Urinating/defecating on train tracks (Africa/Asia)

I came across this CNN article about how we need more toilets and we need them now – in middle/low incomes in Africa and Asia.

What mystified me was this line:

Train track? That seems like a really bad idea. Also…why a train track? What makes the track part more tempting than, say, the area next to it? I don’t think toilet when I think of train tracks.

I can only recount experience, but in India I saw dozens, maybe hundreds of people squatting on train tracks every morning, taking a shit.

I’m guessing it’s a more comfortable place to squat*. Also the trains just dump the contents of their toilets straight onto the tracks, so you’re not besmirching anything that hasn’t already already been shat on.

*Squatting, soles of the feet flat on the ground, is a default sitting position for many people in Asia, both to relax and to take a shit. It’s doable (I have learned how to do it) but less comfortable than putting one’s heels higher than one’s toes. And in the huge slums there are no kerbs to do this on; a train track is an ideal place to prop one’s heels up.

In a sense, squatting on train tracks is more sanitary than the alternative. Nobody congregates on / around railroad tracks (except to take a dump). Anywhere else you go yuo’re leaving a mess where other people (and you tomorrow) intend to walk, or grow food, or sell goods, or …

From what I’ve seen, people don’t actually squat on the tracks, but near them. They are ensured privacy in one direction at least. Women tend to go earlier while it’s still dark.

Also remember that only people travelling in trains notice this. Areas remote from train tracks presumably also have their share.

A few reasons.

In a city like Bombay, pretty much every square foot/mile/inch is covered with people walking to-from somewhere. The only place that is free of constant hordes of people at any given time are the railway tracks.

Train tracks in India are accessible from any point along the route (there are no fences, etc. to keep people out). Also, there’s no electrified third-rail.

Many of the slums in Bombay are along the rail route. So, for someone living in the slums by the railway track, the track itself, and its immediate surroundings, is the most accessible and relatively private space. Also, not too many people are likely to step on your droppings.

I’ll try to draw here a common configuration of tracks/slums/streets/apartments in Bombay:
============= - railway track
----------------------- - back-wall adjacent to track that separates the slums from the track
oooooooooooooo - slums along the track
////////////////////// - regular main road/street
************** - regular shops and residences/business etc. on the other side of the street from the slums

Note that the other side of the railway track can have the same config as this side, or it could be more industrial areas with no land available to squat (no pun intended) on.

There is another reason that I can think of, although I’m not sure if it’s significant. If you squat on the rail itself, you are raised from the ground and don’t need to adjust to keep from backup touching you (you really need to have camped out in the wilderness to understand this).

Interestingly, it’s not that no one sees them defecating. If you’re in a passing train, you’ll often see people defecating along the route, between the back-wall and the track as shown in Fig. A above.

Also interestingly, many trains in India have toilets that directly exit to the track, i.e. you sit, you drop, it falls onto the track below as the train chugs along. That’s why you’ll commonly see people in more rural areas or smaller cities stop theur vehical while a train goes over a bridge above them, lest they have some human droppings fall onto them (it happens).

Another very common space is the beach. People who live in slums along the coastline use the beach.

I guess that makes sense. Thanks, all.

That setup was pretty common in North America & Europe until the last 50-60 years or so. There would be a sign warning people not to flush the toilet while at the station, assumer the conductor didn’t just lock them up. Airliners did something similar (you flushed the toilet, your waste went into a tank, then that tank was emptied mid-air) until even more recently.

That’s fascinating. They would just fling the liquid feces and urine into the air?

A lot more recently than that in some places: in 2000 in Ireland I used to take a train from Dublin to where I worked. There was a sign in the toilet even then that said “Please do not use the toilet when the train is standing in a station” (to which someone had added “Except at Bray”).

Fly! Be free!

I abhor squat toilets. I have learned living in Asia to do my business at home before going anywhere, and I know mainly in the city I live in where a sit down toilet is. The few times that I had to go and the squat was th only thing available, I usually leave a mess behind because I refuse to use the things (probably use them less than 5 times a year)

I have taken two chairs, set them on each side of the hole and did my business. Works fine. Did that in a hotel this summer and one time last weekend. Still, it is something that I am not used to living abroad and I rather resent that they use the fucking things instead of a real toilet.

This is alluded to in Steve Goodman’s famous ballad City of New Orleans. (Links to the relevant part in a version by Johnny Cash.)

The song the conductor’s singing is:

(to the tune of Dvořák’s Humoresque Number 7)


I remember reading a children’s book from about 1985 and the main character is on a train with a sign like this. Another book with the same character (it’s a series) a few years later had the same train setup. Maybe the author didn’t know things had changed…

I would think that those from Chicago would remember the last time that Dave Matthews was in town
dave matthews tour bus driver dumps waste into river

I took an Amtrak train (US intercity rail) in about 1995. It had toilets which dumped directly onto the tracks with the signs warning not to use them while at a station.

I took another Amtrak in about 1998. It had holding tank toilets instead.
As to airplanes, I’m betting the *dump toilets overboard inflight * designs pretty well ended with the advent of pressurized cabins. Certainly no jets in use now have this feature.

A risk with any modern jet toilet is external leaks. If the external drain valve leaks even a smidgen, cabin pressurization will drive fluid & other stuff out at altitude. Which will quickly freeze in the seriously sub-zero temps into a solid block behind the access panel. If that panel opens, a 10 or 20 lb chunk of ice is freed to fall to Earth. It’ll arrive at ground level still intact doing 150-200mph. And absolutely ruin the day of whoever/whatever it hits.

The main reason for the prohibitions against disposing of anything besides TP & bodily excretions into an aircraft toilet is to prevent damaging valve seals or getting non-soluble crud stuck where the valves don’t close completely.

So-called “blue ice” incidents are a daily point of concern in the industry.

Yes, even today, despite great strides in nuclear disarmament, you still face a threat from icy BMs.

Stop it!

Damn it! :mad:
Now I have to clean up the Dr Pepper that I just spewed all over my keyboard and screen! :smiley:

A good joke, but did it really merit commenting on a two year old thread and putting zombie-poop images in my head?