Chicago Metra Rail Struggles with High Rates of Suicide

Chicago's Metra commuter rail service has a big problem on its hands: Distressed people are resorting to using train tracks to end their lives at a higher rate than in other major cities. Would partnering with a suicide-hotline agency stem the tide?

"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," writes Richard Wronski of the Chicago Tribune (and published in Governing.)

"As new research shows that a higher percentage of train fatalities in the Chicago area are suicides than in the rest of the U.S., some experts say it's time for Metra to consider adopting such a policy.

In addition to the person who ended his/her life, "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," adds Wronski.

"Until now, reports on the effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts have been largely anecdotal, experts say," writes Wronski. "But results are due soon from a 36-month project called RESTRAIL, for Reduction of Suicides and Trespasses on Railway Property, that was conducted on Europe's rail lines."

Chicago's high rate of suicides may be attributed to several factors, according to "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.
  • "Savage attributes the higher incidence of railroad suicides in the Chicago area to the greater prevalence" of commuter, freight and inter-city trains. It's "the nation's second-busiest commuter rail network."

Surprisingly, the hotspots for suicide were not in the city but in the "the far suburbs in DuPage and Lake counties."

Wronski writes about suicide-prevention programs run by rail agencies on Long Island; in Boston, Japan, Toronto and Washington, D.C.

Full Story: Chicago Is Working to Prevent Train Suicides

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