Milan metro: series of emergency stops injures passengers

More than one emergency stop a day on Milan underground train network.

Milan’s capillary metro network is being plagued by mysterious episodes of emergency braking which has been causing injury to passengers.

On 4 March, five passengers were hurt when a train on the M2 line unexpectedly ground to a halt while entering Loreto station. One of them, a 57-year-old man, was taken to hospital in “code red”, while a 62-year-old woman, another man and two young people were treated on the spot, or in a local clinic in “code green”.

Five days later, an M1 train pulling in to Cadorna station suffered the same mishap. This time nine people – including two children – were hurt. All of them were treated at a nearby A&E facility. Then on 11 March, two passengers were injured in the emergency stop of an M2 train at Cassina de’ Pecchi.

Just as passengers were beginning to feel reassured, on 27 March another, similar incident occurred. On the M1 line, an emergency stop in Gambara station left one woman passenger injured.

And these are just the incidents which are reported in the media because passengers are hurt enough to need medical treatment. Passengers travelling on the metro are used to having to cling to the overhead grab-rails or seat-backs as the trains lurch in and out of the tunnels.

Records by Milan urban transport authority ATM show that 470 emergency stops were recorded in 2017, down to 389 in 2018 – still more than one a day, but less than one for every 100,000 km of service.

These numbers recorded by the “black boxes” on every metro train include stops made by the driver for a real emergency, for example spotting a pedestrian on the line ahead. But 7 out of 10 emergency stops are “technical”, states ATM, including false alarms, equipment failure, signal settings or other causes not due to a real and present danger.

ATM director general Arrigo Giana assured journalists that records show there was no suspicion of human error: the drivers involved were not speeding, but the new trains needed to have their powerful automatic brakes better adjusted.

Still, stops with injuries are frequent, with 51 in 2017 and 48 in 2018 to 12 already this year.  Which has prompted state prosecutors to open an enquiry for “culpable injury”, and ATM to deactivate the suspiciously over-sensitive automatic braking systems in six stations along the green line.