Problem-riddled coastal commuter train operator DSBFirst is under criticism again after a weekend of mishaps on the platform. Critics – including DSBFirst employees – say the train company is being forced to compromise passenger safety in order to shave a few seconds off travel times.
Last November DSBFirst was told to eliminate “visual checks” in which train employees confirm that passengers are safely clear of the doors before the train sets in motion.
At the time the change was made, the commuter rail company was under pressure from the Transport Authority to run on time. Eliminating the visual check shaved 15-25 seconds off each station stop. But unattended automatic doors are putting passengers at risk, as two incidents last weekend showed.
On Saturday a three-year-old boy fell between a train and the platform at Øresund Station when he panicked in the automatic doors. His mother managed to pull him to safety, even as the train was signalling to leave. DSBFirst employees only realised what had occurred after the fact, when they heard the mother’s screams.
Then on Sunday a 78-year-old woman fell and fractured both arms and broke two fingers, after her suitcase was caught in the automatic doors as she was getting off at Vedbæk Station.
In December a man was dragged 200 meters at Skodsborg Station, when his arm was caught in a closing door and no employee noticed.
According to some DSBFirst employees, none of those accidents would have happened if attendants were checking that passengers were safely on and off the train.
“We are waiting for our worst fear to become a reality – that a passenger is killed,” one DSBFirst train conductor, who asked to remain anonymous, told Politiken newspaper.
The transport minister, Hans Christian Schmidt, has asked the Transport Authority for an explanation. But sources close to the case said the minister himself was to blame for laying political pressure on DSBFirst to conform to the Transport Authority’s time table.
The opposition Social Democrats and Socialist People’s Party agreed.
“The transport minister is 100 percent responsible for these accidents happening. He was the one who personally forced the [the procedural change] despite the safety analyses that were done,” said MP Magnus Heunicke, the Social Democrat transport spokesperson.
In a safety report written before the visual check was eliminated, DSBFirst wrote that abandoning it was “dangerous” and “should be avoided”. Train staff also protested the procedural change. In fact, the visual check was originally introduced in both Denmark and Sweden after accidents in which passengers were caught in unattended train doors and dragged, reports Politiken.
While the visual check was eliminated to save time at Danish stations, it is still performed as soon as trains cross the Øresund Bridge into Sweden. Swedish authorities would never allow the safety procedure to be eliminated, according to Stefan Rindestig, who is in charge of train traffic for Öresundståg, which runs DSBFirst trains in Sweden.
“You can gain a few seconds, sure, but is it worth it if it puts human life at risk? No, I don’t think so,” Rindestig said.
Michael Randropp, the spokesperson for commuters travelling on DSBFirst trains, told Politiken that he was also disturbed by the recent accidents.
“All commuters need the trains to run on time, but I cannot imagine that anyone wants it to go faster at the cost of people getting hurt.”
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