Health, Social Care and Sport Committee’s inquiry into Suicide Prevention

Written evidence submitted on behalf of Network Rail and the rail industry

1.    Introduction

1.1 Network Rail runs, maintains and develops Britain's railway infrastructure. We also manage 18 stations and there are 22,000 miles of track with 32,000 bridges and tunnels. We have circa 4.5 million people who travel on the rail network each day.

1.2             There are 28 different Train Operating Companies (TOC’s) who run trains on the railway system of Great Britain, 23 of them are passenger and 5 are freight. 

1.3 The award winning and publicly acknowledged work of Network Rail and the rail industry has made us world leaders in the area of suicide prevention on railway networks.  We contribute significant amounts of time to support Government initiatives work with other industries and sectors to more broadly spread the suicide prevention message and lecture around the world to other railway administrations in an effort to not only reduce the number of suicides on the railway, but  in the community at large.

1.4 We feel this inquiry provides us with the opportunity to highlight the award winning and ground breaking work we do in relation to Suicide Prevention.

2.    Key facts and figures

2.180% of people who die by suicide on the rail network are men


2.2Men are three and a half times more likely to take their own lives than women


2.3Those from the most deprived areas are ten times more likely to take their own lives than those from the most affluent areas.  Men from deprived social groups are at the highest risk of all


2.4In 2016-17 85 people or one in four who attempted to take their live survived. Most were left with life changing injuries.

      3.   Impact of suicide

3.1 Each suicide on the network causes on average 2,200 minutes of delay and costs £230,000. The annual cost of suicide to the rail industry in 2016-17 was circa £54 million.

3.2 The trauma experienced by staff involved in or witness a suicide may mean that they never return to work.  On average most who are involved in such events take 29 days off work.  For every suicide that occurs on the railway around 10 staff/support colleagues will get directly involved.

3.3 On average there are 262 suicides on the network per year. In 2015/16 there were 253, a 12% reduction in suicides on 2014/15 (287 incidents) and in 2016/17 a further 6% reduction in suicides on 2015/16 (237 incidents)

3.4 Each suicide is a tragic event for the individual, their friends and family, but also for a wider group of people; notably our staff, the emergency services and passengers.

3.5 The Rail Industry’s objectives relative to suicide prevention are:

                      I.        To reduce the risk of suicide on the railway

                    II.        Reduce trauma to staff

                   III.        Improve the passenger journey experience.

3.6 The safety impact of these incidents can be wider than just the immediate incident location. Our customers may be detained on trains until the network can be returned to full operation. 

3.7 One of our challenges is the operational/safety difficulties encountered when people come onto the running lines to hold vigils or place memorials. This may take the form of ‘symbols of mourning’ left near to where an individual took their life. We look to remove memorials as quickly and as sympathetically as possible. Whilst they may appear not to be causing harm they are in fact:

                      I.        Acting as a constant reminder to rail staff of where a tragic event took place

                    II.        Potentially presenting a safety risk to the operational railway as mourners for example congregate around them on the infrastructure.

                   III.        Identifying a particular location as one from which a suicide can be completed. This may in turn encourage others to do likewise

4.   Network Rail and the industry role in suicide prevention

4.1 Suicide is a complex societal issue and whilst the rail industry has a responsibility to prevent deaths on the railway, there is only so much it can do in relation to a problem it has no direct control over.  If the number of suicides is to be significantly reduced on the network, then support must come from those external to it such as local authorities and the health sector.  They must play their part in reducing the risk of suicide just as the rail industry does. 

4.2 The rail industry has made significant progress in suicide prevention over the last seven years, but the problem is a truly ‘wicked’ one which is beyond the industry’s gift to solve.  Whilst we recognise, acknowledge and discharge our responsibilities in this area; we make the following ‘calls to action’ to drive down the suicide rate not only on the railway but in society as a whole:

                      I.        Mental and physical health should be treated equally, and vulnerable people should be encouraged to seek help;

                    II.        There should be compulsory suicide prevention training for all those in the health sector;

                   III.        All local authorities/health boards should engage with the British Transport Police and Network Rail when creating Suicide Prevention Action Plans to ensure that they have the fullest picture of local trends;

                  IV.        More should be done in schools, colleges and universities  to make our young people aware of mental health issues to allow them to look after themselves and others at any point through life’s journey;

                    V.        We should not have to rely on our police force supporting vulnerable people until appropriate medical facilities become available for them.  A situation brought about by the lack of adequate health care provision for those most at risk in our society;

                  VI.        The standard of proof required in Coroner’s Inquests should be changed.  Despite suicide being decriminalized in 1961, Coroners are still required to use the criminal standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt) before making suicide findings.  All other available findings (except unlawful killing) require the civil standard to be met (on the balance of probabilities).  This extremely high standard of proof may mask the true extent of suicide and hinder research into it.

                 VII.        Consideration on the impact to the Railway when Care Homes and Mental Health Hospitals are built or relocated near the railway. 

                VIII.        The need for real time data capture to identify where focus work needs to be completed and to assist local authorities with their decision making and completion of suicide audits.

                  IX.        The need to share information between health services, local authorities and the rail industry on individuals who have disclosed that they are considering taking their life on the network.

                    X.        The sharing of information held by public bodies with the British Transport Police should be a positive requirement, rather than the current cautious approach based around data protection requirements.

5.   Suicide Prevention Strategy

Our strategy consists of measures that seek to prevent the incidents occurring whilst ensuring we respond to each event in a dignified, respectful and supportive way.

Prevention me