“I’ve worked with a UTA operator who felt a lot of guilt. It was a circumstance where someone committed suicide, but that operator felt the guilt of ‘I should have seen that individual.’ It’s that guilt from the fact that they were operating a train that killed someone else,” Morris says.
“We help them identify common reactions and if they have those things, to not be overly concerned because those are normal reactions to this type of event. And, we reassure them and help them through the process to help them get back to their normal lives.”
A Disturbing Trend
Despite the efforts to improve safety and cut the number of trespasser strikes, David Kutrosky, managing director of the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority in the San Francisco bay area says there were 11 fatal incidents in 2010 and between January and the end of July there have already been eight. The record set for the railway was 13 in 2008, but Kutrosky says this is a national trend that agencies are trying to find a solution to reduce deaths.
“That’s just the world we live in nowadays,” he says. “We have an increased demand for passenger trains, but at the same time, there needs to be an education process. You have to tell people that you don’t walk on the highway, so don’t walk on the railway.”
Gerald Carpenter, senior media relations specialist with UTA says in 2012 alone there have been three suicides and one attempted suicide by train in their area. In 2011 there were five suicides by train within the authority, three of which involved UTA trains and the other two involving Union Pacific trains. In 2010 there was only one suicide by train.
UTA Police Capt. Richard Boddy says the system isn’t plagued by large incidents of violent crimes on the trains, but officials are working in a proactive approach to halt violent crimes or suicides by train by putting up cameras and fences along the tracks, along with eliminating hiding spots and adding additional lighting.
Although a fence won’t stop determined suicidal subjects, he says they also work with other police agencies to try and prevent instances by watching for people. “There is a lot of intelligence-led policing.”
An Ongoing Cost Financially
Besides suicides or accidents, transit workers are also subject to assaults from riders or being threatened, which can also cause psychological stress and ongoing health issues. Systems are working to protect employees, but there are costs associated with improvements and equipment needs.
In the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) , there were nine incidents in 2011 where bus operators were physically assaulted and sought medical attention, up from six in 2010. Jackie Janz, chief marketing and communications officer for MCTS says they also work with workers who were assaulted to help them get back on the job and get the medical attention they may need. They have also have been working to make safety improvements, such as covert microphones, silent alarms, connecting bus drivers with emergency personnel and bus purchases will have safety shields for drivers installed on them.
While the system applies for grants for projects to improve safety, the system still needs to work within its budget constraints while addressing safety concerns for drivers.
Kutrosky, says an accident where someone is injured by a train can create a 20- to 45-minute delay, but when someone is killed, that delay can stretch anywhere from one to four hours. When the accident occurs, riders are given service recovery packs for their inconvenience and another train will be called in to take the passengers on their way.
Most of the routes are double tracked so other trains can go by at a reduced speed, but 95 percent of the time Kutrosky says crews will be asked to be relieved of duty after a fatal accident due to a trauma and another crew needs to be sent out to operate the train. While the authority will tell its passengers if the train is involved with a fatal accident, the system will not report if the death was an accident or suicide.