With a suicide occurring once every 30 seconds worldwide, our nation’s railways unfortunately provide the means through which despondent souls sometimes try to end their pain. The latest suicide by train occurred in suburban New Jersey when a 39-year-old man laid down on the railroad tracks during morning rush hour. The 89-car freight train could not stop in time, and the man died, which resulted in the closing of other railroad crossings in the area for the rest of the day.
Unfortunately, suicides are not limited to freight trains, as passenger-filled commuter trains and subways are also chosen by those who attempt suicide. Indeed, a Chicago-area woman recently took her own life by crouching in front of a Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District train, ending the dismal final year of her life in which she lost both her parents in a span of only a few weeks. Not least of all, the head of the largest commuter system in the area, Chicagoland’s Metra, shockingly jumped in front of a fast-moving commuter train in Illinois.
After years of silence, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) recently decided to look at this issue head-on by funding a project to determine how to prevent train-related suicides. According to the data collected by the FRA, there are between 300 and 500 train suicides each year, with the details surrounding some deaths making it difficult to determine the exact nature of certain accidents.
Physical deterrents may in fact help decrease these numbers. Evidence indicates that self-destructive behavior is often impulsive and occurs at times of acute stress or pain. When easy means to commit suicide, such as oncoming trains or firearms, are not available during these moments of crisis, suicide rates drop.
In other words, reducing access may be the first step to reducing train suicides. This more aggressive approach has been embraced by European railroads, which have introduced hedges, high fences, moats and electric gates around tracks. While it may be impossible to cover every inch of the nearly 215,000 miles of track in the United States, strategic barriers may be at least part of the answer.
Many railroad injuries occur through no fault of the railroad workers or other victims, who require seasoned railroad attorneys to pursue the damages they deserve.