Feds looking to reduce number of suicides
on rail lines
July 8, 2008
Source: Canadian Press
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Shewchuk is still chilled by the image of people jumping out in front of
his train, trying to commit suicide.
It happens far more often than people think, Shewchuk says, leaving him
and other train engineers to suffer nightmares and heartache. The
federal government is preparing to spend up to $382,000 to try to reduce
the number of such incidents. But the answers may not come easy.
"It's one of those things where you wake up in the middle of the night
with sweat on your brow, thinking and recalling ... the person's eyes as
you look at them and you can see them over the top of the locomotive
through the window," Shewchuk, now the head of the Teamsters union
branch that represents Canadian railway workers, said Monday from his
"That still haunts me."
During his time driving trains in British Columbia, Shewchuk remembers
three incidents in which people scrambled onto the track and stared
straight at him as he tried in vain to brake. Two survived. One did not.
"It's pretty hard to take when you have somebody walk out in front of
you at 60 or 70 miles an hour and there's absolutely nothing you can do
to stop," he said.
There is no exact record of how many people commit suicide each year on
rail lines. There are dozens of trespasser fatalities each year, but
it's not clear how many are accidental.
Between 1993 and 1996, 39 per cent of such deaths were apparent
suicides, while 10 per cent were clearly accidental, according to
Transport Canada documents. In the remaining half of all cases, the
cause was unclear.
Transport Canada is looking to hire outside help to stem the tide. The
contractors will "develop countermeasures, including aspects addressing
educational and community-based measures and infrastructure design,"
according to a department request for proposals issued Monday.
On a much smaller scale, the City of Toronto has prevented a dozen or so
suicides each year on its Bloor Street viaduct by erecting a fence with
netting, at a cost of $6 million that was split with the private sector.
Doing something similar on the country's railways would be unworkable,
according to a transportation expert at the University of Manitoba.
"What have we got, 40,000 miles of railway tracks?," said Barry
Prentice, director of the university's Transport Institute.
Even if the physical barriers were limited to densely populated areas,
the task would be enormous, Prentice said.
Transport Canada has managed to cut down the number of accidental
injuries and deaths caused by children and other walking along rail
lines, thanks to a decade-long public awareness campaign warning people
about the safety hazards.
But the campaign appears to have had no effect on the number of
suicides, according to the request for proposals.