Health & safety 26 April 2019

Preventing Suicide on the Railway: Suicide Prevention Awareness

Every suicide is a tragic event, with far-reaching implications. However, a suicide on a railway occurs in a public arena, and therefore not only affects friends and loved ones, but also those that live, travel and work on the railway. That’s why Network Rail, its supply chain partners and British Transport Police worked together to  raise awareness of vulnerable people on the railway with a series of Suicide Prevention Awareness Days.

Benefits at a Glance:

  • Railway staff are, in effect, the eyes and ears of the railway and the Suicide Prevention Awareness day helped equip them with the skills needed to identify vulnerable individuals and intervene
  • Several attendees went on to attend the Samaritans course, ‘Managing Suicidal Contacts for Railway Staff,’ designed to help employees develop the skills and confidence needed to approach and respond to a distressed person
  • Sessions

The Suicide Prevention Awareness Days, delivered by the British Transport Police and Network Rail, focussed on understanding the impact of a suicide on the railway, how to identify individuals that may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, and practical tips about what can be done to potentially prevent a tragic outcome.

The course included videos showing perspectives of those that had been contemplating suicide on the railway, and those that made an intervention to prevent one, and sobering statistics, such as:

  • There is a suicide, on average, every 30 hours on the railway network
  • Over 5 years, 5265 driver days are lost due to railway suicides

It has been estimated that 1 in 4 people experience mental issues, meaning that of the railway network’s 1.6 billion passengers, 400 million could potentially be experiencing problems.

Intense suicidal thoughts last just 30 minutes, and so intervention within that time frame can make all of the difference. Intervention includes approaching individuals that may be vulnerable, and alerting station staff, the British Transport police or other appropriate services to give the person the support they need. Attendees were invited to sign up for the Samaritans course, ‘Managing Suicidal Contacts for Railway Staff’ that is designed to help employees develop the skills and confidence needed to approach and respond to a distressed person.  Key fobs featuring the BTP number and other literature was distributed at the end of each session.

Four sessions were held in two locations along the Midland Main Line – Bedford Depot and Derby – to enable both site and office-based staff to attend.


  • The sessions helped to prevent suicide. In the instances described below, employees credited the Suicide Prevention Awareness skills for helping them know the steps to take:
    • Two railway workers identified a disorientated and distressed young man on the track near a construction site and were able to engage him until the police arrived. The institution that had been taking care of him confirmed he was a suicide risk
    • A distressed teenager on the top of a viaduct (where live trains were operating) was helped by a rail employee who had the trains stopped and successfully managed to remove him from danger
  • The course was recognised – by course leaders and attendees – to have had a huge impact.
    • A spokesperson for the British Transport Police said: “We can all make a difference. The course, and the great turnout, is another example of what can be achieved when Network Rail and the British Transport Police work together”
    • Attendees comments included: “This course has reinforced what action to take if we see someone that we’re concerned about.”
    • “Really useful to raise awareness of what we should look for in both colleagues and the public. I recognise that a conversation could save a life!”


Lessons Learned/Best Practice

  • Multiple sessions were held in depots and offices and staff to maximise the opportunities for staff to attend
  • Senior managers from across Network Rail and its supply chain partners championed the course and employees were actively supported to attend
  • Celebrate success; feedback from the courses drove positive coverage across internal communications, from newsletters to team briefings, and a video was made for the annual Midland Main Line safety event.