Swiss Federal Railways tackle suicide taboo

Reporting on suicides committed by people jumping in front of a train is a taboo subject in Switzerland but Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) this week opened a public debate in a bid to reduce the death toll.

Swiss Federal Railways tackle suicide taboo
Swiss Federal Railways CEO Andreas Meyer. Photo: SBB

Last year, 140 people died in front of a train and another 90 tried to do so on Swiss tracks, while the annual toll has been above 100 since 2012, SBB said.

There’s nothing fun about this subject, “but we think we must speak about it publicly to improve the prevention,” Andreas Meyer, CEO of SBB, told a press conference in Bern on Wednesday, according to media reports.

Typically, Swiss media don’t report on railway suicides because several studies have shown that such reports encourage other people to follow suit, SBB said in a news release.

The state-owned rail operator decided several years ago on a policy of “restrained communication” when such events occur.

But Meyer said it was necessary to talk about what the state-owned rail operator is doing to combat such acts.

The SBB has taken measures to make access to the tracks more difficult by erecting barriers in “hot spots”. 

It has also initiated patrols to discourage people contemplating ending their lives and it has launched a “helping hand” advertising campaign that promotes the 145 telephone hotline offering counselling, in collaboration with police forces, hospitals and municipalities.

By the end of last year, 500 SBB employees were trained in suicide prevention and a total of 10,000 will have received such training by the end of 2016.

New communication and structural plans are being examined, the rail company said.

Last year, SBB set up a centre to coordinate measures to combat railway suicides with the federal offices of transport and public health, and with professional organizations.

Additionally, it exchanges information and research with other railways.

SBB has also set up intervention teams in 30 locations across Switzerland to manage suicide events.

Train drivers, who are on the front line of such events, follow special training to learn how to best cope with what are often traumatic experiences.

Other employees, especially intervention teams that have to recover human remains and clean up the tracks, also face challenges dealing with suicides, SBB noted.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.