As the Metrolink rail system seeks to its expand service throughout the Southland and, in particular, the San Fernando Valley, it is also looking for ways to increase safety.
One of the constant issues facing the agency is the death of pedestrians struck by trains — especially if such death is determined to be a suicide.
So Metrolink has been awarded a $59,000 grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to specifically create a campaign toward preventing or deterring the public from attempting suicides on its rail systems, along with providing training for railroad staff, first responders and community members.
The grant is part of the Suicide Prevention Project funded by the FRA’s Railroad Trespassing Suicide Prevention Grant Program.
Metrolink officials, referring to their internal safety records between 2017 and 2019, said they determined four “hot spots” for such actions. Two are in the San Fernando Valley” there were four such suicides between Van Nuys and Burbank, and three such suicides near the San Fernando/Sylmar station, where people can walk onto the tracks from behind a store where there are few or no real barriers to stop them.
From 2017-2019, there were 93 incidents of train strikes against a person. Of that number, Metrolink officials said, 37 — or 40 percent — were declared suicide by the local county coroner after investigation. Due to the nature of suicide investigations, the actual number of suicides might be higher.
The continuing homelessness crisis has caused many to live alongside railroad rights of way, and placing them dangerously close to the path of oncoming trains traveling at speeds as high as 70 miles per hour.
According to Metrolink, research indicates that having that availability to a means of death is a major factor in suicide and, in the case of homeless encampments near tracks, trains can become the means.
“Metrolink is eager to work with law enforcement and community groups to help in any way we can to educate individuals homeless encampments about options available to them,” said Metrolink CEO Stephanie Wiggins.
“This grant is a force multiplier for our efforts to keep people safe in the vicinity of our tracks.”
The campaign will be directed by a steering committee with Metrolink staff working closely with a team of psychologists from the University of Denver Transportation Research Center, skilled in training mental health professionals and working with the transportation industry.
The project will last 12 months.
Metrolink displays the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-8255, on posters and its electronic signs at rail stations.