Sucicide Prevention Research

SPR is designed to tackle the problem of railway suicide from different aspects such as service, organisation and communication interventions. These interventions will be evaluated using modern technologies of monitoring and controlling the risks.


Suicide prevention is a major concern for railway operators. In response, this research proposes the Worlds first automated risk detection system, and then draws on open-systems theory to embed this system within a complex, real-world operating environment.

The railway suicide has attracted considerable research attention since the first reported incident in England in 1852. In our preliminary review of prior research, we identified two broad streams of research on the topic. The first line of inquiry was concerned with the epidemiology of railway suicide . Though outside the scope of our research, these studies are useful as they provide clues regarding the different types of behaviour to expect, and the different types of interventions that can be employed to reduce railway suicide. One limitation of this research, however, is that it tends to view all suicide as a mental health issue.

The second line of research specifically examines the different suicide prevention strategies that have been employed. These studies can be further classified into three sub-groups based on the nature and focus of the strategy. Organisational interventions relate to training of railway staff to identify at-risk persons and intervene to prevent an incident. Servicescape interventions relate to changes to the physical service environment. The goal of these interventions is to inhibit or prevent suicidal actions. An example of a servicescape intervention is the use of platform barriers or changes to other environmental conditions such as lighting or sound. Communication interventions are similar to organisational interventions in that they aim to interrupt suicide plans, however, the target of such interventions is the commuter rather than railway staff. The objective of these interventions is to improve the existing operational responses to suicide, with at-risk persons directed to appropriate external support services if needed.


"SPR system architecture: Multi-level, multi-factorial, systems-based approach. To capture the interplay between the key service functions and processes that impact the delivery of a more complete response to railway suicide."

Notwithstanding the many contributions of this prior research, there are, nevertheless, some very specific gaps in our understanding of railway suicide. For instance, we presently rely on human monitoring to identify persons at-risk of suicide.  Previous approaches assert that humans are intuitively capable of sensing when something doesnt seem right. These approaches have limitations, however, as it requires someone to be looking at the exact location at a given point in time. Likewise, training station staff and drivers to identify at-risk behaviour is also problematic as these staff are often too busy to dedicate the effort needed for suicide detection, or in the case of drivers, may not have the reflexes needed in order to respond. The situation becomes even more challenging during peak travel times as the numbers of commuters increase, and the reported incidence of railway suicide is at its highest.

Our research responds directly to these challenges. Drawing on open-systems theory, we develop and embed two complementary information systems within an operating station environment. We then use these systems to better understand the contingent effects of different situational factors and different combinations of organisational, servicescape and communication interventions.

Updated:   1 June 2017 / Responsible Officer:  Ibrahim Radwan / Page Contact:  College Web Team