‘Calming’ blue lights signal bid to prevent railway suicides

The level crossing on the railway at Millhall Road, Stirling, with the blue light in place that aims to deter people from attempting suicide. Picture: Andrew OBrien

The level crossing on the railway at Millhall Road, Stirling, with the blue light in place that aims to deter people from attempting suicide. Picture: Andrew OBrien

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Calming blue lighting is being trialled in an effort to reduce the soaring number of suicides on Scotland’s rail network.

The number of suspected suicides has doubled in the past six months to 14 compared with seven in the same period last year. Network Rail said this had bucked the trend of numbers falling across Britain.

The novel illumination has been installed at a foot crossing in the St Ninians area of Stirling where there have been deaths.

Network Rail said the increase in suicides in Scotland was “very atypical” and there was no clear explanation. They had involved a range of ages and locations.

As well as the trauma for the families involved, incidents cause significant train disruption which costs more than £60,000 in each case.

LED blue lighting has been found to change a person’s mood, as well as being associated with authority, such as the police and other emergency services.

It can also be unexpected by someone with suicidal thoughts, which is enough to distract them from their plans.

Network Rail is experimenting with the lighting after it proved successful at stations in Japan, leading to a reported four-fifths reduction in suicides.

Several stations in England have switched to blue lighting, and at Gatwick Airport a “blue wash” covers the platforms at night.

Early indications have suggested the move has also reduced anti-social behaviour such as vandalism and littering.

Other measures include the trial deployment of “rail pastors” – a version of the street pastors scheme – at stations in Fife at night to watch out for vulnerable revellers.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Any death on the railway is a tragedy which has a real emotional impact on the family and friends of those involved, and on our staff and customers.

“We have put in place a range of initiatives to try to reduce fatalities on the railway. We’re working with Samaritans to help train railway staff in how to identify and approach people exhibiting suicidal behaviour, and we also have posters and signs raising awareness of the Samaritans’ helpline in stations and at level crossings.

“Even something as simple as changing lighting can help alter the environment and influence behaviour.”

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the Transport Focus watchdog, said: “Passengers will welcome any way level crossings can be made safer and help reduce disruption on the railway.”

British Transport Police said there was no pattern to suggest the deaths this year “were anything other than isolated tragic incidents”.

Chief Inspector David Gray said: “Suicide is often the end point of a complex history of risk factors and distressing events. Most people who choose to end their lives do so for complex reasons.

“We do a huge amount of work to prevent people from taking their own lives on the railways and have a dedicated team.”

He said the rail pastors, a joint venture between Network Rail, ScotRail, the Railway Chaplaincy and the Ascension Trust, would be extended to Edinburgh and were then likely to go Scotland-wide.

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