The figures on rail suicides are shocking. More than 175 people kill themselves on the railways each year. On the East Coast Main Line alone, there have been 150 suicides since 1991.

Behind these stark statistics lie stories of human devastation. It is difficult to imagine the depth of depression that motivates people to take their own lives in this way. Those who throw themselves under an express train have demonstrated a grim determination to die.

They are not the only victims, however. Family and friends will be shattered. And the effect on the entirely blameless train driver, the transport police and other front-line railway staff can be life-changing. Some drivers are so distressed that they can never step into a train cab again.

Suicide is an issue that we are only too willing to ignore. But the more we avoid the subject, the less chance we have of preventing all these people becoming victims.

Railtrack deserves credit for bringing rail suicides out into the open. With the National Health Service, it is co-funding a £330,000 research project in an attempt to reduce this yearly toll of tragedy.

The key to achieving this aim is greater understanding. We know that suicides are more likely at certain times and places, but we do not know why.

The Samaritans' own research suggests that March is a bad month because it heralds the advent of spring. Most of us are cheered by the better weather, which only serves to deepen the isolation felt by the clinically depressed.

And it is likely that the number of railway deaths has increased as access to other methods of suicide has been restricted. Pharmacies no longer sell potentially dangerous pills in large quantities, for example.

Much more research is needed, however. Only when we know more about the type of people who commit suicide can we begin to take action to help them.

The Railtrack project will analyse information from coroners, the emergency services and its own database. For the first time, we will have a comprehensive insight into this long neglected problem.

If Railtrack is subsequently able to reduce the number of suicides on the tracks then fewer trains will be delayed and this will make passengers happier.

Far more importantly, lives will have been saved and fewer rail staff will be left traumatised. That would be £330,000 very well spent.

see NEWS 'Pioneering study into rail suicides'

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