Fewer attempted suicides on most area rail systems

Attempted suicides — successful or not — for two of the three major Bay Area transit systems dropped slightly in 2007, as officials with each agency attempt to further reduce the number of fatalities on the tracks.

BART, San Francisco Municipal Railway and Caltrain all reported between one and five suicide attempts in 2007. There were 12 suicide attempts among the three agencies in 2006; in 2007, there were nine attempts. Both BART and Caltrain saw fatalities during the year, according to data from those agencies.

There has not been a suicide on Muni tracks since 2004, though there have been a handful of attempts since then, according to Muni spokesman Alan Siegel. In 2005, there were no incidents classified as suicides or attempted suicide. In 2006, there were two attempted suicides and, in 2007, there was one.

In general, Muni tends to see fewer railway suicides than its Bay Area counterparts, Siegel said.

Attempted suicides along the Caltrain corridor — whose cars are much larger and move faster than other Bay Area railways — have all been fatal in recent years, spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

There were eight suicides in 2005, nine in 2006, and five in 2007, with a possible sixth pending, Weinberg said.

“It’s really very hard to stop a train quickly,” Weinberg said. “If a train hits you, it’s almost always fatal.”

There were no suicides, attempted or actual, involving SamTrans buses, which are part of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority with Caltrain.

BART is the only agency that reported more suicide attempts from the previous year. In 2006, there was one attempt; in 2007, the tally increased to three.

Following a June suicide attempt at the Balboa Park BART station, agency spokesman Linton Johnson said BART sees approximately one or two such attempts each year. Two people died on the BART tracks in probable suicides in 2007.

To prevent deaths, some train systems nationwide have implemented so-called elevator doors, which prevent people from being pushed onto the tracks, Siegel said.

Muni is doing what it can to improve safety, including adding more light-rail vehicles, which are thought to be safer than traditional mass transit.

Though many have demanded that Caltrain install more adequate fencing along its tracks, Weinberg said it takes more than that — including help from the whole community — to address the problem.

“Demystifying mental illness is a far more effective way to address suicide,” Weinberg said.

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