Thousands of rail staff trained in suicide prevention as attempts on railways rise sharply since 2014

Mike Wright
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris praised the efforts of train staff intervening to prevent suicides - Drew Gardner

Rail staff prevented more than 2,000 suicides last year, new figures have revealed as the Government urges the public to step in as well. 

Thousands of rail staff have been trained in life-saving suicide prevention techniques and their interventions have meant six people were saved for every life lost. 

The Department for Transport is now backing a Samaritans campaign which encourages passengers to trust their instincts and help those in need.

Suggestions include sparking up a conversation if they see someone looking isolated, withdrawn or standing alone on a platform without boarding a train.

The Department for Transport said that rail staff had made 2,270 successful interventions in 2018-19 compared to 873 in 2014-15. Last year 271 people took their lives on the railways.

Since 2010, Network Rail said it has had more than 20,000 staff trained by the suicide prevention charity The Samaritains in techniques to help workers to intervene when they see people in distress.

The figures have been released as the Samaritans launches its ‘Brew Monday’ campaign today to encourage people to talk more openly about mental health issues.

The campaign is launched today as it is designated ‘Blue Monday’, the gloomiest point in the year.

The Samaritans said it trains Network Rail staff on how to identify potentially suicidal people on the railways and then sensitively approach them to start a conversation.

Staff are taught some of the listening techniques the charity's volunteers use to help people who called its helpline.

In a letter from one suicidal person who was saved by rail staff, they said: “The fact that someone had noticed me in the state I was in made me burst into tears. I opened up to him and he sat and listened to everything I had to say.”

One member of staff who received the training, Kelly Holyoake, a train dispatcher at a South London Station, saved the life of a man after he dropped a suicide note on the plaftform floor.

She found him standing at the edge of the platform ready to jump when she started talking to him, initially asking him how he was, and then keeping up the conversation until he stood back.

Ms Holyoake said: “I asked him what was going on and he told me to stay away. I moved back and gave it a few minutes which seemed like a lifetime, then I stepped forward again and started talking to him.

“It was the worst and best day. I went through all the emotions but I knew I made a difference.”

The Government has now set a target to reduced the number of lives lost on the railways to suicide by 10 percent by 2020-21.

The Department for Transport said the number of people who took their lives on the railways last year meant there were more than 847,000 minutes - over a year and half - of related delays for passengers and a cost of £68 million to the wider network.

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “Any suicide on our rail network is tragic. It is the brave efforts of people like Kelly, others in the industry and charities such as Samaritans and Calm which we must recognise.

“So far, with funding from Network Rail, Samaritans has trained more than 20,000 railway employees in prevention techniques. This is a tremendous achievement but we must not stop there.  

“Passengers too can help. Offering a friendly conversation, an opportunity to chat, might be all the difference between suicide and being saved.”