No trespassing: preventing rail accidents and suicides

Tuesday, 21 October, 2014
EU-funded researchers have produced groundbreaking proposals to prevent railway suicides and reduce service disruption. The proposals, if adopted, could not only save lives, but also money and time for both railway companies and passengers, they say.

Many of us have been there. Waiting for the train to work, then suddenly the service is cancelled or delayed without much further explanation. Perhaps there was an accident further down the line – somebody fell onto the track – or more tragic… somebody deliberately stepped in front of the train.

The EU-funded RESTRAIL project collected and analysed existing data from different countries and evaluated the effectiveness of specific measures to prevent suicides and accidental deaths. The outcome was EU-wide groundbreaking proposals, which could save lives, and money and time for both railway companies and passengers, says Marie-Hélène Bonneau, the project’s scientific coordinator.

“Before RESTRAIL there was no integrated research in this respect about railway suicide and trespass prevention, no classification of recommended or promising measures – only limited empirical evaluation of measures – and just a few country-specific guidance materials,” says Bonneau.

How can we best save lives?

The project aimed to provide decision-makers like station managers or train operating companies with a set of the most effective preventative and mitigation measures. In order to get there, the researchers collected and analysed existing data from different countries and evaluated the effectiveness of specific measures.

Additional support and recommendations arose from 11 pilot tests in Finland, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the UK. These tests included, for example, the assessment of suicide prevention courses for railway staff in Munich (Germany), an analysis of railway safety workshops in schools in Tampere (Finland), and an evaluation of the use of warning signs and posters in Valladolid (Spain) to stop people from trespassing.

The project’s tests have resulted in a guide or ‘toolbox’ that is openly available online. People working in Europe’s railway industry can consult best practice examples from other countries and get solid guidance on how to resolve their particular situations.

Mitigating costs and time loss

The project’s scope – with the main aim to boost safety and reduce the number of deaths and injuries – also has positive results for railway companies and their passengers.

“RESTRAIL helps reduce the traffic shut-down time after an incident, which improves the service punctuality,” Bonneau explains. “In this way, pedestrians and passengers will be less affected by traumatic events, feel safer in the railway environment and have a better perception of the train operating company.”

The railway industry is seriously affected by these incidents: they bear direct economic costs, create stress among drivers and other staff, and give a negative public image. An important part of the toolbox is guidance on how to mitigate these consequences.

The project’s guidelines and advice could help industry significantly reduce direct and indirect costs related to railway suicides and incidences, she adds.

The project ended in September 2014 and the team is keen to capitalise on its findings. Partners in the consortium plan to continue working together. Possible follow-up research activities include selecting five of the most promising measures and evaluating them in longer trials so as to collect more reliable data, says Bonneau. The toolkit itself will remain available online and be updated regularly.

Reduction of Suicides and Trespasses on RAILway property
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