Disability Japan Travel

Inconsistently Barrier Free: On experiencing safety barriers at Japan’s Railway Stations

“Whatever the reason, I sometimes wonder why the safety barriers were installed at all, if they are used in such a way that increases the possibility that people could fall onto the tracks a long time before a train might arrive.”

By Barrier Free Japan

October 9th 2019

The deaths of two people who had visual impairments at railway stations in Japan in early October highlights the need for ‘safety barriers’ on all platforms at Japan’s railway stations. A woman using a white cane and thought to be in her sixties, fell onto the tracks at Tateishi Station in Tokyo on October 1st, then on October 2nd, Hiroyuki Ishii, a former vice president of the ‘Japan Blind Football Association’ died after he was “seen descending onto the tracks and lying down” in front of a Yamamote Line train at Shinjuku Station.

Safety platforms do exist in Japan, and to give ‘Japan Inc’ is due, more are being constructed for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. At my local JR train station in Kobe, as you can see in the video below, the barrier is in the ‘down’ or ‘closed’ position, until the train arrives and then moves to the ‘up’ or ‘open’ position, allowing passengers to get off and on the train.

However, it is worth noting two things. Firstly, whilst many stations have safety barriers, such safety barriers are not always to be found on all platforms for all directions, so there might be a safety barrier on a platform for a train going to a terminal or ‘last station’ but not away from such a station. Secondly, there are, in my experience living in the Kansai region at least, some train stations that have safety barriers, but where the barriers seem to often be in the ‘up’ or ‘open’ position for a long time, even if no train seems to be arriving soon.

For example, this is a photograph of a platform at JR Sannomiya in Kobe going towards Osaka, for a good few minutes before the train arrived, the safety barriers were up. This gives ample time for anyone to fall, jump or be pushed on to the tracks.

There may of course be technical reasons why the barriers are ‘up’ for such a long time. However, if I was being cynical, I would say it might have something to do with wanting to get people on and off the train quickly, rather than prioritizing passenger safety.

Whatever the reason, I sometimes wonder why the safety barriers were installed at all, if they are used in such a way that increases the possibility that people could fall onto the tracks a long time before a train might arrive.

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