The death of three young men who fell from the footboard of a suburban Chennai train Thursday highlights a deadly, long-standing problem which needs to be addressed on a war footing. Every year, thousands of people, mostly youngsters, get killed or seriously maimed because they are forced to hang from the doorways of our jam-packed trains and buses. In Mumbai alone, there were 806 deaths due to people falling off trains in 2015. And in 2016, of the 3,363 persons hurt while travelling on the local train network, as many as 1498 fell off the trains. “Crossing line (379), dash to the pole (85) and fall in the gap of platform (19) and electric shock (36)” were some of the other causes, says a government Railway Police report. In Kolkata, ‘hanging like bats from buses’ is an activity every commuter is familiar with.
On the flip side, a study conducted by the Delhi Transport Corporation for the World Bank showed a dramatic decline in such accidents after the transport department switched to buses with automatic doors and low floors in 2010. While it is easy to blame the system, it is also important to remember that many people —mostly youngsters—often indulge in such reckless behaviour even when the buses or trains have space inside.
Sporadic checking to catch and penalise such offenders do not seem to have had much impact. While it certainly helps, adding extra train coaches or buses is not a scalable solution. Union Minister Maneka Gandhi’s suggestion to install sensors on all buses which will “facilitate safer travel as the bus would not start if somebody is standing on the footboard” is also impractical. Sadly, until we upgrade our road and rail infrastructure and systems, enforcing stringent penal provisions against offenders and making the bus or train conductor accountable for ensuring minimal footboard travel might be the only solution. Unless we do at least that, the death of these three men will be just another statistic.