Signs on railway station platforms in Boston, New York and Toronto are intended to offer help to anyone who is emotionally distressed or suicidal — a last-ditch effort to keep people from taking a final, fatal step onto the train tracks.
Some experts say it’s time for the Chicago Metra system to consider adopting such a policy.
The Chicago area has a higher percentage of train fatalities that are suicides than the national average, said Northwestern University professor Ian Savage, who has done extensive research on the subject.
Nationally, about 30 percent of railroad-pedestrian fatalities are apparent suicides, versus 47 percent in the Chicago area, Savage said.
The latest Illinois Commerce Commission records show there have been 172 apparent railroad-related suicides in northeastern Illinois from 2004 to mid-2013.
Chicago is considering posting signs with hotline numbers and public awareness campaigns can be effective suicide countermeasures, said Scott Gabree, an engineering psychologist with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.
Also valuable is “gatekeeper training” of railroad employees and crews to enable them to spot suicide warning signs such as anxious behavior by people at stations and along tracks, Gabree said.
Although suicide by train is an individual act, officials say there are wide-reaching public consequences: Fatalities exact a heavy toll on train crews as well as on witnesses and emergency responders. The resulting investigations cause delays that can disrupt hundreds of commuters’ lives.