2020 – Social Distancing in Train Stations

Social distancing, as a measure to contain the spreading of Covid-19, is defining a “new normal”. We assisted the Dutch railway manager, ProRail, by analyzing pedestrian data from platform 5 at Utrecht Central Station, one of the busiest platforms in the Netherlands. This allows ProRail to improve safety and efficiency at train stations under these new conditions. Our results can be viewed in the TU/e press article or in the publication:

C.A.S. Pouw, F. Toschi, F. v. Schadewijk, A. Corbetta. Monitoring physical distancing for crowd management: real-time trajectory and group analysis. PLoS ONE 15(10): e0240963, 2020

The distance to other pedestrians is calculated to analyze the adherence to the social distancing regulations on train platforms.


Although the corona situation means fewer people at the station, they suddenly need a lot more space due to the distancing rule. This can create new bottlenecks on platforms that were not a problem before. The researchers wanted to investigate this new behavior, but first had to filter people who travel together from the dataset. After all, there are many members of the same households, such as couples and parents with children, on the platforms, who “pollute” the data because they are not bound by the distance rule.

The algorithm excludes family-like groups which do not have to adhere to the distance rule.

Utrecht Central Station

Since 2017, 19 sensors have been suspended above the platform of track 5 at Utrecht Central Station, which together can anonymously monitor the entire platform for research purposes. Platform 5 is known as one of the busiest platform in the Netherlands, with trains leaving for Amsterdam Central Station and Schiphol Airport. The sensors work day and night, with an average of 100,000 measurements per day in normal situations, and an average of 16,000 per day during the first three months of the corona crisis.

Sensor data pre-corona.

Media Coverage

Radio & Television
Omroep Brabant, 95.8 FM, Megen, Netherlands | Free Internet Radio | TuneIn Omroep Brabant – Brabant Nieuws – TU Eindhoven onderzoekt social distancing op perrons
NPO Radio 1 - Wikipedia NPO Radio 1 – NOS Journaal – Onderzoek naar het houden van afstand op Utrecht Centraal
NPO Radio 2 - Wikipedia NPO Radio 2 – NOS Journaal – TUe doet onderzoek naar verplaatsing reizigers op Utrecht Centraal
NPO 3FM - Wikipedia NPO 3FM – NOS op 3 – Onderzoek op Utrecht Centraal over verplaatsing van reizigers
BNR logo 02 - Ontslag.nl BNR Ochtendspits – ProRail en TUe doen onderzoek naar het gedrag van menigten
Radio 1 interview – Cas Pouw
Radio 1 interview – Frank van Schadewijk
Written Media
  • TUe.nl – Social distancing research at train stations makes platforms safer
  • NOS.nl – Houden reizigers wel genoeg afstand? Op perron 5 in Utrecht wordt het gemeten
  • nu.nl – ProRail onderzoekt veranderingen in gedrag reizigers tijdens coronacrisis
  • Volkskrant.nl – Blinde Big Brother boven het perron houdt treinreizigers op 1,5 meter afstand
  • RTL Nieuws – Sensoren meten of treinreizigers 1,5 meter afstand houden
  • DUIC – Sensoren op perron 5 van Utrecht Centraal meten of reizigers genoeg afstand houden
  • De Ingenieur – Onderzoek Naar Social Distancing op Perron
  • KIJK Magazine – TU Eindhoven onderzoekt social distancing op perrons
  • Medical Xpress – Social distancing research at train stations makes platforms safer
  • Mirage News – Social distancing research at train stations makes platforms safer
  • RTV Utrecht – Hou je wel 1,5 meter afstand? Op perron 5 van Utrecht CS wordt dat automatisch bekeken
  • Reformatorisch Dagblad – Onderzoek naar gedrag reizigers in 1,5 metermaatschappij
  • Welingelichte Kringen – Onderzoek naar gedrag reizigers in 1,5 metermaatschappij
  • security.nl – Sensoren op treinstations meten of reizigers 1,5 meter afstand houden
  • Lastampa.it – Distanziamento sociale: c’è chi lo amava anche prima del Covid. Paura della folla: le cause
  • cursor.tue.nl – Prof Talk | Control from a distance
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