Monday 26th August 2019

Intelligent prevention – how technology can help reduce UK rail suicides

Published on November 7th, 2017

There were 237 suicides and suspected suicides on the UK rail network in 2016. While this is a decrease from the 2015 figure of 253, it is no surprise these actions have a long-lasting impact on friends, family, witnesses and those who respond to an event. Ultimately, those who are burdened with seeing such a traumatic scene often require ongoing support and counselling, affecting both their work and private lives.

Beyond the devastating moral issues, there is a great financial cost to suicide attempts on our railways. In 2014/15, suicides cost the rail industry almost £67 million in total, a large portion of which was due to the effect an incident had on delays and disruptions across the network, says Lucas Young, business development manager, transport, at Axis Communications.

Both the moral and financial outcomes highlight why, in a time of ever-increasing accountability, tackling the suicide problem in rail fulfils a moral obligation for infrastructure owners and train operating companies. Furthermore, solving the problem could deliver great commercial benefits and enhanced return on investment.

Exploiting intelligent technology to identify suicidal behaviour

To tackle the issue, the UK rail industry must be able to identify suicidal behaviour. This is a difficult task as suicide, by nature, is a hard subject to research, making it even more problematic to recognise in advance. That said, in the few studies that do exist a ‘30-minute wave’ period has been discovered when an individual may contemplate suicide.

In this short window, 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. Although understandably difficult to qualify, this could point to behaviours 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 who might be contemplating suicide in real-time 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 subject, or perhaps play a pre-determined announcement via an IP-enabled horn speaker in the vicinity of an individual to break the ’30-minute wave’.

Combatting suicide beyond the station with collaboration an education

Approximately, only one third of suicide attempts take place on a station property, with the rest either at level crossings or random locations across the network. This presents a huge problem for the industry; while analytics are available to support other technologies in identifying and alerting if people enter closed level crossings, it is simply not feasible to cover upwards of ten thousand miles of track in the UK network where a suicide attempt could take place.

That is why beyond the station, collaboration and education will truly help in preventing suicide on the whole rail network. In recent years, there has been excellent collaboration between stakeholders within the rail industry regarding suicide.

This includes an initiative from Network Rail and Samaritans, aiming to educate railway staff to identify and nullify potential incidents, highlighting a willingness to tackle this problem head on. Although millions of pounds have been invested in training and awareness, this must be extended to include the technology utilised to prevent suicide, as well as the issue of suicide as a whole.

There is certainly more to be done to prevent the occurrence of suicide on the UK’s rail network and the security of the infrastructure behind it. This 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 causes on society, but will also showcase the capability of network video as a means of reducing suicides on the UK’s rail networks.

To learn more about how network camera technology can support suicide prevention on the rail network click here.

The author of this blog is Lucas Young, Business Development manager, Transport at Axis Communications

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