Monday, January 7th at around 11:30 AM, a woman jumped off the platform at Ballston Station in Arlington, VA and was struck by an orange line train. This is the first metro suicide of 2013, and unfortunately, probably not the last. As John Hendel with TBD writes, rail suicides were written about by Tolstoy as far back as 1877. And here in DC, we’ve regrettably seen our share.
In 2012, WMATA reported 11 passengers who jumped onto the tracks, five dying from their injuries. In September of 2012, WMATA finally started their public awareness campaign against suicide by metro trains by adding suicide hotline numbers in the metro stations. I say finally because WMATA first pledged to do this in 2009 after two teenagers jumped to their deaths less than one week apart, making seven suicides by train that year. Since that pledge, 17 people have been killed by metro transportation, with 10 more attempting. The public service program was delayed three years despite a budget of $250,000 specifically allotted for the campaign in 2010 and a consultation report on rail suicides costing $70,000 in June 2011.
DC is a commuter city. With all the different neighborhoods, communities, and extensive suburban areas just outside the district’s borders, WMATA reaches everyone. A suicide using the transportation system is sad and horrific on a whole different level to most residents. Some see it as selfish or annoying because of the back-ups, delays, and inconveniences it causes the city and fellow commuters. Some see it as heartbreaking and disturbing, a really destructive way to die. Others, especially train conductors and witnesses, experience emotional trauma and longer lasting effects than just a lengthy commute. And that’s not mentioning the jumper. In The Capital reported in March 2012 via a WMATA report that one third of those attempting suicide via metro train actually survive the attempt. Surviving an impact by train still results in devastating injuries, both physical and emotional.
WMATA has recently taken steps to prevent rail suicide including posters with help numbers listed and training station managers and train operators on how to look for warning signs of potential jumpers. The completion of this program was due this month, but was originally set for December 2012, so the word isn’t out on whether it has actually been done. But is this enough? The DC Metro system chose a public outreach and awareness campaign over other options such as slowing trains speeds at stations, which would cause delays across the board, or putting up barriers around the tracks, which would be very costly. While WMATA is certainly not responsible for feelings of depression in society (although some would argue otherwise… aka red and blue line commuters), are they they responsible for making it harder to chose death by train as a method of ending one’s life?
Do the signs work in preventing suicides at metro stations? Are suicides an increasing trend in the Washington DC Metro Stations? Should WMATA do more to prevent rail suicides? Let us know what you think.
This is not the first time in recent news someone was killed by the metro. In December, the NY Post published the controversial picture of a man about to be killed by an oncoming train with the headline “Doomed” and the caption “Pushed onto the subway tracks, this man is about to die.” In a flurry of online conversation, the photographer, the newspaper, and the apathy of public spectators were all criticised for their actions or lack of. While this was not suicide, it still illustrates how dangerous trains are and how quickly death can happen. What steps can and should transportation agencies take to ensure the safety of the public? What responsibility do they have?
The best way to prevent suicides by train is to get help before they are standing on the platform. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, please seek help right away. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s toll-free number at 800-273-TALK (8255) or 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) for help. For Spanish, call 1-877-SUICIDA (1-877-784-2432). Also check out this database of hotlines and tips for those experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts in the DC area.