Small Talk Saves Lives

We’re doing all we can to prevent rail suicides and support those affected by them.

Every suicide is a tragic event impacting upon the individual’s family and friends, as well as our employees, commuters and the wider community.  Along with Britain’s Train Operators and the British Transport Police, we’ve been working with Samaritans and many other charitable organisations to reduce the number of suicides on our railways since 2010.

In 2022/23 there were 240 suicides/suspected suicides on the over ground rail network – a decrease of 7 from the previous year. The number may have been far higher had it not been for the 2,034 interventions in suicide attempts made in the same year. Most of these were made by rail employees, the police and the public.

There are over 28,500 railway employees and stakeholders who are now trained in suicide prevention techniques, enabling them to support and identify those who come to the railway in emotional crisis

The rail industry’s work in the suicide prevention arena is considered both at home and abroad to be ground breaking.  Subsequently it has received many national awards and is often replicated by other infrastructure controllers and Train Operators around the world.

Small Talk Saves Lives

The rail industry is working in partnership with Samaritans and the British Transport Police to promote its flagship Small Talk Saves Lives bystander campaign, which launched in November 2017.  

The first campaign of its type on the railway, it encourages the public to support those who may be in emotional crisis around them on the rail network.

The campaign aims to give commuters the confidence to trust their own instincts and intervene if they see someone vulnerable who may be at risk of suicide on or around the rail network, and to talk to them to interrupt their suicidal thoughts.

Three ‘lifesaving questions’, successfully used by rail employees who have approached someone vulnerable on the railway, are at the centre of the campaign.

Small Talk Saves Lives encourages passengers to notice what may be warning signs, such as someone standing alone and isolated, looking distant or withdrawn, staying on the platform a long time without boarding a train or displaying something out of the ordinary in their behaviour or appearance.  There is no single sign or combination of behaviours that mean someone is suicidal but, if something doesn’t feel right, the message is to act.

The campaign is based on research by Middlesex University and developed in consultation with people who have been personally affected by suicide.  Before the launch across digital and traditional media, as well as with posters in railway settings, the campaign’s potential effectiveness was tested with commuters, the public and people with lived experience.

The initiative also has the backing of the leading suicide prevention expert, Professor Rory O’Connor from the University of Glasgow.

At its most basic the campaign is built on the premise that suicide is preventable and personal interaction with someone struggling to cope can go a long way in helping to save their life.

Real People, Real Stories campaign

Poster with handwritten words "Talking about your feelings is a potential life saver"

Real People, Real Stories is the fourth awareness campaign that Samaritans have developed on behalf of the rail industry.

The campaign was launched on 19 March 2019, across the England Scotland and Wales.

It is primarily aimed at men aged 20-59 years old, those most at risk of suicide and has men who have overcome tough times sharing their stories to encourage others, who are struggling to cope and seek help by contacting Samaritans.

For more information and to hear the stories behind the men featured in the campaign visit #RealPeopleRealStories

Samaritans poster with the words "I feel quite good now I'm on my own. I just have to try and forget how much I've been hurt"

Rail industry/Samaritans awareness campaigns

Over the course of its 14-year partnership with Samaritans the rail industry has promoted several awareness campaigns with them:

  • 2024 – Phase 7 Small Talk Saves Lives
  • 2023 – Phase 6 Small Talk Saves Lives
  • 2021 – Phase 5 Small Talk Saves Lives
  • 2019 – ‘Real People, Real Stories’
  • 2017 – Launch Small Talk Saves Lives
  • 2016 – ‘We Listen’
  • 2012 – ‘We’re in Your Corner’
  • 2010 – ‘Men on the Ropes’

How emotional first aid training is helping to save lives

As well as seeking to prevent suicides through awareness campaigns our partnership with Samaritans has now seen more than 20,000 of our employees completing their bespoke Managing Suicidal Contacts course.  Staff and stakeholders are trained to spot anyone who may be at risk of taking their own life and to lead them to safety and sources of support.

We also promote emotional support online and across social media, with people invited to explore and share a short film showing the difference between hearing and listening and how simple techniques in both these areas can support people in crisis.

Find out more