Sat, 22 Jan 2000

Railway firm putting safety first

JAKARTA (JP): Train commuters may find themselves late to work for some time as the state railway operator, PT Kereta Api Indonesia (KAI), has introduced a new policy aimed at preventing passengers from riding on the top of train carriages.

"We have instructed all station masters here not to allow any train to leave the station until all the passengers riding on the roof have descended to earth," Masjraul Hidajat, head of KAI's Jakarta operational division, said on Friday.

He said the policy, which has been in force since Wednesday, was taken after mounting public pressure on the train company to take effective measures to stop the open-air rides.

"The numbers of fatalities as a result of such practices had reached an alarming level," he told The Jakarta Post at his office.

"In 1998, 53 people died and 166 others were severely injured after they fell from train roofs," he said.

Data at KAI's Jakarta operational division shows that in 1996 45 people died and 176 others were injured.

The number of fatalities reached 62 in 1997, while 221 people suffered either minor and serious injures.

Masjraul said the new policy might cause delays which would inconvenience passengers.

"Our station officials will use a megaphone to ask passengers on the roof to get down. If they don't move, the officials will wait until they do," he said.

He also conceded any delay would cause similar late departures of trains waiting to leave from other stations.

"But, all policies carry their own risks. Therefore, we encourage the people to actively participate in helping to solve the problem," he said.

He called on the people not to blame the company, as its powers were limited.

"The number of our officials, including our special police force (Polsuska), is limited," he said.

Masjraul said he had given up on other ways to address the problem, such as sticking posters in every station indicating the dangers of the practice, or arresting those who chose to ride on the roof.

"We arrested 16 people, including 5 students, recently and handed them over to the police for prosecution.

"We had often nabbed them, but they continued to repeat the practice," he said.

Limited seats

Everyday, thousands of commuters arrive in Jakarta in the early morning for school or work, and return to their homes in Bogor, Tangerang, Depok or Bekasi in the afternoon or evening.

The commuters -- reaching up to 400,000 per day -- usually have to fight to get on board during the 6 a.m to 8 a.m. rush hour.

Due to limited train capacity, many passengers, most of whom are students, ride on top of the trains.

Masjraul said there was a large difference between the number of people using trains in the capital and the trains' capacity.

"Today, the number of people taking trains in Jakarta exceeds train capacity by 250 percent to 260 percent," he said.

He suggested that increasing the number of trains would help ease the problem.

"By increasing the number of trains, we will be able to add services to the timetables," he said, while citing that starting from April an additional 74 train carriages would be made available.

Masjraul said trains arrived at railway stations throughout Jakarta every 8 minutes.

"The maximum frequency we can hope for is every 5 minutes. If it is less than five minutes, train arrivals at stations will cause problems to motorists," he said.

"Motorists will never be able to cross railway crossings if a train is passing along the track every five minutes or less." (asa)