A new study on the link between availability of trains and mortality

A new study compared train suicide rates in Germany and the Netherlands in order to determine the role of traffic intensity on the incidence of fatalities.

Article Title: Train suicide mortality and availability of trains: A tale of two countries

Authors: van Houwelingen, C., Baumert, J., Kerkhof, A., Beersma, D., & Ladwig, K. H

Publication date: 2013

Published by: Psychiatric Research (in press).

This article is interesting because it finds a significant association between population density, rail density, traffic intensity and the number of railway suicides. Traffic intensity was the most important factor. This study supports the availability hypothesis: areas of tracks where trains come more often (less than 20mn apart) are more at risk for suicides. This hypothesis assumes that people use a train to kill themselves because it is available to them at the time of the suicidal crisis. Another important factor confirming the availability hypothesis is the association with population density. The more people live near the tracks, the higher the number of suicides. However, familiarity with the tracks and the railway network does not seem to be associated with an increase in the number of suicides.

These findings may be useful in the identification of high risk areas where suicide prevention strategies could be more successfully implemented.

Abstract from the authors :

When compared to German rates, train suicides in the Netherlands have made up a larger proportion of the total number of suicides. This study examines whether this difference is attributable to railway parameters, familiarity with rail transport, or population density. Dutch and German train suicide rates from 2000 to 2007 were compared by means of Poisson regression analyses. Train suicide rate ratios were calculated and related to the railway parameters or population density in a Poisson regression model. The Dutch–German general suicide rate ratio was 0.72. In contrast, the train suicide rate in the Netherlands exceeded the German rate by 1.23. In the Poisson regression analyses, where suicide rate was related to railway density or passenger traffic intensity, the Dutch–German train suicide rate ratios became 1.49 and 1.20 respectively. When related to train traffic intensity or population density, however, rate ratios turned into 0.74 and 0.59 respectively. Train traffic intensity contributes to train suicide frequency. Population density also contributes, whereas railway density and familiarity with rail transport do not. In a cross-national comparison the availability hypothesis regarding the number of trains passing was confirmed, which leads to the recommendation of limiting access to the railway tracks.

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