Victim's behaviour preceeding and during the suicide
Knowing the type of behaviours a person engaged in prior to their death may help in the identification of effective interventions, including prevention strategies to both reduce access to railway tracks and provide better access to help near tracks.
Behaviour within 24h
In order to better plan prevention strategies, it may be useful to know what people did in the hours before they died. The following table summarises information available in the coroners’ files about the whereabouts and behaviours of the suicidal people prior to their death.
|Behaviour during the 24 hours prior to death||N||%|
|Contact with own social network||31||12.3|
|Came with belongings or left belongings near the tracks||28||11.1|
|Dispute with family or significant other||23||9.1|
|Sudden emotional changes||22||8.7|
|Stopped taking their medication||11||4.3|
|Put their affairs in order, gave things away, left letters||10||4|
|Problem with police or unlawful behaviour||7||2.8|
|Contact with medical or mental health care||6||2.4|
|Fight or dispute||5||2|
|Had not slept||1||0.4|
Suicide victims are mainly pedestrians (94.4%) but this proportion varies by province, with the highest proportion of suicides involving a car in New Brunswick and Québec.
Behaviour on tracks
This information comes from descriptions by railway crew members when this information was included in the coroners’ reports. Since most suicides occur in places where there are no other direct witnesses, there is little information on this aspect of the incidents. However, reports indicate that suicide victims tend to run in front of the train, stand or sit on the tracks, lie down across or between the tracks, face the train and look at the driver or turn their back to the train. Some put their head on the track or put their arms out in a cross position. Some were observed walking along the tracks before stepping in front of the train. Activating the whistle does not entice them to move away. The following table gives some indication of the occurrence of the varied observed behaviour.
|Behaviour of the deceased prior to impact||N||%|
|Ran out suddenly in front of the train||99||86,1|
|Lay down on track||80||60,2|
|Stood or sat on track||79||69,9|
|Faced the train||57||85,1|
|Did not move when train whistled||53||52,5|
|Head on rail||40||80,0|
|Facing away from train||35||76,1|
|Looked at the driver / train engine||33||94,3|
|Walked on the tracks facing train||29||74,4|
|Placed arms out||22||81,5|
|Walked along the tracks||19||59,4|
|Walked on tracks facing away from the train||14||28,6|
|Gestured toward the driver||10||66,7|
|Drove across the tracks||10||9,0|
|Wore a hoody or a walkman||8||38,1|
|Jumped from a platform||8||88,9|
|Stopped or parked on tracks||6||75,0|
|Sitting on a platform||5||62,5|
|Walked or ran across the tracks||4||7,8|
|Fell on the tracks||4||36,4|
|Made contact with the side of the train||4||28,6|
|Tried to get out of the way||3||16,7|
|Went around barriers||2||12,5|
Implication for prevention
The descriptions of behaviours during the 24 hours preceeding the suicide and the nature of the suicidal act indicate that it is not possible to prevent these events, other than by completely blocking all access to tracks, which would be extremely costly in Canada. It is possible that this information could help in the design of safety equipment for the front of engines. However, given the braking time necessary for stopping a train, it appears that the short delay between the initiation of the suicide attempt and the arrival of the train would preclude technical enhancements to allow trains to stop in time to avert a fatality.
This information is also useful to design training and support strategies for crew members who directly witness these events and so that they may be better informed about what is likely to occur in these incidents.