In sunny Southern California, a cloud of despair lingers above a 22-mile stretch of railroad track that runs from Downtown Los Angeles to the port city of Long Beach.
The Metro Blue Line, one of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority’s six public rail transportation lines, has claimed the lives of 33 suicide victims since it began operating in 1990.
Ten of these incidents have occurred in the last three calendar years, the most recent on Sept. 5, 2013. Shortly after that suicide, Metro officials held a press conference to ask the public for help.
“They keep happening on the Blue Line all too frequently, and we need to shine a spotlight on that,” said Metro Board of Directors Chair Diane DuBois. “This has to stop.”
Suicide-by-train is a complex subject about which little is known in the public sphere. The Federal Railroad Administration does not track the annual number of incidents, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention muddles train suicide data with other transportation fatality statistics.
Additionally, there is a generally observed media blackout on the issue. Many studies — most recently one conducted by the German Research Center for Environmental Health in 2010 — have shown that press coverage on suicide methods increases the likelihood that “copycats” will pursue similar approaches.
On occasion, however, reports will make their way to the public eye.
An October article from NorthJersey.com found that 21 suicides had occurred on all New Jersey trains to that point in 2013, and a New York Magazine piece identified 40 on New York City’s subway system through August.
Recently released data from the American Association of Suicidology shows that California — in which the overall suicide rate is lower than the national average — has the most suicide-by-train incidents in proportion to total miles of track.
But from such sporadically released reports that offer little more than jumbled statistics, it is impossible to determine if the Blue Line incidents are isolated or truly part of a larger trend.
“It is difficult to draw much in the way of conclusions when there is so little data – and no one has any interest in increasing the quantity of data,” said Thomas A. Rubin, an independent mass transit consultant.
In Los Angeles, however, Metro officials do know that the Blue Line is by far their deadliest line. In the history of the organization’s rail transit program, there have only been 13 other intentional fatalities.
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