Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 00:53 GMT 01:53 UK
Pit falls halve tube deaths
Incidents are common on the tube, the researchers said
People who attempt suicide or fall under trains at tube stations with drainage pits running below the tracks are only half as likely to die as those at other stations.
The finding comes in a study looking at the effect of station design on deaths in the London Underground.
Emergency teams attending incidents where people either throw themselves in front of or fall under a moving train had noticed that people at stations with the pits were less likely to die or would suffer less serious injuries.
Doctors at the Royal London Hospital decided to examine exactly how protective these "suicide pits" were by looking at 58 cases over 15 months. They found that the pits halved the death rate.
Drainage pits run under the tracks in stations on underground lines, are usually about a metre deep and were originally designed to prevent the platforms from flooding.
For example, overland stations have no drainage pits because they were never needed, even though they could make the stations safer.
Publishing his findings in the British Medical Journal, he said: "Being hit by a train is an important cause of death from trauma in London, but the presence of a pit halves mortality.
"The mechanics of the interaction of the human body with the train are poorly studied, and so present rolling stock and stations are not designed to maximise survival."
A spokeswoman for London Transport said they were well aware of the beneficial effect of the drainage pits.
"People fall into them and the train rushes on overhead," she said. "But that's not to say they don't get maimed. They can still get quite seriously injured."
The doctors expressed their concern that the new trains being introduced to the Jubilee Line had lower carriages, leaving less room for a human body to escape damage.
However, a spokeswoman for the Jubilee Line extension project pointed to an added safety feature at the new stations along the line - glass platform doors that match perfectly to the position of the train doors, making it difficult for passengers to fall in front of or under a train.
The doors were not introduced as an anti-suicide measure first and foremost, but to deal with a number of safety hazards - especially fire risks, she said.
"The primary aim was to do with ventilation, and litter and human hair - we get tonnes and tonnes of human hair down the tunnels and it can take hours and hours of cleaning time," she said.
"But of course there is the added safety benefit that it stops people committing suicide."