Transport Technologies

Making public transport hubs safer in growing cities

Virtual reality, insects and mice are helping us gain invaluable data about crowd behaviour to make our public transport hubs safer in emergencies. 

As the earth’s population grows and major safety risks occur in densely populated areas, our transport researchers are working with government and industry to prevent crowd crush injuries and fatalities and improve the safety of our train stations and public transport infrastructure.

Professor Majid Sarvi, from the Melbourne School of Engineering’s Centre for Disaster Management and Public Safety, is working in partnership with Public Transport Victoria and the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources on a series of novel crowd dynamics experiments which will inform the design of the five new underground stations to be built as part of the Melbourne Metro Rail project.

Working with Dr Korosh Khoshelham and Dr Mohsen Kalantari, Professor Sarvi has built a detailed virtual reality model of one of Australia’s busiest railway stations, Melbourne’s Parliament Station, using a high-resolution 3D laser scan of the station and over 400-high definition photos.

Using an Oculus Rift, the research team are engaging users to test how they would respond to various emergency scenarios in the virtual station, including evacuations, fires and smoke.

Working with ants, woodlice and mice, Professor Sarvi and his team have also been able to establish the optimum design for exits in buildings and infrastructure to enable safe and fast emergency evacuations.

Professor Sarvi says the experiments show that an emergency exit door in a corner of a space was about 30% more effective than a door in the middle of the space, because there was less conflict with evacuees running against each other.

Until now there has been very limited data around crowd behaviour in disasters and emergencies, because researchers are unable to place human subjects into genuine emergency conditions in order to test their responses.

Professor Sarvi’s team has been using animals as a proxy model, with the hypothesis that there should be some similarity in group behaviour between animals and humans. As such, the experiments have shown the same results, in spite of the fact that ants, woodlice and mice are very different in terms of movement, cognition and body size.

For the next stage of the project the team is looking to expand the research to include MRI trials that would provide insight into brain activity during crowd panic.

More information:
Professor Majid Sarvi
+61 3 9035 4531