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A STUDY of rail-related fatalities has found the suicide rate has dramatically increased in the past decade while the number of accidental deaths was down. Train drivers battle Living with gruesome reality Deaths haunt driver
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Train drivers battle
Living with gruesome reality
Deaths haunt driver
The unpublished report called on the State Government to support additional studies to try to cut the incidence of rail-related suicide.
One of the suggestions was the use of energy-absorbing devices on the front of trains.
The report, by Monash University's Accident Research Centre and the State Coroner's Office, found 567 people died in rail-related incidents from 1990 to 2002 -- an average of 43.6 deaths a year.
Almost two-thirds of the deaths were suicides, despite the acknowledgment that suicide totals in the report could underestimate the true position.
More than 70 per cent of those who died were males. "In the past quarter-century, the pattern of rail-related deaths has changed quite fundamentally," the report said.
It found deaths from crashes between motor vehicles and trains at railway level crossings had fallen from 22 a year during 1969-76 to three a year during 1990-2002.
About 60 per cent of accidental deaths occurred at designated crossings or stations, compared with only 30 per cent of suicides.
The report suggested possible contributing factors to the surge in suicides were the increase in unmanned stations, de-institutionalisation, easy access to rail lines and firearms becoming less accessible.
"Since rail is a highly lethal method of suicide and incurs considerable community costs, it should be a high priority that such suicides are better understood and prevented," it said.
The report concluded the major reason for the big reduction in level crossing deaths was the boom barrier program, which began in 1982.
Other factors were line closures in some regions, reduced rail traffic, other road safety improvements and a reduction in the number of "passive" crossings with no active warning device.
Of the 9000 level crossings in Australia, two-thirds have no warning lights, bells or booms.
There are about 180 train level crossings in Melbourne and more than 2000 in the rest of Victoria.
About 1400 are unprotected apart from warning signs.
One of the report's authors, senior research fellow Dr Eric Wigglesworth, put several ideas on railway safety to a Federal parliamentary inquiry this year.
He said yesterday he believed there were three measures that had the potential to significantly reduce the number of suicide deaths.
Nearly all suicides occurred on unfenced tracks, and more fencing could make a huge difference. The energy-absorbing device on the front of trains was conceptually sound, but needed a lot more work.
"The third thing is a bit of Wigglesworth wishful thinking," he said.
"One of the things I would like to try is have a device fitted that would give the driver a weapon, in that they could blast the person with a level of sound so devastating they would want to move out of the way."
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