Lifesaving interventions on the railway
Nigel Burrows is a business improvement manager based at Network Rail’s Milton Keynes office.
While walking to work from home one day, he saw a man sat astride a footbridge wall and positioning himself above the rail track.
“There was no one else around so I knew I had to act. I immediately thought about the impact on colleagues, on the train driver and the passengers on the platforms if he decided to take his own life.
“I approached the man, keeping a distance so as not to startle him, and tried to get his attention, asking that he came down as it was not a safe place to be."
“He was moving along the wall over the rail line. I could tell he was in an emotionally low place. His face was swollen and bruised, and it seemed he'd been drinking a lot.
I stood where he would have to make eye contact with me and this seemed to help.
“After a few attempts to get his attention, he responded, almost subconsciously. I stood where he would have to make eye contact with me and this seemed to help him think about the situation he was in.
“As a train was approaching, he said he was concerned about the effect his actions would have on the train driver.
“The eye contact and the fact that someone cared about his action seemed to help convince him to come off the wall and walk with me to a position of safety. When he was calmer, I walked with him to the station entrance, where there were some other people around.
“He confirmed that he was going to speak to someone and knew where to get help, and I felt assured that I was able to leave him.
“I'm used to dealing with difficult situations as part of my job, so I didn't hesitate to approach him, but I think the Samaritans training on how to handle suicidal contacts can help many colleagues feel empowered to intervene.”
John Newland works as a senior sponsor for Network Rail in the electrification team based in Cardiff.
He was interested in becoming a Samaritans listening volunteer, but having a history of suicide in the family he had been concerned about his ability to separate his private life from the cases he’d face being a volunteer.
Thanks to the partnership between Network Rail and Samaritans, John had the opportunity to attend a managing suicidal contacts (MSC) course, and he was later selected to be trained and become a listening volunteer for the Samaritans.
“As with all my experiences with Samaritans, the course was very positively presented, very professional and targeted.
“It was encouraging to see the huge spread of attendees, including British Transport Police Officers, gate staff, train despatch, Network Rail staff and train drivers.
“The training felt like we really were all in it together. I note suicide on the railways dropped in 2015/16 by about 12 per cent. What this demonstrates is the increased awareness among railway workers in all areas of the business, and the positive results interventions are having.
“I would recommend all railway workers, whatever their role, attend this course.”
Before receiving the training I had an incident at a station where I saw a man acting strange. I instinctively knew there was something wrong.
“He was standing alone at the end of the platform and constantly looking down at his feet. He had no luggage and he didn’t seem to be taking any notice of the passing trains or customer information boards. I felt a bit self-conscious moving to speak to him, but resolved that I would. As I got closer he looked up, saw me and slowly walked past me to join a train that had just pulled in.
“I’ll never know if he was suicidal. At the time I lacked the training that would’ve given me the tools to know how to start up a conversation. Now I’d have confidence to act more quickly if I found myself in similar circumstances.”
“Samaritans aims for fewer people to die by suicide. The reduction in the number of deaths by suicide on the railway show just how important and how effective training can be.
“We know many people don’t want to take their lives, but get to the point of feeling there is no alternative. We also know that these feelings can pass given intervention at the right time.
“It’s as simple as just walking up to someone and engaging them in conversation. You may find you have got it wrong and they are perfectly fine. However, speaking to someone who really is at their saddest point and the warmth of a friendly and welcoming person may be all they need to shake them out of these dark thoughts.
“Giving your time to someone in need, even if only briefly, is the most wonderful thing you can do when they really need contact.”
Paul Stanford, head of programme management at Network Rail, recalls his lifesaving intervention one evening on a train home from Paddington.
"I sat down and became aware of a man who looked a bit tearful and flustered. The train manager checked if he was OK and I didn't think much more of it at the time.
"As we approached a station, the man stood up and walked through the carriage. He left his belongings on the table. At that point the man in the seat behind leant forward to keep the items safe.
"His bemusement that somebody would be trusting enough to leave their belongings unattended on a busy train turned to horror when he discovered a suicide note.
As soon as I heard the words 'suicide note' I got up out of my seat and strode through the carriages. I thought 'I can't let this man kill himself'.
"I made it right to the back of the train and there he was stood looking out of the window, which he had opened as far as it would go.
"He looked at me and said: 'leave me alone'. I told him who I was and who I worked for and simply said: 'You look distressed, can I help you?'
"The train manager had notified the British Transport Police while I was talking to the man. She then came down to see if she could help at all. By this point, I had my arm around the man and we were talking.
"The police boarded the train and I asked them what would happen next. They reassured me he wouldn't be left alone.
"I am no hero. I know there are many people at Network Rail who have done similar things and helped to save lives, and I am sure it will continue.
"Our partnership with Samaritans is helping us do even more to reduce suicides on the railways and we can't underestimate the power and importance of this work."
Bradley Coomber is a Network Rail mobile operations manager on the Western route. Within a week of attending a Samaritans Managing Suicidal Contacts course, Bradley found himself using his training to help a man late last year.
"I was in my office when a colleague told me there was someone who needed help near us. I immediately went out and saw a young man standing still with his hands by his sides and his head bowed. From his position and body language, I knew straight away that he was suicidal.
"I approached the man, asked if he was all right, and said he could come with me to my office. During the walk he was silent. It wasn’t until we got to my office that he started a conversation with me.
"I could clearly see how distressed he was. We spoke until the emergency services arrived; and in that time he went from ‘wanting to die’ to wondering why he ‘could do such a thing’. He was relieved that he did not carry out his initial intentions to take his own life, and was happy that I was there for him. He went with the paramedics willingly.
Before he left with the paramedics, he shook my hand and gave me a hug. I may not have solved all his problems, but for one moment he had someone looking out for him which, I guess, was what he needed.
"The training also meant that I was confident enough to give the young man a Samaritans contact card, so in the future he would know where to seek help before he reached another low point."