Posted 2nd July 2014 | 4 Comments

New bid to prevent railway suicides

NETWORK RAIL and the charity Samaritans have announced plans for a new five year partnership to reduce suicides on the railways. Since the original partnership began in 2010, railway staff have approached and potentially saved the lives of more than 200 vulnerable people. British Transport Police also report more than 700 approaches, in which people at risk are offered help. Many of these incidents are a result of attending Samaritans courses.

Almost 600 courses have been run by Samaritans trainers since 2010 for around 7,000 rail staff from train operating companies from all over the country, as well as British Transport Police officers and Network Rail front line staff. About 6,000 have attended the Managing Suicidal Contacts course, while a further 1,000, mainly train drivers and driver managers, have undergone the Trauma Support Training course.

The numbers of deaths by suicide on the railways has fluctuated since the partnership began in 2010. In 2011 they dropped from 232 to 224, and in 2012 they rose to 268. The 2013 figure was 278. However, Samaritans pointed out that the number of deaths alone does not give a full picture of whether suicides are increasing or decreasing. For this, rates based on the population must be considered. Such rates are not available for railway deaths as they are for national suicides; but it is clear that the proportion of suicides that occur on the railways has remained relatively stable.

As well as training staff, the period of the partnership has seen significant numbers of physical improvements to the rail network aimed at reducing suicide. These include mid-platform fencing, which has now been installed at 50 stations, platform hatching, trespass guards, platform end barriers and various kinds of new technology such as smart cameras, designed to help identify people in difficulties, and blue lights, which are being piloted.

Samaritans chief executive Catherine Johnstone said: “Samaritans and the rail industry have been working together for many years, but this partnership with Network Rail has taken that co-operation to a new level. Close to seven thousand rail staff have been trained and they are joined by Samaritans volunteers on the ground.

"Given the challenging economic circumstances over the last five years, the creation of the partnership was very timely. It seems clear from the very large number of interventions by rail staff that rail deaths would have been considerably higher had the partnership not been in place. It’s certainly an example that is being closely studied by many other countries.”

Network Rail suicide prevention programme manager Ian Stevens said: "Any death on the railway is a tragedy but the impact is felt not only by those who knew the person but by the train driver and station staff and those who are involved in the aftermath. We want to do everything we can to stop this from happening, and if it does, to help our people deal with it. Samaritans have helped us enormously to develop our work in this area, with their great expertise, empathy and tenacity."

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Anon, Birmingham

    Since the Samaritans have been working with Network Rail and BTP posters and News campaigns have been all over the network. Last year the total of Fatalities was up by almost 20%. It will be interesting to see if the increase is matched in the general population or if the increase is railway specific.

    My concern is the industry is advertising the railway as an affective place to kill yourself.

    I do think the Samaritans course for staff is very good. But I think the rest of the campaign is counterproductive. Time will tell, when the Government releases the figures at the end of 2014 for the 2013 level of suicidal incidents.

  • Tim, Devon

    Samaritans are actually available on the Europe wide 116123 number, which is free. I don't know why they don't advertise it?

  • PhilRow, Stockport

    I am amazed that the Samaritans use a charging 08457 phone number, not a Freephone 0800 number.
    Every suicide on the railways must cost a fortune.
    Someone feeling suicidal might not have any money left on their mobile phone, so they then couldn't call the Samaritans.
    SUGGESTION : How about Network Rail with all the billions of pounds they get off the Govt and off us, the travelling public every year, could pay for all phone call charges to the Samaritans?

  • Tony Pearce, Reading

    Its incredibly sad that so many people choose to end their lives on the Railway, causing huge upset in particular to the Driver, as well as everyone else including the poor Policemen and others who have to go and pick the bits up. Anything that reduces any death on the Railway is to be welcomed. In the last 10 years high-security lineside fencing has been installed virtually everywhere, but that doesn't seem to have reduced the number of deaths. We have just had mid-platform fencing installed at my local Station, Tilehurst this month, and although it won't prevent suicides it does help people from being sucked under unnoticed trains on the fast line. Maybe the provision of telephones at Stations which can be used to contact the Samaritans would be useful. Stations could also display 'Posivite' posters from the Samaritans.