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Good Samaritans in rail

Around one in six rail staff are now trained to prevent people taking their lives on the railway, as part of the suicide prevention partnership between Samaritans, Network Rail, British Transport Police and the wider rail industry.

Between April 2016 and the end of March this year, 1,593 interventions were made across Britain’s rail network by staff, British Transport Police, local police and the public, an increase of 40 per cent on the previous year. In the same period, suicides and suspected suicides on the rail network dropped from 253 to 237, showing a decline in rail suicides for the second year in a row. This is a fall of 18 per cent in two years and 2016/17 represents the lowest yearly figure since 2010.

Samaritans delivers two training courses for railway staff and BTP officers as part of the partnership. One teaches them how to identify and approach people who may be suicidal. The other is trauma support training, aimed at those who may be affected by a suicide on the railway.

Partnership approach

Says Samaritans chief executive, Ruth Sutherland, ‘The reduction in suicides on the railway shows that the partnership between Samaritans, Network Rail, BTP and the wider rail industry is making a real difference. But suicide is everybody’s business and we want to see the same dramatic reduction in suicide figures in general. We look forward to taking this learning to a wider audience and having an even greater impact on suicide numbers in the coming years.’

Ian Stevens, who manages the suicide prevention programme on behalf of the rail industry, agrees.

‘It’s encouraging to see the number of suicides on the railway fall for the second year in a row, and hopefully this trend continues in line with our ongoing suicide prevention work. Around one in six rail staff is now trained in suicide prevention and their commitment to preventing suicides on the railway is translating into lives saved on the ground. Put simply, we are now more likely to intervene and prevent people being injured or killed through suicide attempts on the railway.’

BTP – national role

Last year, Samaritans launched its ‘We Listen’ campaign through the partnership with posters in railway stations across England, Scotland and Wales highlighting the importance of seeking help if you are struggling to cope, rather than hiding your feelings and suffering in silence. The campaign has been extended to hospitals, GP surgeries and sports events, and appears on the side of buses.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 and of men and women aged 20-34, with those from more deprived communities particularly vulnerable.

Mark Smith, BTP, National Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, says, ‘As the national police service for the railways, we are committed to reducing suicide and to our partnership with the rail industry and Samaritans.

‘We are very pleased to see the reduction in suicides and suspected suicides and the increase in life-saving interventions for the second year in succession.’


The sheer scale of the work is impressive. ‘One of our contributions is through the work of our suicide prevention and mental health teams, which have NHS psychiatric nurses working alongside police officers and staff ,’ says Smith.

‘These teams work with statutory and third-sector partners to help those people that come to the railway in mental health crisis or suicidal circumstances, access effective care pathways and get on the road to recovery. In the last year, these joint health and policing teams and our Community Safety Unit in Scotland, dealt with nearly 2,000 cases, which includes 86 people who survived a suicide attempt on the railway with serious injuries.’

Railway suicides continue to account for approximately four percent of all suicides in the UK. Anyone can contact Samaritans. Whatever you’re going through, call free any time from any phone on 116 123. The number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill. Alternatively email [email protected], or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to someone face to face.