Signs aim to stop suicide by train

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photoSigns urging people to call for help if they're thinking about suicide, like this one at the Montserrat train station in Beverly, have been appearing at MBTA stations on the North Shore. 

New signs have been posted at local railroad crossings and train stations urging people to call for help if they’re contemplating suicide.

“If you or someone you know needs someone to listen, Samaritans is there,” the signs read. “Call or text 24/7. 1-877-870-HOPE (4673).”

The signs are the result of a partnership between the MBTA and Samaritans Inc., a Boston-based suicide prevention organization. They have been installed over the last few weeks at several railroad crossings in Beverly and at the train station in Salem.

The MBTA says it plans to put up about 1,500 signs throughout its system at train stations and crossings and other areas near tracks.

“We have enough evidence to say that people are seeing the signs at the train stations and reaching out to us for help,” said Steve Mongeau, executive director of Samaritans Inc.

A total of 25 people were killed by trains on the MBTA’s commuter rail system in 2017, more than double the 12 fatalities in 2016, according to the agency’s April quarterly safety report. Eight people had been killed by trains through April 23 of this year.

The MBTA determined that 15 of the 28 incidents of trains striking people last year, including non-fatalities, were intentional on the part of the trespasser, according to the report.

Locally, there have been at least five deaths in the last three years caused by a train hitting someone on the railroad tracks in Beverly, Salem, Hamilton and Gloucester. At least one of those was an accident, when an 11-year-old boy crossed the tracks in Salem to retrieve his bicycle last year.

Mongeau said the MBTA has partnered with Samaritans Inc. for years to try to prevent suicides on the tracks, including the installation of digital signs at train and subway stations and billboards on highways. The signs and billboards are paid for by the MBTA as a public service, he said.

“We had someone literally call us from the Fitchburg station after he saw one of the digital signs,” Mongeau said. “His intention was to jump in front of train. He stayed on the phone quite a while and we sent emergency services.”

Mongeau said a recent survey indicated that the Samaritan signs at MBTA locations in Boston increased awareness of the Samaritans help line by nearly 20 percent. The signs have also helped the organization recruit more volunteers for its crisis center, he said.

In addition to the Samaritan signs, Mongeau said the MBTA is posting other new signs warning people to stay off the tracks.

“When there’s a death by train on the rails, some are accidental and some are with intent,” he said. “They’re trying to address both issues.”

The signs are going up at a time when suicide is on the rise in Massachusetts and across the country. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study saying that suicide rates have increased 25 percent in the United States in the last 20 years, and by 35 percent in Massachusetts.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

Samaritans statewide Help line

Call or text 1-877-870-HOPE (4673)

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