet, so it's actually my own fault, but I wasn't serious, I so often am not that I forget other people can't tell (true in person, or over the internet).
posted by IvoShandor at 4:52 PM on June 20, 2011


That said, you should here the lyrics to this song I wrote called "Mumbai's 9/11 (Subject-Verb-9/11)". It's a laugh riot.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2011


*hear, for shit's sake.
posted by IvoShandor at 4:53 PM on June 20, 2011


If that was directed at me, yes, I saw that the article talked about people "crossing the tracks" (eg due to a lack of footbridges, and to move between west & east Mumbai).
I don't disagree that you need more toilets in Mumbai's slums. Except that, you had comments such as these:

A certain percentage are no doubt suicides in which case improved signage will have little effect.

As much as I'm glad that there's a method for reducing deaths, the bigger issue seems to be that there are vast slums and no way for the poor folks in the slums to cross the tracks easily. In a sense this is about people being reckless, but it's also a disaster of capitalism.

This is Mumbai's 9/11.

Was about to sleep, so didn't want to engage in a protracted discussion on slums and their development and all that, so was focussed specifically on this behavioural economics angle here. Had the general impression that the thread then was discussing everything about Mumbai except what the article was talking about.
However, the article was written by an Indian.
Didn't notice it was written by an Indian, and frankly, if you'd like to go down the path of cultural backgrounds, I'd argue that it's impossible to tell if Sumanth Subramanian is indeed Indian or not; in fact, he could easily be American, judging by the fact he's been associated with international newspapers. That he's of an Indian origin is perhaps true, but in either case, I'm not entirely clear as to how either ethnicity or nationality would illustrate motivations here.
and talking of this great new idea applied there.
Which apparently had dramatic improvements.
It somewhat undermines the premise of the article if they admit that the reason a lot of people are on the tracks in the first place is because in Mumbai (especially) they're one huge outdoor pooping-field
The premise of the article was that "behavioural" suggestions led to a lesser number of people being killed, nothing more nothing less. Hell, even the article called it the "Wadala Experiment"; this is not a policy proposal, this is a bunch of kids trying to see if their ideas could create impact through impression management. And apparently it has, huge outdoor pooping-fields or otherwise. Now I have my criticisms of the piece, but that the Wadala Experiment wasn't trying to solve Mumbai's sanitation problems isn't one of them. It isn't meant to be - can't be - a substitute for actual governance.
Trivia: I believe that train is the Delhi-Bhopal Shatabdi, currently the fastest route in the country.
Tangentially-related, but the second fastest train in India, the Duronto, is presumably named for the Bengali version of the Hindi "turant", or "immediately", in that you can travel from Delhi to Pune "immediately". Durantam, in Telugu, however means "endless", thus providing the prospect of taking an immediate journey in air-conditioned comfort endlessly.
posted by the cydonian at 9:09 PM on June 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Trainspotting is a far more enjoyable pursuit than speculating on whether somebody of presumptively Indian origin might have a motivation in glossing over why some people in certain areas might be on the tracks.

I had thought that train was going at top-notch speed, and wondered about its markings. I'd picked it as probably a Shatabdi Express. Let me just check Trains at a Glance, and see if I can work out exactly which one *disappears for hours into convoluted train timetables*
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:14 PM on June 20, 2011


UbuRoivas: "Let me just check Trains at a Glance"

The site you want is India Rail Info. There's a forum for each train. Here's the live map for the Bhopal Shatabdi.
posted by vanar sena at 2:24 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


How could you possibly tell that it's the Mumbai-Bhopal Shatabdi? It could be any of them. No way of seeing the train number, and we don't even know if it's the UP train or the DOWN train!

Never mind, though. I got diverted by the Indiarail Forum!

- Ellenabad station is in Haryana (Dist. Sirsa) and not in rajasthan as mentioned on train routes. Please correct

- yes ellenabad is in Haryana only

- Thanks for alert. Corrected.
Ellenabad is a Sub-Division of Distt. Sirsa in Haryana (India). It was called eariler as "Kharial" which was situated in the Ghaghar river and while this river was flooded Kharial always destroyed. Robert Hutch was the commissioner of Hissar and his wife Madam Ellena was very fond of Hunting. Becuase the land of Kharial was very grassy so here were many kind of animals. Madam Ellena always comes here for hunting. Once she came here with her companions. She was pregnent. While hunting she suffered with delivery pain. Then her companions took her to Kharial. The people of Kharial served her like their own relative. Madam Ellena got healthy. When she went to Hissar she said to her Husband Mr. Robert Hutch to do something of Kharial's people. Then Mr. Robert Hutch founded a town on the north side of Hgaghar river. He announced that this town will be called Ellenabad on the name of her wife Madam Ellena. After that this town is known as Ellenabad. Now Ellenabad is situated as an entry point to come Haryana. It is 5 KM far from Rajasthan. It has about 40, 000 population and also a consituancy of Haryana Vidhan Sabha.

- Goyalji, good afternoon. And thanks a lot for that information sir. Very interesting.

- Namaskar sir. There is a small mistake. Hgaghar river is Ghaghar river. The error is regretted.

posted by UbuRoivas at 3:05 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


UbuRoivas: "How could you possibly tell that it's the Mumbai-Bhopal Shatabdi?"

BOUNDLESS TRAIN GEEK CHOPZ

actually it was posted on that forum some years ago and that was the consensus
posted by vanar sena at 5:24 AM on June 21, 2011


- Is there any plan when the conversion of TPJ (Tiruchirappalli Jn) to VM (Vilupuram Jn)as a Double lane ?

- yes there is a plan to conversion of double track... already basic work is finished and money also alloted

- Thank You so much, This is my first blog in my life and it has been answered.

- welcome to this forum. After your first blog, I hope you can play a long innings here.


THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER! YEH RAIL KE HINDUSTAN FORUM BAHUT ACHCHA HAI!

posted by UbuRoivas at 5:33 AM on June 21, 2011


THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER! YEH RAIL KE HINDUSTAN FORUM BAHUT ACHCHA HAI!

No kidding. From a thread that had a detailed seemingly live update of a journey by the Chennai Duranto:
Sir, the very mention of PONGAL is mouth-watering to me. Not cooked in my house coz my wife and children dont like it. They prefer the Bengali khichdi. And most South Indian hotels in Kolkata dont serve PONGAL coz there are very few takers for it. I am facing a MAJOR CULINARY CRISIS.
Might have to tell my wife that if I don't get to prepare PONGAL when I feel like it, I might face a MAJOR CULINARY CRISIS.

Which is to say, seems like the guy simply expects others, specifically his wife, to prepare food for him, and didn't even consider making the stuff himself.
posted by the cydonian at 10:42 PM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


- Should TTE [travelling ticket examiner] be under Lokpal ? [citizens' ombudsman bill]

- After lokpal now Delhi girls are ready for Besharmi morcha.

- What is this besharmi morcha?

- Like u r discussing about lokpal, Besharmi morcha is called Slut walk. It is going to happen there at Delhi.

posted by UbuRoivas at 3:18 AM on June 22, 2011


Besharmi Morcha => The Shameless Front => Slut Walk.

Of course. Hilarious. :D

Seems like it's a legit name (as opposed to the poster's literal translation) by the organizers.
posted by the cydonian at 3:38 AM on June 22, 2011


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