BART Takes Action as Suicides on System Increase

BART plans to post signs like this across from station platforms.

BART plans to post signs like this across from station platforms.

By Alex Emslie
KQED

BART is announcing a new campaign Tuesday aimed at reducing the number of deaths and injuries on the system’s tracks.

The effort includes short-term steps to begin immediately — including signs with the National Suicide Prevention phone number and training for BART staff most often on station platforms in how to recognize someone who could be in crisis. There are also longer-term goals like “platform screen doors” that would create a barrier between passengers and the tracks.

That last step is “not something that we can do quickly,” BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said of the proposed barriers. “We’d have to do a feasibility study and try to find funding for it. But we wanted to do at least a good first step in having some sort of campaign at BART, as we’ve seen the numbers increase throughout the past few years.”

That increase includes a more than doubling of incidents that BART classifies as suicides or suicide attempts in 2014, compared with the previous year. There were five fatalities and one near miss in 2013, according to data provided by BART, and a total of 14 people hit by trains in 2014, with eight fatalities. There have already been five fatalities on the system this year and one near collision with no injury.

The data do not include two BART workers struck and killed by an out-of-service train in October 2013. The incidents included in the data are “presumed suicides or suicide attempts,” Trost said.

BART started consulting with mental health experts late last year and worked with the Bay Area Suicide and Crisis Intervention Alliance to craft station signage with the phrase “suicide is not the route.” Trost said BART polled mental health experts, who chose the phrase that’s been used by the Long Island Railroad.

“They thought that having the word ‘route’ connects you to BART in some ways, and that that was a good thing,” Trost said. “We want to send a very clear and simple message for those that happen to be on our platform that are struggling.”

BART will also immediately stock station-agent booths with wallet cards that list possible signs that someone could be experiencing psychiatric crisis. Trost said the agency is working on printing the National Suicide Prevention phone number on paper tickets, but that will take about six months to implement.

She said BART could fund barriers with federal grants for building transit capacity, because the barriers would allow the system to fit more people on station platforms safely.

New trains expected to hit the system in late 2016 have three doors per train car, instead of the two-door cars the system uses now. BART plans to use both train types for a while, and that presents a problem for a fixed platform barrier design.

“Most likely we’ll have to wait until our entire fleet has been replaced and we’re only dealing with three-door trains,” Trost said.

“People are in crisis in the Bay Area, and there is a need for partnering up and doing what you can to make sure that those in crisis know that there’s always someone to help,” she said.

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