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Japanese railway cameras automatically spot drunk commuters to save their lives

Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Drunk commuters tumbling into trains is a serious issue in Japan. In 2013 there were 221 cases of passengers getting hit by trains while either on the platform or having fallen onto the tracks, with 60 percent of these caused by drunkenness. To help combat this problem, railway operator JR West is introducing surveillance cameras on platforms that automatically detect if someone is drunk. The cameras look for signs of inebriation like staying on a bench for a long time or weaving across the platform, and alert station attendants who can check if the individual needs help.

The cameras are currently only in place at Kyobashi Station in Osaka — a commercial district close to Umeda, the city’s main business center, and located on the busy Osaka Loop Line. However, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal, JR West will consider installing similar systems at other stations in the future.

A diagram showing how the system works. (JR West)

This isn't the first initiative JR West has taken to curb accidents caused by drunkenness. Earlier this year, the company published a study based on camera footage of falls and stumbles, and concluded that many were due to benches being placed facing the platform. Drunk individuals sit on a bench before being roused by the arrival of a train, said the report. They then leap up before completely taking stock of their situation and stumble forward, into the tracks or the train itself.

Sixty percent of drunken accidents in the study occurred in this way, compared to just 10 percent of incidents where individuals were walking parallel to the tracks. "We found that many drunken people walk headlong off the platform and onto the track and that this often happens very quickly," a JR West spokesman told the AFP. "This was a surprising result for us too." As a result, the company has introduced a pilot study reorienting benches to face the ends of the platform instead.