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BART Launches Overdue Anti-Suicide Campaign

More than a year ago, I wrote a blog post asking why no one was talking about the rising death tolls on BART and Caltrain. Why, I asked, was no one considering additional safety measures, such as cameras, smart video software, or even barriers that might help prevent suicides and other deaths on the train tracks? When would the death toll climb high enough for the authorities to actually do something?

Well, it seems that for BART at least, that day has finally come.

In response to a recent uptick in what BART considers suicides (there have been five deaths so far this year), BART launched a campaign Tuesday to try to prevent passengers from taking their own lives. The campaign consists of the following:

  • Signage that encourages anyone struggling emotionally to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • Training employees to recognize signs of suicidality in passengers.

A recent post on SF Gate states that authorities also vowed to look into the possibility of adding a barrier on the train tracks. This would prevent people from being able to access them until after a train has already arrived. I agree that such a barrier would be an excellent idea, and I sincerely hope that BART gives serious consideration to this and the many other technologies that exist for preventing unnecessary fatalities on the train tracks.

By way of preface, it is quite unclear to me who makes a decision that a person hit on the train tracks was trying to commit suicide. BART or Caltrain must presume the deaths are suicide if their trains hit someone. I suggest that may not necessarily be the case. I wonder if calling all these deaths suicides is a 'spin' the entities put on the issue. I also wonder if the campaign should be a campaign to prevent death by train--not purely a campaign to prevent suicide on the tracks.

I support any campaign that will limit death on the tracks just as I support campaigns to prevent suicides. Caltrain adopted an anti-suicide campaign beginning in 2011, but deaths on its tracks are on the rise in 2015 after only a few years of decline. Caltrain has seen 10 deaths since the beginning of 2015; after 10 total deaths in 2014.

According to this NPR story, more than 400 people are struck and killed by trains every year. While many of these deaths may be suicides, some are not. While BART's suicide prevention campaign will hopefully help those in a state of emotional crisis, BART and Caltrain alike need to implement real safety technologies that will help cut down on deaths, period, regardless of whether or not they are suicides. The best campaign against suicide on the tracks is to stop death on the tracks. Surely the technology is there to accomplish this - signs advising against suicide will not solve the problem that too many people die on the tracks. Let's solve that problem.

Of course, it costs money to implement preventative technologies. Posting signs in BART stations and providing additional training to employees will not get the job done. Here's hoping that these entities actually do something substantive to reduce the rate of fatalities on the tracks.

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