Faced with an increase in suicides occurring on one of the busiest light-rail lines in the United States, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
(L.A. MTA) has partnered with the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center
on an educational campaign that authorities hope will help stop people from stepping in front of on-coming trains.
The initiative is part of L.A. MTA’s broader strategy to improve safety on the 22-mile Metro Blue Line, which stretches from Los Angeles to Long Beach, Calif. L.A. County’s first modern rail line — it opened in 1990 — the Blue Line carries about 27 million boarding passengers annually.
Although train-versus-motor vehicle accidents have steadily declined on the Blue Line in recent years, incidents involving pedestrians remain a problem, with suicides becoming a major concern, L.A. MTA officials say.
The problem involves pedestrians who intentionally step in front of a train, as well as those injured or killed accidentally after ignoring or overlooking train safety warnings. Last year was “particularly bad,” according to L.A. MTA spokesman Marc Littman.
“Nine people were killed on the Blue Line, and, of those, four were suicides,” Littman said.
Despite the agency investing $7 million on pedestrian gates and train warning devices along the line, “we’re still seeing an uptick in pedestrian versus train incidents,” said Littman.
L.A. MTA isn’t the only transit agency or railroad to face the problem. Last year, trespasser fatalities on railroad tracks and property spiked 7.5 percent to 442, while trespass injuries climbed 10.4 percent to 405, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s 2012 preliminary statistics.
At the same time, U.S. crossing collisions between trains and motor vehicles decreased 5.1 percent to 1,953 compared with 2012's total; crossing fatalities remained essentially unchanged and crossing injuries fell 11.4 percent to 917.
Last year’s rail trespass deaths and injuries were the highest since 2008, according to Operation Lifesaver Inc.
“It’s a sobering fact that the number of Americans killed while trespassing on train tracks continues to outpace fatalities from vehicle-train collisions,” said OLI President and Chief Executive Officer Joyce Rose.
In response to the trend, OLI — in partnership with railroads and law enforcement agencies — is stepping up its efforts to encourage people “to make safe decisions around tracks and trains,” Rose said in a recent press release.
To raise awareness in its Blue Line neighborhoods, L.A. MTA officials recently distributed 700,000 door hangers featuring train safety messages for pedestrians, reminding them to avoid walking on train tracks, keep their head up when walking near tracks and not circumvent pedestrian gates at crossings. L.A. MTA also wrapped several trains with safety messages that read, “Heads Up! Watch for trains!” and prepared 15 passenger safety “ambassadors” on the Blue Line to watch for people engaging in unsafe behavior around trains.
And, in mid-March, the agency held a press conference to announce its campaign with the Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center. Hundreds of signs promoting the center’s suicide crisis hotline are being posted at stations, on train platforms, at crossings and near high-risk locations.
The hotline (877-727-4747) receives more than 50,000 calls a year from people contemplating suicide as well as from callers who are worried about someone they know who may be suicidal, said Lyn Morris, the center’s director. The hotline is staffed by English- and Spanish-speaking counselors, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Metro Blue Line initiative will “increase awareness that there is help and there is hope,” Morris said.
Meanwhile, L.A. MTA will continue to examine ways to reduce pedestrian incidents around trains on the Blue Line.
“We are doing everything we can,” said Littman. “But we can’t build a bubble over the Blue Line. It’s not just a suicide problem, it’s an unsafe behavior problem.”
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