Unprecedented rise of railway suicides grips France

Posted May 29, 2012 by Yukio Strachan
Twelve people committed suicide in just four days on rail tracks in France, including a 34-year-old man, who leapt to his death while holding his 19-month-old daughter in his arms.
A train speeds by
A train speeds by
By Lachlan
"That's it. I'm not using SNCF any more," said one exasperated traveler about SNCF, France's national state-owned railway company, according to the Local. "I'll take the plane, a taxi or my car. It's over with SNCF."
A spokesman for SNCF described the weekend as a “black weekend”, due to a number of suicides,Connexion news reports.
“We’ve never seen so many suicides in such a short period of time,” SNCF spokesperson Michel Pronost told French radio Europe 1 on Monday morning, according to France24 news.
“This is a trauma for the drivers, the passengers and the railway workers. Everyone will be wondering why such a thing happened at a time like this [the French were celebrating a three-day bank holiday weekend from Saturday to Monday].”
"We're parents, we have a baby, it's been awful. We'll never use the TGV again" said another woman about TGV, the high-speed trains used in France, which travels with speeds of up to 320 km/h (200 mph).
Suicide victims
One of the victims was a 34-year-old man who leapt to his death with his 19-month-old daughter, who also died, when he jumped in front of a train in the central Haute Vienne area, located in West- Central part of France.
The police said that the man was suffering “a relationship breakdown” and had written to his parents to explain his actions.
According to the Local, two brothers were hit by a train on Sunday morning in the Aisne area. One died while the other was seriously injured.
In a separate case, the victim lay across the tracks of an oncoming train from Lille, while another suicide was the main cause of the delays of trains going to Paris.
More concerned by the traffic delays than the deaths themselves
Passengers in the train, which was damaged in the incident, were transferred to another train and arrived more than three hours late, France 24 said.
The gruesome suicides affected some 10,500 Paris-bound travelers on Sunday night, forcing the Parisian authorities to put in place an emergency operation to assist thousands arriving into the capital in the early hours of the morning with food supplies.
“We put into service a large number of taxis so people could return home,” explained a spokesman for the SNCF, according to RFI news.
The majority of French web users who commented on the suicides seemed more concerned by the traffic delays than the deaths themselves, which were described as “selfish” by many online commentators.
For its part, the railway authorities are worried that the incidents might spark “copycat” suicides around the country.
Michelle Funk, a mental health researcher from the World Health Organization (WHO), told FRANCE 24 that it was “very unusual indeed” to have so many of the same kind of suicides over such a short period.
“It might even suggest that there may have been some form of communication between the victims,” she said. “At such a high rate, it’s something that would need assessing”.
But information released by the police say the 12 people who died took their lives in "separate incidents across the country."
She added: “If these deaths are sensationalized by the media then they’re sadly likely to lead to more deaths. People who are feeling desperate may hear about this and think ‘they’ve done it, so so can I’"
For SNCF and the railway authorities, there’s no easy solution for preventing further potential incidents. “One of the ways we try to address suicide is by preventing the means,” Funk explained. “That means preventing access to guns, for example, or to pesticides. But in this circumstance, there’s very little you can do.”
Choose another way to go
And it doesn't mean they haven't tried. In fact, faced with the gruesome surge in suicides on the Paris train network in 2009, France's state rail company launched a campaign to convince the desperate to "choose another way to go," Expatica France reported at the time.
Jean-Pierre Farandou, a spokesperson for the railway told reporters not to be mistaken in their intention. He said the SNCF "does not aim to treat the root causes" of suicidal behavior, but wanted the campaign to "dissuade people from choosing the train to commit suicide."
Besides, he said, would-be suicides need to understand that trains are not a "fool-proof" solution, adding that many people survive, but heavily handicapped.
France has a higher rate of suicide than its European neighbours, with one person committing suicide on average every two days, the number of people who jumped to their deaths on rail tracks in the Paris region leapt by a fifth, from 148 to 181, between 2007 and 2008.