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Suicides by Train on the Rise [AUDIO]

Regardless of all the work done to prevent accidental deaths on railroad tracks, 2013 is shaping up to be one of the deadliest years for suicides by train.

New Jersey Transit Trains
William Thomas Gain, Getty Images

Twenty-three people were found dead on tracks shared by NJ Transit and Amtrak in 2013. Only two of the deaths are being ruled accidental.

The eight months of 2013 already have more deaths than the entirety of 2012. July and August are proving themselves to be the deadliest, with 10 deaths in the two months.

NJ Transit and the DOT launched a campaign dubbed “E-cubed,” which focused on education, engineering, and enforcement.

The program increased safety efforts, placing audible signs on tracks warning of oncoming trains, putting up new fencing and clearing brushes and trees to give engineers better visibility, and installing “skirts” under crossing to prevent people from ducking under them.

It was also part of an education campaign utilizing warning signs at stations, video and print PSA’s, and social media outreach.

However, while the efforts effectively reduced accidental deaths from upwards of 9 in 2011 to only one in 2012 and two (so far) in 2013, the number of self-inflicted continues to climb.

Psychologist Dr. Lanny Berman, who serves as the president for the American Association of Suicidology in Washington, D.C., says in research of 55 incidents of death by train, they found most victims were “fairly disturbed.” Many with untreated mental illness who showed warning signs but were not seeking help.

He notes those who committed suicide via railroad did so because the method was both convenient and efficient.

“People who are suicidal use what is there to accomplish their intent to die, so if you have a firearm in the arm in the home and you’re intent on suicide, you’ll use that firearm,” Berman asid.

He adds that among the 55 cases analyzed, very few of the deceased owned a gun.

“There are train tracks running through everyone’s backyard, figuratively. So they’re accessible,” he said.

He notes that while the efforts of NJ Transit and the DOT have prevented accidental deaths on train tracks, not enough is being done to prevent suicides.

Berman points out it is currently too easy for individuals to get onto railroad tracks. He says that while it’s unrealistic for every mile of track to be blocked off, access to highly used sites can be restricted.

“We know the majority of rail suicides do not occur in the wilderness away from a metropolitan areas. We know suicides on commuter lines occur basically at stations, and suicides on freight lines occur within a few miles of stations.”

Part of the “E-cubed” program involved placing information for crisis hotlines at rail stations, which Berman says doesn’t go far enough. He believes a dedicated phone connecting suicidal individuals to a help line needs to be put up to every sign advertising the crisis hotline.

“One of the things we found in the study of 55 cases was practically none of them had a cell phone at the time of death. If you put up a sign and you don’t have a phone that goes directly to a crisis line, then the sign doesn’t produce behavior because no one can act on it.”

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