'Like Russian roulette': Almost one person per day crosses Brussels Metro tracks

'Like Russian roulette': Almost one person per day crosses Brussels Metro tracks
De Brouckère metro station. Credit: Belga/Hatim Kaghat

Aside from causing delays to the metro services, walking on the tracks is extremely dangerous. Despite the risk, almost one person per day ventured onto the tracks of Brussels public transport operator STIB's metro network last year.

Between 2020 and 2021, the number of people violating the rules and walking onto the tracks increased, from 259 to 294 (+13%). This year, the tally was nearing 250 by the end of November, however, the year has not yet ended. STIB stressed that this is a worrying figure, which once again highlights the importance of reminding people why it is forbidden to walk on the tracks.

"Under no circumstances should you go on the tracks. This act may seem short and harmless, but it can have dramatic consequences," François Cusse, Safety Engineer at STIB, said.

What are the risks?

Metros travel up to 72 km/h through tunnels, and 40 km/h at the station entrance. They do not have the same grip as for example a car with tyres, the braking distance is much longer.

"It is an illusion to think you have time to see the metro arrive and return to the platform, which is usually more than 1.10 metres above the track. It is like playing Russian roulette," STIB warned.

Additionally, certain rails also supply electricity to the subways and have a voltage of 900 volts flowing through them, which means anyone coming in contact with this risks being fatally electrocuted.

Cusse stressed that, even if a person dropped something onto the tracks, they should refrain from venturing onto them. "Even if the object that fell on the tracks is worth its weight in gold, human life is even more valuable."

If an object falls on the metro tracks, there is a procedure to recover it safely without having to venture on the tracks. STIB staff members can be notified, or a traveller can use the "SOS" kiosks on the platform, which will see a staff member being sent to the station to collect the item safely.

Nuisance for other travellers

Aside from the fact that violating this rule is dangerous for the offender, it also affects other passengers, as all power is switched off and metros are stopped when a person is detected on the tracks through the alarm systems or if the company is notified in another way.

For passengers, this means an interruption of the metro. Before metro traffic can be restored, the security department must ensure that no one is left in the tunnel, which can take a while. In 2021, the metro network was down for a total of 4,286 minutes due to these violations, equating to about 72 hours.

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To avoid dangerous situations and items being dropped onto the tracks, STIB asks all travellers to stay behind the area closest to the platform edge, which is marked by a yellow line and metal studs, and to store belongings safely when near the platform.

Meanwhile, the company urges other travellers who see a person on the tracks to notify them via the SOS kiosks on the platforms.

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