Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Samaritans Day, and railway suicides

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Screenshot of the Samaritans web site

Trigger warning: discussion of suicide.

Today is Samaritans Day, a day to raise the awareness of the Samaritans charity which provides emotional support to people in distress in the UK and Ireland. They are mainly known for providing a telephone number that you can call if you feel you are struggling to cope with life (08457 90 90 90) but also an email address – jo@samaritans.org . Today, all £4 donations received by texting MATCH to 70123 will be doubled, meaning that the Samaritans will receive £8 at no extra cost to you.

I’m fortunate that I’ve never needed help myself from the Samaritans, but I am very thankful that they are around. You may see their signs on high bridges, at the end of railway station platforms, or near suicide blackspots in the hope that someone wanting to end it all will make a phone call and talk to someone about it. Whilst it’s probably hard to quantify just how effective these are, I hope that some people will feel that they have other options.

Suicide on the railways is a big issue. Though only accounting for a small fraction of the 6000 suicides that take place in the UK every year, 238 people took their own lives on the railways in 2012. It’s a number that has been consistent since 2010 when there was a 17% rise.

Consequently, ‘a person under a train’ is almost a daily event in Britain. Trains are big, heavy vehicles that travel at high speeds and have long stopping distances, which perhaps explains why the railways are such a target for those wanting to end their lives. Whilst for passengers it’s often just the cause of delays or cancellations, for the drivers of the train it can be very traumatic, knowing that you’ve hit someone and there was nothing you could do to stop it. Train drivers in this situation often need counselling and some never work again. Plus there’s the grizzly job for the police and maintenance staff of investigating and clearing up afterwards, especially if the train or track had been damaged as a result, and informing the victim’s family.

Ten years ago, the Ufton Nervet rail crash was caused by a suicidal driver parking his car on a level crossing, which was hit by a high speed train. Sadly this resulted in the death not just of the car driver, but also the train driver and four passengers on the train. Whilst Network Rail are working on closing level crossings in future to cut the risk of trains hitting road vehicles, it was a shame that the car driver didn’t talk to someone who could have saved his life, and the lives of five other innocent people.

Britain’s railways are very safe – no passenger has been killed in over seven years now, since the Grayrigg derailment of 2007. But suicide is, sadly, still a problem. As part of Samaritans Day there are staff collecting donations at a number of railway stations today – please send some money their way, to help them save lives.

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