Information published on 15 July 2014 in the UIC electronic newsletter "UIC eNews" Nr 408.

United Kingdom: Life-saving partnership extended

  • News from UIC members

Samaritans and Network Rail 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 at railway locations. British Transport Police also report more than 700 approaches (an approach involves a trained rail staff member approaching a person who appears to be exhibiting suicidal behaviour at a railway station or other rail property). Many of these are a result of attending Samaritans courses.

Almost 600 courses have been run by Samaritans trainers 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, since 2010. 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, it is important to remember that looking at 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 we can look at the proportion of suicides that occur on the railways and we see that since 2003, this has remained relatively stable with an overall fluctuation of around 1.5% of all suicides. The rail network is also increasingly busy. A million more passenger trains a year run across Britain than ten years ago. Every day 22,000 train services operate across the network.

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.

The partnership delivers bespoke training for rail staff in identifying vulnerable people who may be looking to take their lives on the railway, providing the skills and confidence to approach them and lead them to safety. A further course and Samaritans volunteers also help rail staff deal with the aftermath of a death. The partnership also includes national communications campaigns, research and guidelines to promote responsible reporting of suicide in the media. The research concluded that the group most vulnerable to suicide were men in their middle years from lower socio-economic groups.

Catherine Johnstone, Chief Executive of Samaritans 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.”

Ian Stevens, suicide prevention programme manager for Network Rail 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. A continued collaborative approach across the industry and everyone working in mental health is needed to tackle this societal problem and to help us keep Britain moving by rail.”

(Source: Network Rail)