The sad reality of metro disruptions

It’s easy to get frustrated when the metro goes down. We’re always rushing to get somewhere, and we don’t have lots of free time, especially during the morning rush hour.

And between the computer system that seems to be constantly failing and the 40-year-old trains that always seem to be breaking down, it’s easy to think that incompetent mismanagement on the part of the STM itself is responsible for these problems.

The statistics show that’s not really the case. According to the STM’s activity report for 2011, about half of all disruptions (defined as stoppages in service for more than five minutes) happened because of the actions of passengers. This includes people being on the tracks, people doing improper things with moving or fixed equipment, medical emergencies by people who happen to be in the metro, and, unfortunately, metro suicides.

Of the remaining half, 43% were because of failures of trains, stationary equipment or the systems that control them, and the rest were for “external causes” or “miscellaneous”.

A partial shutdown of the green line that happened on the morning of April 19 fell into the first category of disruptions caused by passengers. A medical emergency at the Verdun station, someone caught under a train. Considered a case of suicide, the media usually leave the issue there and don’t report more on it, for fear of encouraging similar acts.

But, as it turns out, this wasn’t what happened. An investigation showed that the victim, a young woman who had turned 20 years old only four days earlier, had fallen between two metro cars, apparently not paying attention because she was using her phone.

It’s tragic, and perhaps a lesson in the dangers of walking around when you don’t see where you’re going. But what’s even more so is that nobody noticed, and the train left the station. It wasn’t until two stations later that the train was stopped, and then only after passengers noticed traces of blood (the story doesn’t specify where that blood was found).

There are questions to be asked about the safety of metro cars (it’s been mentioned that the new trains coming in 2014 won’t have these gaps between them), about the safety of using cellphones while walking, and about how someone could fall between metro cars during rush hour without anyone noticing or sounding an alarm.

Sadly, there’s no easy way to prevent all injury when you’re dealing with heavy equipment. Only ways to reduce them.

But we could start by understanding that disruptions to service happen, because comments like these seem a bit heartless in hindsight:

19 thoughts on “The sad reality of metro disruptions

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Might this be the straw breaking the camel’s back to go ahead with the installation of these

      It won’t. The STM has studied this and judged it to be too expensive. Even if they did decide to go with them, they would have to wait until every train in the metro system was replaced, because the old trains and new ones don’t have doors of the same size or at the same position. And the new trains don’t have the gap, so this specific type of accident won’t happen then.

      1. JS

        I thought I heard recently that the STM was going to install platform screen doors (or study or consider it) at some stations once the new cars were being used.

  1. Robert G.

    As if car accidents, construction work, or other incidents never tie up highways or bridges or other parts of that transport network. STM should do a better job though of communicating the nature of the problem though which might help a little. Just saying “no service indefinitely” just inflames.

    Platform screen doors is a good solution to prevent situations like these but it’s expensive. I’m surprised Montreal doesn’t install those rubber rumble strips along the platform edges. Toronto has had them for years. It won’t stop situations like people being pushed onto the tracks or the crazy drunks with a danger streak but it might curb distracted walking a bit.

  2. Kevin

    You can’t stop Someone from being too outbid it to realize they are not walking into the train, but the Stm is truly awful at explaining delays.
    Perhaps it needs an ad campaign showing that most people who attempt to commit suicide actually fail… And survive with horrible injuries.

  3. Marc

    The TTC will be installing platform screen doors at the new stations opening soon on the Yonge line, and at a few others, starting this year.

  4. Karine76

    I don’t think the quoting of POed passengers is fair here because they had no idea what was going on. Mind you I was on the green line when it was announced that a police intervention was going on at Verdun Station but the first announcements only said there was an interruption. No week goes where I don’t receive a text msg announcing an interruption and those only get sent when it’s of a certain length so I can understand the reactions. I agree that the STM could have said there was an incident requiring emergency response, pretty sure most people would read through the euphemism.

    Now as for increasing safety, I’m going to sound harsh but she didn’t look at where she was going so you can’t really fault a lack of metro safety for what happened. The same thing almost happened to me but luckily, I looked up just in time to avoid falling in. What happened to her was tragic but had she had a car accident while texting or chatting on her cell phone, I don’t think there would be cries for increased car or road safety.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Now as for increasing safety, I’m going to sound harsh but she didn’t look at where she was going so you can’t really fault a lack of metro safety for what happened.

      True, but there’s a concern that blind users could fall victim to something similar if they’re not careful.

      1. Jimmy Jack

        And how many times has that happened?

        Seriously, while tragic, the accident was entirely the woman’s fault.

        No need to spend hundreds of millions to fix something that isn’t broke

  5. jeremiahandrews

    There is a yellow raised line – the YELLOW LINE – is there to make sure you mind where you are standing. Stupid is as Stupid does. Get off your freaking phones and pay attention.

    They don’t put markers on the platform for no good reason ! A little paying attention goes a long way.

    If people minded the Yellow Line on the platform maybe we could avoid these “passenger” distractions and STM delays, you think???

  6. wkh

    I really think they’re going to find something else was up. Like she was drunk or mentally disabled. I cannot seriously believe someone was THAT out of it who had no intellectual impairments. I am being sincere btw not snarky. Seriously.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I doubt she would have been drunk at 8am, and I see no evidence for mental disability. I think she was just distracted, rushing to get on a train that was about to leave.

      1. Ding

        Not drunk at 8am? Every weekday I take the 6:44 am 211 bus from Pointe-Claire. And every morning this guy in a GMC pick up truck is driving while drinking a six pack along the 20 in Lachine. I assume he is on his way home from work. Drinking doesn’t always happen on Steve Faguy schedule.

  7. SMS

    People refuse to leave for their destinations earlier and as a result blame the bus operator or the transit corporation for delays. It is not the fault of the bus operator or transit corporation when passengers cannot budget a couple of extra minutes as a contingency. Nowhere is it written that arrival times are guaranteed!

  8. Apple IIGS

    This incident made me think back to a discussion we had back in December last year…

    >A bit on a tangent, but using subway car that are close to 50 years old (MR-63’s are the oldest subway rolling >stock in North American) may people’s lives in danger. They’re long past their life span.

    Sure, they’re old. But has even one person been killed or seriously injured because of that? People die on the metro because they throw themselves in front of trains, and that’s a problem whether the train is 50 years old or 50 days old.

    Toronto’s TTC subway cars certainly do not have this flaw.


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