The union representing Metro train operators said an incident at the Landover station Christmas Day points out the need to review how Metro deals with the difficult subject of suicide on the rail system.
“We’ve been pushing for more training for situations like this,” said Dion Baker, shop steward for Metro train operators of the Amalgamated Transit Union. “They need more training and more help.”
Baker was working Sunday when a colleague made a desperate call on the radio about a person who had just jumped in front of his train. The operator’s shock and heart wrenching pleas for help were heard by all his fellow employees over the dispatch system.
The troubled person survived and was rescued from underneath the train. Quick action by the driver to slow the train may have played a role.
The radio call underscored the trauma endured by train operators, first responders, Metro employees and bystanders, and points to the need for more training and support to Metro workers, Baker said.
In particular post-incident investigations, including drug tests and questioning should be handled by police in a more supportive manner, Baker said.
Training can be effective in preventing suicide incidents said Tim Jansen, a counselor who operates Community Crisis Services, Inc., which operates a suicide prevention hotline in Prince George’s County.
“If you learn to stop and just say ‘hey, how’s it going’, that conversation can lead to them making different decisions,” Jansen said. “If you see something, we say about this in terrorism all the time, you say something. It’s the same thing here.”
Jansen encourages train riders to take action by alerting employees to people who may be troubled.
Vanessa Birben, a counselor and suicide attempt survivor said the radio call by the train driver is a reminder to troubled individuals. “What I tell my callers is that suicide never ends your pain. It transfers your pain over to your loved ones and over to anyone who was around to witness the event.”
Jansen said suicide attempts occur on the rail system with unsettling frequency.
Metro declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing suicide events.