Solution for overcrowded train stations: 1500 people jostle for science

Traveling by bus and train at rush hour is no fun – but that could change soon. For a study, 1,500 test persons jostle on fictitious platforms or in trains in order to better organize local public transport in the future.

They wear black clothes and bright green caps with a QR code attached: 1,500 test subjects have been jostling in Düsseldorf in the service of science since Friday. In an event hall, they simulate the crowds and loads on the platform in different situations for four days. Staying on a platform or getting on and off at train doors is simulated. The researchers will record the subjects’ movements with cameras above their heads and record data such as heartbeat and stress level.

The aim is to develop new concepts to increase safety, comfort and efficiency in overcrowded train stations. The federal government is funding the experiments with 3.4 million euros. With 36 million passengers in local public transport per day – and the trend is rising – it is important to cushion load peaks and structurally adjust the platforms accordingly, said Armin Seyfried.

How do the passengers behave?

Where should benches, waste paper bins, timetables and car status indicators be located? Where do people prefer to wait? “There are people who prefer to wait in the danger area near the edge of the platform than to get too close to others. Others only feel comfortable with a wall behind their backs,” reported the researchers from the Universities of Wuppertal and Bochum and the Jülich Research Center. Commuters behave differently than long-distance travelers with luggage or alcoholic football fans.

In other countries, walls with passages separate the crowd from the tracks. This is not possible in Germany because of the different train types. So-called “pushers”, which push people into trains like in Japan and keep stragglers away, are not included in the test design. One solution, however, could be level indicators for the trains: If the passengers knew beforehand in which wagons the empty seats were waiting for them, the crowd on the platforms could be straightened out and their full length could be better used.