Earlier this month, a 16-year-old teenager in Santa Clarita killed herself by stepping in front of a freight train, devastating her friends and family.
On Feb. 5, a man committed suicide by jumping in front of a Metrolink train in the City of San Fernando. The southbound train struck the man about 9:30 a.m. near San Fernando Road and Wolfskill Street, about a mile south of the Sylmar/San Fernando Station, according to Metrolink officials.
And last month, a man was struck and killed by a Metrolink train in North Hollywood while he was on the tracks in a non-pedestrian area, officials said.
“Sadly, people do choose to end their life by either standing or stepping in front of one of our trains or a Union Pacific train or a BNSF train on any of the light rails along the Metro line,” said Metrolink spokesman Scott Johnson.
“Suicide by train” is a growing concern for Metrolink operators, who this week launched a campaign aimed at reducing this problem, especially at this time of the year when the holidays, depression and fast trains provide for a deadly mix.
Metro and the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services company partnered in a successful two-year anti-suicide campaign that saw incidents decline dramatically on the Metro Blue Line, according to officials. Now Metrolink is partnering again with Didi Hirsch on a similar effort.
“Just getting the word out can really make a difference in saving lives this time of year,” said Johnson.
This campaign, called “Reach Out, There is Help,” includes distributing information to commuters and posting anti-suicide posters and messages on the trains and train stations. These posters hold images of a “Faces of Suicide” Memorial Quilt that was unveiled during a press conference at Downtown Los Angeles Union Station on Wednesday, Nov. 19. The smiling faces on the quilt are a haunting contrast to their decision to end their lives.
So far in 2014, four people have committed suicide by a Metrolink train, compared with 19 people in 2012. The successful decline is attributed to efforts to get resource information out to people who are despondent and may be contemplating suicide. The campaign, rolled out at this time of year, acknowledges that the holiday season is a time of joy but can also be a time of great sadness and depression for many people.
Former engineer, R.T. McCarthy spoke about the pain caused not only to the families of the person who commits “suicide by rail,” but also the train crew.
McCarthy, a second generation engineer and current Director of Operations for Metrolink, responds to suicide-related incidents. He also saw a person commit suicide in front of a train he was driving. He said his father, who understood how traumatic that experience is, always warned him to “never look into their eyes.”
“It’s a real helpless feeling for the engineer — there is very little to nothing that an engineer can do. The engineer can hit the horn but little else. It takes a mile to a mile-and-a-half for the train to be able to stop,” said Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten.
“It’s also a very traumatic experience for the conductors who, once the train has stopped, have to walk back [to the point of contact] and confirm that a suicide has occurred and that’s tremendously horrific.”
When a person takes their life on the train tracks, there is a “cascading effect” that occurs, Lustgarten points out. Passengers on the train and even those passing by who see the suicide incident can be emotionally affected.
“Once the train is stopped, passengers have to stay on the train until law enforcement and the coroner comes out, and it’s a law enforcement call as to when the train will be released. It can be up to three hours, and the people in trains behind them are also stopped and delayed,” Lustgarten said.
“People attempt suicide because they’re in terrible psychological pain and can’t think of any other solution,” said Hirsch President and CEO Dr. Kita S. Curry. “We know this because calls to our Crisis Line from people contemplating suicide —and worried friends and family — increase every time the number is advertised. If we all learn the warning signs of suicide and how to respond, we can save lives.”
The most effective way of preventing suicide is to identify early warning signs so that others can intervene, officials said.
Metrolink is distributing information in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties to provide resources for persons with thoughts of harming themselves.If you need help with depression, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (877) 727-4747.
Suicide Warning Signs
• Threatening suicide
• Talking about death/suicide
• Making a suicide plan
• Giving away possessions
• Feeling hopeless/helpless
• Risky behavior
• Changes in sleep/eating habits
• Increased drug/alcohol use
• Social withdrawal or isolation
• Feelings of failure/shame
What to Do
• Express concern
• Listen without criticism
• Take threats seriously
• Ask about suicide plan
• Remove lethal means
• Inform family/friends
• Seek professional help
• Call 911 or the Crisis Line
Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Crisis Line: 877-727-4747
English/Spanish counselors answer calls 24/7.
Vietnamese/Korean at peak evening hours.
Crisis Chat at www.didihirsch.org/chat
Text services available by texting HEARME to 839863.
If suicide is imminent, call 911.