Summary information on railway suicides in Canada

  • There are 43 completed suicides on average annually commited on railway rights of way

  • There appears to be an increase in the number of suicide over the last 3 years of record, this tendency will have to be validated as data is obtained in the coming years.
  • The proportion of railway fatalities which are suicides has been increasing: suicides accounted for 30% of railway fatalities in 1999 and 53% in 2007
  • For each suicide, at least 6 individuals are confronted with potentially traumatic situations (2 engineers / conductors, at least one police officer from the railway or the community, at least one first respondent, a local manager and replacement crew) 


When and where do railway suicides occur? 

 

  • Most suicide occur on open track (66.7%) and very few in stations (2.2%)
  • This means that prevention strategies aimed at identifying at risk people in stations and promoting help by posters placed in stations will not have much impact in Canada. However, the situation is different in urban metro and subway systems where the only easy access to tracks is in stations and trains enter stations at a much higher speed.
  • Suicides occur mostly in urban areas (85.0%)
  • Most of the Canadian railway suicides occur in Ontario (56.1% of all rail suicides), which also is the most populated province of Canada
  • Commuter lines seem to be more at risk of having suicides. Passenger trains are also often involved in suicides. There are 3 explanation of this : Passenger trains trains are more likely to run in more densely populated areas, they are faster so they may be more attractive to suicidal people and they run on a schedule so they are easier to access.
  • Class one companies and urban trains are more likely to be involved in rail suicides
  • Suicides occur when weather conditions are mild
  • This may be explained by the fact that people may not want to venture to uncomfortable environments to commit suicide
  • 40% of suicides occur at night
  • Critical incident that occurs at night may have a stronger impact on crew members
  • There are no clear hot spots in Canada.
  • Strategies that would limit access to a specific area or which target a specific area will not be useful 


Who commits suicide by train?

 

There are several well researched risk factors for suicide in the general population, including mental health issues, substance abuse, social isolation and critical events occurring in the previous days. People who committed suicide by train show similar characteristics. However, due to the inconsistencies in data collection, we have to be careful in interpreting some of the findings.

  • Railway suicide is an adult phenomenon. Our sample only contains 6.9% adolescents.
  • This means that most of railway suicide prevention should be concerned with adult mental health and support systems
  • Railway suicides vary according to gender. There are more men who commit suicide (3.3 men for 1 woman). However, when we compare the number of suicides among overall fatalities by gender, we observe that the percentage of female suicide among female fatalities is similar to the men’s (47.8% and 44.3%).
  • Women usually tend to use less violent methods than men, such as medications and men more often use more violent methods, such as a gun. A train suicide is considered to be a violent method.
  • Suicidal people are more likely to be living in delicate living situations.
  • They are less likely to be employed (43% out of work)
  • They live with a partner as often as the general population, which is not the case for other suicidal populations
  • They do not live alone as much as the general population.
  • This means that there are people close to the individual at risk who may be able to identify a suicidal crisis, whether it is in a family or an institutional context.
  • People who commit suicide often live either very close to the tracks (less than 1km for 27.8%) or very far (more than 15km for 24.6%)
  • It is difficult to make sense of this data, because people who live further away may also be familiar with the area for other reasons
  • As is the case with most suicides, people who commit rail suicide usually experience problem situations in the day preceding their suicide, most often relationship problems, conflicts with parents and family, justice and police, financial difficulties, and substance abuse.
  • Mental health issues are often present, although probably underestimated as data on mental health problems is not systematically collected.  Only 22% of individuals were under care for a mental health problem at the time of death.
  • A promising prevention strategy may be to provide better training of mental health professionasl to help them better identify patients at risk of suicide. Since there are more suicides when tracks are near mental health facilities, those facilities should be the focus of educational prevention efforts.

People who die by railway suicide resemble people who die by suicide using other methods. Therefore, universal suicide preventive strategies that target all suicidal persons should impact railway suicides. Since Canadian journalists have been exercising great restraint in reporting on railway suicides, in Canada the choice of a train as a suicide means probably is related to the accessibility of this method more than anything else.


The suicidal person’s behaviour before impact

Information on the individuals behaviour around the tracks prior to putting themselves in front of a train could help devise strategies to limit access to tracks or identify at risk people in the areas around tracks and access points (legal and illegal crossings). However, this data is not available at the present time and may be very difficult to obtain in the future. Our description of behaviours immediately before impact does not suggest specific prevention strategies since the time between people putting themselves in front of the train and the time of impact is too short for effectively avoiding the impact.