Intelligent prevention – how technology can help reduce UK rail suicides

Lucas Young

In the past two years, there have been a staggering 490 suicides and suspected suicides on the UK rail network. These actions, of course, have a long-lasting impact on friends, family, witnesses and emergency first responders. Ultimately, those who are burdened with seeing such an event often require ongoing support, affecting both their work and private lives.

In addition to its deeply personal impact, suicide also leads to financial implications on our railways. In 2014/15, suicides cost the rail industry almost £67m, with the majority due to fines for delays across the network. Both the personal and financial outcomes highlight why, in a time of ever-increasing accountability, tackling the suicide problem in rail not only fulfills a moral obligation for infrastructure owners and train operating companies, but could also deliver great commercial benefits.

Utilising analytics to break the ‘30-minute wave’

One of the major problems faced when tackling the suicide issue is being able to identify suicidal behaviour. Suicide, by nature, is a hard subject to research and incredibly difficult to predict, making it even more problematic to recognise in advance. There are a few studies that do exist, in which a ‘30-minute wave’ period has been identified as the window where an individual may contemplate suicide. In this short space of time, it is important to identify potential victims and react quickly. Studies suggest that individuals who take their own lives on rail networks are often seen to be acting ‘strangely’ in advance. This behaviour is, of course, difficult to qualify, but could point to actions such as loitering in high-risk areas, or other platform locations where commuters do not typically stand.

Technology can play a crucial role in identifying these behaviours. Robust edge-based analytics can analyse data provided by IP cameras, continually assessing a scene to spot irregular behaviour. This will help station staff identify at-risk individuals, in real-time, who may be contemplating suicide by alerting the relevant responsible person in a station or control centre. A decision can then be made to deploy a member of staff to interact with the person, or perhaps play a pre-determined announcement via an IP-enabled horn speaker in the vicinity of the individual to break the ‘30-minute wave’.

Working together to educate rail stakeholders

Alongside technology, collaboration and education will truly help in preventing suicide on the whole rail network. In recent years, there has been excellent communication between stakeholders within the rail industry regarding suicide. This includes an initiative from Network Rail and the Samaritans, aiming to educate railway staff so they may identify and nullify potential incidents, highlighting a willingness to tackle this problem head on.

That said, there is certainly more to be done to prevent its occurrence. Continued collaboration will enable the industry to fully understand how technology can help today, and therefore shape its development in the future. Not only will this reduce the emotional and financial burden that suicide places on society, but will also showcase the capability of network video as a means of reducing suicides on the UK’s rail networks.

Read our latest whitepaper to learn how network camera technology supports suicide prevention on the rail network