The rail industry has today announced the five-year Million Hour Challenge, which aims to encourage staff to donate their time, energy and skills to help the Samaritans in their work supporting people in emotional crisis.

The aims of the campaign are:

  • Raise £2.5 million
  • Reduce the stigma of mental health issues amongst employees and promote workplace cultures of wellbeing
  • Promote a culture where it is normal to keep an eye out for colleagues

The Million Hour Challenge is open to everyone in the industry, and the first organisations to have signed up to the challenge are Network Rail, Aslef, RMT, Office of Rail and Road, Rail Delivery Group, Transport for London, Rail Safety and Standards Board, MTR Crossrail and British Transport Police. Other organisations are supporting the challenge by promoting it to their staff.

Mental health is of particular concern in the rail industry where the rate of suicide in the workforce is 1.6 times higher than the UK average, while 60% of workers have experienced mental health issues.

And research has shown that volunteering brings its own benefits with people enjoying improved mental health, physical well-being, a better work/life balance and a feeling of positivity and pride from helping others.

The challenge was officially launched today with an event at King’s Cross Station in London. Volunteers can get involved in a variety of ways, but to begin with everyone is encouraged to complete two online learning courses; including an Active Listening course, which aims to provide the knowledge and confidence to start a conversation with someone who needs to talk.

Ruth Sutherland, Chief Executive Officer of Samaritans, said:

“Whenever I meet anyone from the rail industry, they tell me how proud they are of the work we do together to prevent suicide. And often they say, ‘But, I’d like to do something more’.

“The Million Hour Challenge will allow the Samaritans to make an even bigger impact in suicide prevention, as well as bring the benefits of volunteering to many more people, in new and imaginative ways.

“When you give to others, it makes you feel good. People who volunteer through work are happier, healthier and likely to be more engaged with their employer – coming to work has even more purpose. We’re delighted to be working with trusted partners to innovate through this ground-breaking initiative in corporate volunteering.”

Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways, ORR Director of Safety, and sponsor of the Million Hour Challenge said:

“We can build on the success of the partnership between the rail industry and the Samaritans further through the Million Hour Challenge which will encourage volunteering from across the whole sector.

“This will not only help the Samaritans as they seek to cope with increased demand for their vital services but will also be beneficial for the mental health of all of us in the sector who volunteer our time, not least by encouraging us to talk with each other, and the wider community, about the issues involved.”

Andrew Haines, chief executive of Network Rail said:

“We have a huge presence up and down the country – in stations, on trains and in our offices and depots. This puts us in a prime position to look out for the wellbeing of members of the public, passengers and fellow railway colleagues. This is why we are helping others by simply having a chat and lending a listening ear to people who may be struggling to cope.” 

Samaritans volunteers are the backbone of the charity ensuring 201 branches nationwide operate. Listening Volunteers are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year answering calls and emails. Each year more than five million calls are answered, and every ninth call is from someone in suicidal crisis.

Keith Hanlon-Smith, HR Director, Rail Safety Standards Board, said:

“At RSSB we’ve chosen Samaritans as our nominated charity for 2019 as it aligns with the work we’re doing in improving mental health and wellbeing across the rail industry.  We’re delighted to be participating in the Million Hours Challenge; it has clear benefits to the Samaritans, the broader industry and RSSB itself, as it ultimately supports us in delivering our purpose of helping create a Better, Safer Railway.”  

Nigel Holness, Managing Director of London Underground, said:

“Supporting the Million Hour Challenge is an opportunity for us all in the Rail Industry to come together to volunteer some of our time in reducing suicides across the country. Working closely with our partners at the ORR, Network Rail and TOCs ensures we are all aligned in our efforts to drive down this tragic issue. We are pleased at London Underground to be kicking off this initiative and we will do all we can to support it.”

Steve Murphy, Managing Director of MTR Crossrail, said:

“MTR Crossrail is proud to support the Million Hours Challenge initiative from the Samaritans and be involved with our various industry partners. We work very closely with the Samaritans on our railway currently and have seen first-hand the positive impact they make and have been an important partner for us in ensuring we make the railway a safer place. We are excited to get started and make a real difference.”

Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the railway, said:

“Everyone working in rail should be able to feel like they can talk about mental health at work and with their colleagues. We’re proud to support the Samaritans Million Hour Challenge, which builds on our work to reduce suicides across the rail network and provides an opportunity to tackle the stigma around mental health in rail.”

Charlie Doyle, Assistant Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, said:

“British Transport Police are thrilled to support the Million Hour Challenge and the vital work of the Samaritans. They provide invaluable help and support to those most in need, the importance of which cannot be overstated. We are committed to doing everything we can to reduce suicide on the railways, and by working together throughout the industry we can provide even more opportunities to help and widen the discussion around mental health even further.”    

Mick Cash, General Secretary of RMT, said:

“‎RMT recognises the important work of the Samaritans and the importance of promoting a culture within the rail industry where mental health issues are no longer stigmatised. The stress on front line rail staff continues to increase and the entire industry needs to face up to that fact and provide the support and resources required to address the impact right down to the very local level. No one should be left to feel isolated and alone.”

Mick Whelan, General Secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, said:

“The Samaritans provide an enormously valuable service – a sympathetic ear and practical advice – to people who are distressed to the point where they are thinking of ending their lives. Those of us who work on the railway, as drivers, guards, and station staff, are only too well aware of the traumatic effect that such actions have; not only on the families and friends of those who die by suicide, but on those of us who have to deal with the consequences. That’s why we welcome this new initiative, the five-year Million Hour Challenge, to help the Samaritans who, in turn, are always there for those who need them.”

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Notes to Editors


1 Future Rail The Briefing on Mental Health in the Rail Industry   

2 Absence Management annual survey report 2012, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, in partnership with Simplyhealth (October 2012)


Enquiries should be directed to Simon Belgard on 020 7282 2094