I have heard of this thing called "L’appel du vide" which is quite literally "the call of the void" where temptation rears its ugly head and induces a 'what if' moment when people are standing next to some great canyon that beckons them to jump into the wide blue yonder, or that thought which might race through the mind of someone standing on a railway station platform which might persuade them to jump in front of a train and end it all. In such cases, either because of internal conflict, depression, intoxication by various kinds of drugs, mental illness, maybe even spiritual attack, a mind which has reached the point where it wishes its own destruction clearly isn't functioning normally. There will always be those people determined to extinguish their own existence but surely there must be some portion of the population who reaches an immediate point of regret and wishes to correct their moment of insanity.
On the many many occasions that I've stood on the platforms at Wynyard, Town Hall, North Sydney, Martin Place and even St James' stations it always struck me as odd that the space between the rails of underground platforms is flat and to be honest, I do not understand the rationale behind it. Why is this so?
If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd seriously think about improving this state of affairs with a minor change in infrastructure: the anti-suicide pit.
I've seen these things in the London Underground, the Tokyo Metro and even the Moscow Metro and I see no just or sane cause why we should not have similar sorts of things in Sydney. I can think of several occasions where the whole Sydney Trains network has been brought to a standstill because someone decided to jump in front of a train and I wonder if anti-suicide pits would have helped or not.
Sydney's Trains draw their power from an overhead set of wires which is extremely helpful. This is different to say, the London Underground, which uses a third rail system to deliver power to the trains; consequently the space is compromised and yet it's still a design feature. Sydney's railway network doesn't suffer from this limitation and so this means that virtual all the space between the 4'8" between the rails could very easily be hollowed out and a long pit could be carved between the rails. That way, if someone did happen to go between the rails, they could duck underneath a passing train instead of being collected by the train's low slung mechanicals. Having a train pass over the top of you in a few terrifying moments must surely be preferable to being smeared over the floor of a railway tunnel for several hundred yards.
Such pits needn't be terribly deep either. A person lying down doesn't occupy a space which is that tall. I don't know for certain but I think that two feet deep aught to be more than sufficient. Anti-suicide pits also would be useful if someone were to accidentally fall between the railway tracks or if a particularly nefarious and malicious person were to push someone off the platform. Such people do exist in the world.
It's simplicity itself. It's a system which doesn't cost all that much to install, costs practically nothing to maintain, is cheaper than installing platform length barriers and door opening systems and more importantly would act as a visual deterrent to stop people from jumping on the tracks in the first place.
The railways corporation already provides little hidey holes in the walls of tunnels and there's already a sophisticated system which turns all the yellow lights off down the side of the tunnel in a block, 30 seconds before a train enters the block. One such lamp exists almost half a mile from the station that I get on in the morning and one chap was amazed that I knew that a train was coming with alarming reliability until I pointed that out. If safety for their employees of the railways, then safety of its customers has got to be a concern doesn't it? If nothing else, the railways owe a duty of care to the people who plough money through the tills.
I suspect that the reason that no anti-suicide pits exist currently isn't because of a case of neglect but because no one's ever thought of it before. There is an old saw which says that you should never attribute to maliciousness that which can be explained by stupidity but this isn't even a case of stupidity either but of simple blindness.
I guess that I've been thinking about this because the announcements on every train I've been on lately have changed from advising unwell passengers to seek help at the next station, to telling passengers to remain behind the yellow line and to tell children to do likewise.
Sydney Trains' rail safety messages have got me to think about rail safety - who'd've thunk it?