Railway Doors

Railway doors are shit these days. They don't have droplights any more, so you can't hang out the window to look and see what's going on when the train stops for no apparent reason or to get some fresh air or to have a smoke or because it's too fucking hot or just because it's fun or for any other reason. They lock you in to the train, which I thought was illegal because the Victorians banned it on safety grounds (before that some bod used to go round with a key at stations) but apparently not any more. And they are automatic - which itself wouldn't necessarily be a problem, but it turns out it is one because they are automatic in a shitty way.

Automatic doors are quite a common feature of everyday life. You get them on lifts and in front of shops and in various other places. So you learn how they work while you're still quite little and learning about how everything works, and it is therefore so natural to think all automatic doors necessarily have to work like that that you don't even realise you're thinking it. Moreover, when you get older and learn that there are such things as safety regulations, it becomes an obvious deduction that they do have to work like that because there must be some safety regulation about it.

So, until recently, I had assumed that automatic doors on railways were the same as automatic doors everywhere else, and would therefore have the following characteristics:

  1. If they detected that they had closed on an obstruction, this would (a) make them stop closing, and open again instead; (b) prevent the brakes from being released or traction power being applied.
  2. Obviously there would be some limit to how thin an obstruction they could detect, but it would be comfortably smaller than the thickness of a body part (like my little hand, when I was little), and in any case they would not close on it with enough force to hurt, or to make it noticeably hard to pull out. (Fnarr.)
  3. If you could manage to work your fingers into the crack (k'yik) between the closed doors, and give a good heave, you would be able to pull them open again.

I'd never really tested any of this, since I've somehow never had any particular urge to fuck about with train doors, but I had no reason to believe any of it wasn't true, and indeed did have some reasons to believe it was:

  1. It's rare to make a journey on the Underground without observing several instances of the doors closing, then opening again apparently as fast as the mechanism can reverse; possibly repeating this several times; and the train not moving until the doors have definitely finished dancing about and firmly decided to stay shut. Obviously you can never actually see what's causing this, but when the PA starts analysing the semantic distinction between "please stand clear of the doors" and "please hold the doors open", it isn't hard to guess. And both the speed with which the doors reopen, and the total immobility of the train until they are definitely shut, are strongly indicative of automation and interlocking. When automatic doors started to become common on full-size trains, the phenomenon began to crop up on them as well, which tends to indicate that the mechanism behind it is also much the same.
  2. This one I did actually sort of test partially, by trapping my ticket between the closing doors on the Piccadilly between South Kensington and Hyde Park Corner, in 1978 (? 1979, possibly). And as implied I'd played with putting my hand in lift doors when I was little.
  3. No direct evidence, but you can do that with lift doors, and you can do it with shop doors, and you can successfully fight the mechanism on train doors while they are still closing, so it's reasonable to infer that the only thing stopping you doing it on train doors is that they usually have overlapping seals that don't leave a crack, and stopping people doing it is quite possibly a significant part of the reason why the seals overlap.

A while back I discovered that point 3 actually isn't true, from reading a railway accident report that went into considerable detail about the door mechanism. Apparently the regulations say there has to be a thingy that drops into a whatsit once the doors have closed, which locks them shut so the thingy has to be lifted out of the whatsit before either the mechanism or someone fucking about can open them again. I think also that the thingy seating itself properly in the whatsit is what operates the interlock switch allowing the train to start moving, although I'm not sure if that was actually in the report or if I just think it was because that's how I'd design the interlock.

I'm fairly sure the accident the report was about involved the thingy somehow jiggling out of the whatsit by itself while the train was moving, after which the doors jiggled themselves open; I think what happened next was either that the driver figured that the fault indication he got had to be down to dodgy electrics and overrode it until it kept happening, or else it was just that the train was going fast and naturally taking a long time to stop; and some stupid bastard walked out of the door and hit the track at 60mph. Not a pisshead or a spazhead or anything like that, just a complete fucking idiot. I think he was a London banker, or a London something of the sort, so no great loss. Really it's quite surprising that he'd managed to get to be a London banker without killing himself doing some other stupid thing already. But anyway, the point is that the report went on and on about this mechanism trying to explain how it was possible for the thingy to jiggle out of the whatsit at all, and it seemed that a lot of the explanation lay in it being quite a finicky mechanism and intolerant of sloppy maintenance.

I'm a bit vague about this, and can't provide a link to the report, because I can't remember enough about the accident to have anything distinctive enough to look it up again by, nor can I remember what it was I was looking into when I read it in the first place to try and reconstruct the search. But the one thing I do definitely remember, and can be certain that the memory is accurate, is that the mechanism is supposed to lock the doors once they have closed, and therefore point 3 cannot be true. On the other hand, from the stuff I'm not certain of but am still pretty sure I remember correctly, the point about the mechanism being finicky and intolerant of sloppy maintenance does support the contention in point 2 that the minimum thickness of obstruction it'll detect is really quite thin.


This report, which I read sufficiently recently to still have the link available, demonstrates that points 1 and 2 are not true either - EVEN THOUGH NOT JUST ME, BUT LOTS OF ACTUAL RAILWAY PEOPLE THINK THEY ARE.

And THIS is why railway doors are shit.

What happened there was that this woman got to the platform just as the doors were closing, made a dash for the train, but was still just too late to make it through the doors. So she stuck her hand in the closing gap to make the doors open again. Well, wouldn't you? I fucking would. It's a complete dog's cunt getting to the platform and finding the train's still there but you still have to piss about waiting for the next one because it's just shut the fucking doors on you. Only reason I've never actually done it is I've never arrived at the train just at that precise moment when I can't get my body through the doors but can still get my hand in.

