Monash University Accident Research Centre - Report #215 - 2004
Authors: Routley,V, Staines,C, Haworth,N, Symmons,M, Ozanne-Smith,J
Objectives: These were firstly to describe the patterns of rail-related suicide in Victoria, as determined from available databases, and secondly to locate and review the relevant literature, noting any countermeasures, particularly where there was evidence of effectiveness.
Method: Rail related suicide data was obtained from relevant organisations, including the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Department of Infrastructure, National Express Group, Transport Accident Commission, Victoria State Coroners Office and MUARC. The data was analysed, summary tables were constructed and comparisons made between the various Victorian rail-related databases, with interstate data and with suicides in general. Relevant literature not already known was identified through a Medline search and the literature reviewed for risk factors and countermeasures. Data findings were compared with those in the literature and recommendations made.
Results: Rail suicides have represented approximately 5.3% of total Victorian suicides over the period 1990 to 2000. Compared with other states, Victoria has the highest average annual rate of rail-related suicide (0.72/100,000 population) and the second highest frequency. The Victoria-wide databases have mostly averaged approximately 30 rail suicides per year. From around 1990 there has been an increasing trend in rail-related injury and deaths. Consistently rail suicides have been two thirds male, concentrated in the 20 to 29 year age group, younger than suicides overall, most commonly occurring in September and on Wednesday and least commonly on Saturday. The time of day has been inconsistent between databases. The Frankston, Dandenong, Sandringham and outer eastern lines have experienced the highest number of suicides. Almost half have occurred on open rail lines, 23% at stations and 18% at pedestrian and level crossings. Where method was noted, 34% had laid down and 24% stepped onto the path of the train. A greater proportion were M-trains (48%) than Connex (36%). The literature review found there have been very few Australian studies and the international studies have mostly described underground systems. There was consistency in age and sex findings but not in other risk factors. Few countermeasures were located, especially ones that had been evaluated. Factors at stations reported as having an effect include platform edge screen doors, emergency telephones, stop plungers, staff identifying potential suiciders and intervening and pits between rails. Other interventions include charging victim's families for disruption to the rail system and slowing down at high risk periods. Modifying the front of trains was suggested for the longer term.
Recommendations: Suggestions were made for the most appropriate data sources and modifications to current systems. Appropriate potential countermeasures are slower speeds and additional fencing on the lines where open-line suicides occur more frequently; staff training, video surveillance and emergency telephones to prevent platform suicides; addressing the causes of suicide for 20-29 year olds males and, in the longer term, modifying the front of trains to soften impact and/or deflect the suicide attempter. Several research questions were raised which require further investigation.
Sponsoring Organisations: This project was funded through the Department of Infrastructure, the National Express Group and the Transit Safety Division, Victoria Police