Mumbai company cuts track trespassing at its root

A combination of behavioural science, cognitive neurology cut the number of track deaths by 88% in vulnerable spots

A Mumbai-based company has reduced track deaths due to trespassing at six crucial points on Central Railway (CR), using behavioural economics and cognitive neurology. The six points had collectively recorded 88 deaths between January and November 2018, but between March and August 2019, the number was at 27.

Biju Dominic, CEO of Final Mile Consulting, said the stretch was selected as it was among the worst sections with regards to trespass deaths. “Trespassing is not an infrastructure problem, but it is a behavioural problem. Nearly 90% of trespassing deaths happen in mid-section and mainly at spots where people trespass in small numbers,” he said.

The company has a three-pronged approach to curb trespassing: put up large signboards depicting a picture of a person just before the train hits them as a way to inject fear; paint sleepers yellow at regular intervals; have motormen blare the horn in a fast repetitive sequence.

The interventions were put in place in March and according to their findings, track deaths reduced by 44% overall, and by 88% in the vulnerable spots.

The idea behind colouring the sleepers yellow, Mr. Dominic said, was to help trespassers gauge the speed of an incoming train. The human brain underestimates the speed at which objects larger than it are travelling, he said. “When we did our initial surveys, we noticed that at most trespass points, one could easily see the train approaching from far but realised that a lack of judgement that led to their death.”

In their design, the company colours the sleeper for 100 m in the direction of an approaching train. Most deaths, Mr Dominic said, take place when people are crossing the tracks and not while they are walking along them.

At 120 m from the trespass point, a signboard is put up for the motorman to begin the honking pattern.

Mr. Dominic believes that in addition to putting in place infrastructural solutions, one needs to also look at behavioural reasons to ascertain why trespassing takes place. “Nearly all spots have a clear reason for trespassing. At some places it is to access public amenities such as a toilet or a road. In Thakurli, it is a temple,” he said.

Typically, foot over bridges are built at spots where many people trespass together. “At such spots, we have noticed that the fatalities are not as high as others as there is a sense of collective alertness among the group that is trespassing together. You often look at the behaviour of the person next to you,” he said.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2020 10:18:48 PM |

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