She thought putting her hand in the doors would stop them closing and make them open again, and the train would be prevented from driving off. That's what I'd expect to happen. That's probably what you'd expect to happen. That's what the person whose comment on a blog inspired me to read the report in the first place would have expected to happen. That's what the fucking driver on the train would have expected to happen. And the report says they went round loads of other railway people as well as the driver, from a variety of departments - station staff, operating staff, maintenance staff - asking them what they thought would happen and nearly all the ones who'd ever thought about it reckoned it'd make the doors open and stop the train driving off.


The minimum thickness of obstruction that the doors can detect isn't just a bit thicker than an Edmondson ticket but smaller than a kid's hand. It's actually really thick. Apparently there is no one standard for how thick; there's a whole mess of different ones and another whole mess about which particular one applies, but it doesn't actually make that much difference because they're all shit. It was 25mm in this case. No surprise her hand was thinner than that. So the shitty fucking mechanism didn't detect a fucking hand in the door, and the interlock did operate, and the train did drive off.

And then it turns out that it ALSO isn't true that the doors don't close with enough force to grip anything very hard. So she couldn't pull her fucking hand out again and got dragged along with the fucking train.

They're not supposed to have the force to grip onto anything very hard, but they do, because the standards, again, are shit. They say it shouldn't take more than 150N to pull out the specified test object stuck in the doors. That's actually about the weight of one and a half buckets of water (ordinary 2-gallon bucket), so it's really quite a lot, especially if you're not expecting it. But on top of that, the test is shit. It turns out that if you use real things instead of the test object, like parts of your clothing or body, it takes so much force to pull them out that none of the railway people they tried it on could fucking do it at all. And again, they were all really surprised because they never believed things could be that shit.

So don't use your hand. Use your shoe, at least, which is wide enough for the shitty standards to say it has to be detected, and is tapered so it's easier to pull out (if you don't stick it in too far, and don't wear trainers like a fucking kid or sandals like a fucking hippy). And try it from the inside first to make sure it works. Better still, use your case or something, so you've got a handle to get a good grip on it, but you still can let go so it doesn't pull bits off if it doesn't work.

And the RAIB is fucking shite too...

So, what does the report have to say about this situation? Well, for a start, it cites several other incidents where the same kind of thing has happened. It's been going on for years and they have done fuck all about it. No doubt they will claim otherwise, but the simple fact that just the previous incidents cited in the report go back to 2006 and the same thing is still going on proves that such a claim cannot be valid.

This is not surprising, when you look at what the report says the RAIB's response to those previous incidents was. Mealy-mouthed bullshit about recommending a "review of options" for making the doors slightly less shit. In other words, to think about thinking about thinking about it. What the juddering fuck use is that? It's just providing an excuse on a plate for nobody to do anything. And, surprise surprise, that's exactly what happened. The outfits concerned simply picked a few "options" out of their arse and said they were all too difficult, and that was the end of it. Oh, and also recommending that the drivers should look to see if there are any "obstructions" stuck in the doors. Er, they do that already. It isn't always much use because the screens they have to do it with are shite, and the RAIB know this, but any suggestion of making them not shite is conspicuous by its absence.

And what have they done this time? Exactly the same fucking useless shite. Even though they know it's useless because they've said it before and it hasn't done any fucking good. This time they say that train owners should "continue to review" whether they can fit non-shit doors. FUCK'S SAKE. How they can possibly believe that such a totally fucking vacuous recommendation is anything other than a licence to carry on doing nothing is completely beyond me.

Of course this is the natural result of the RAIB having been taken out of the hands of the knowledgeable railway specialists who (a) knew what they were dealing with and (b) what with usually being ex-military officers, had no problem telling people to sort their fucking shit out and stop piddling about being useless. As part of the general idiocy of privatisation, the function was transferred to the HSE and so is now handled by useless cunts who know fuck all about fucking anything, and even less about railways, and are such fucking ninnies about taking any kind of effective action that their houses are probably full of dog shit because they're afraid to do anything to make the dog shit outside.

Fucksake grow some bollocks you fucking wastes of oxygen. Fuck this "continue to review whether it can be done" shit. Of course it can fucking be done. We know that. It's done on lifts so it can fucking well be done on trains. I don't give a shit if it's not quite as simple as unbolting the doors off a lift and bolting them on a train. I don't give a shit if there doesn't happen to be some company making non-shit train doors already. Some fucker has to start, but they never will if these futile shites don't kick a bit of arse. Absent pedopygial impact all that will happen is train operators whining about "too difficult" or "too expensive" and useless fucks accepting the shit excuses. Look at Armagh, for fuck's sake, the operators won't even fit fucking brakes that aren't shit unless they're forced to by law. Capitalism doesn't fucking work, and it absolutely has to be kicked up the arse by laws against being shit otherwise it spends all its time fucking everyone over for the greed of the few.

And as for the stupid bloody mess of there being loads of different regulations and standards for the doors to conform to depending on whose they are, and all of them being shite anyway, there's not a fucking whisper of doing anything about that.

Look, this is what you do, you niggling ineffective cunts. You come straight out and say "Right, all this mess of standards is abolished from this moment. From now on, there is ONE standard and it says that doors on trains have to work the same as doors on lifts (as defined earlier on this page). You have... oh, let's be generous... five years to make sure all your doors comply; after that you get fined a hundred grand for every door that still doesn't, no excuses. Now shut up whining and fucking get on with it."

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