In just one month, America’s South-eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) saw back-to-back deaths all within a day of each other. This has prompted the operator to look into the redesign of its platforms to work out how the deaths, whether accidental or suicidal can be prevented on the tracks. In 2014, the transit agency partnered with Montgomery Country Emergency Services to launch a pilot suicide prevention programme and suicide prevention signage at 290 different stations ensued. However, it did not have the intended effect as already this year seven people have had their lives taken, five of which appeared to be attempted suicides. The cause of death in turn has a traumatic and demoralising impact on frontline rail staff as many of them feel powerless to prevent such an act. These ongoing tragedies have prompted officials at SEPTA to consider deploying suicide barriers on train platforms.
"However, barriers and automatic gates are a deterrent rather than a solution."
SEPTA’s ( @SEPTA ) general manager Jeff Knueppel is enquiring for the partitions to be placed between the train platform and train tracks and include sliding glass doors for access. It is hoped that the barriers could have a greater impact than signs because the decision cannot be so impulsive.
One of the causes of the fatalities is that SEPTA’s trains glide through the tunnels at great speeds but are surprisingly quiet. Even a train that slams the breaks can cover a few hundred years in a matter of seconds before it finally stops.
“Our intention for the platform barriers was more about creating more safety for our riders, not so much about preventing suicides. If it does help that, then that’s a good thing,” said Septa spokeswoman Carla Showell-Lee. It’s likely that they would take at least two or three years to construct and would still be part of a pilot programme. This would become the first US state to employ the barriers.
How preventative are platform barriers?
Railways across the globe, particularly the UK and Japan have introduced the fencing as a result of high suicide rates. Sin-Koiwa station in Tokyo is one of the Japan’s most infamous suicide spots, they have the most visible signs of suicide prevention in Tokyo with the implementation of barriers, automatic gates and blue light on train platforms. Part of the reason the city invested so much here is because human fatalities are costly and can disrupt tens of thousands of passengers. However, barriers and automatic gates are a deterrent rather than a solution. But a less expensive solution has been blue LED lighting which research suggests has a calming effect.
In the UK preventative measures include mid-platform fencing which has been installed at 67 stations so far. Platform end barriers have been implemented at a further 135 stations and there has been a recent introduction of fencing to separate platforms for fast through trains from stopping services on stations between Reading and London Paddington, Milton Keynes and Euston.
To read about more safety solutions you might be interested in: