Platform doors encouraged as subway suicide attempts spike

An automated signalling system is being installed on Line 1 as a potential precursor to platform-edge doors.  Photo by Natalia Vega An automated signalling system is being installed on Line 1 as a potential precursor to platform-edge doors. Photo by Natalia Vega

Natalia Vega
HSF Reporter

It’s upsetting that some people jump in front of Toronto subway trains and end their life but even more disturbing is that it isn’t rare.

Over the past 17 years there have been on average 23 annual suicide attempts. This year is trending to a 14-year high of 30 attempts (as of Nov. 10 there have been 26 suicide attempts).

The idea of installing platform-edge doors (PED) to block access to subway tracks is not new, but a recent study by Toronto Public Health, Suicide Prevention in Toronto, once again supported such installation for TTC subway stations.

TTC spokesperson Mike DeToma said the TTC fully supports the notion of installing PEDs on subway platforms – they were approved by the Commission in 2010 – but it’s expensive, costing anywhere from $5 million to $10 million per station. To install PED’S for the four subway lines would be a project that could cost up to and over $1 billion.

“PEDs are a benefit in preventing suicide but they’re also a benefit for other issues,” said DeToma. “It would prevent people from accidently falling onto the track and prevent debris or paper from falling to track level, which is the cause for fire and smoke in the subway which leads to delays.”

DeToma said PEDs work on an automatic train control system, which is essentially an upgraded signaling system. The TTC is currently installing this system starting with the Yonge-University-Spadina line. The upgrade started on Nov. 24, DeToma said, and will continue until 2020, at which point the process will begin on the Bloor-Danforth line.

Other than potential PEDs, DeToma said there is a suicide prevention program that has been in place since 2011.

“We have quite a groundbreaking program called Crisis Link,” said DeToma. “It’s something we joined in with the Distress Centres of Toronto and Bell Canada. Each subway platform (has) key systems equipped with payphones and those payphones have a direct connection to the Distress Centre.”

Since the program launched it has won awards, the most recent being the Corporate Leadership Award from the Canadian Urban Transit Association in 2012.

Distress Centre manager and coordinator for the Crisis Link program Melissa Bosman said the payphones at the TTC are meant to help people who may be at risk of committing suicide.

“We do a suicide assessment to figure out exactly what’s going on, we work with them to deescalate the crisis, if it is a crisis, and then we engage in safety planning,” said Bosman.

If necessary, someone from the Distress Centre will let TTC know to slow the trains in the station and in some cases send someone to the platform to help.

Since Crisis Link is an immediate response program its main focus is to help those in crisis while they’re on the subway platform but should they want further assistance they are also available to help.

“We do refer people to our help lines so people can call us from the safety of their own home after they leave the subway,” Bosman said. “If they want to continue the dialogue they’re welcome to call us on our main number.”

First-year Early Childhood Education student Chantai Orr-Campbell said she is in favor of having the PEDs installed on subway platforms not only to help others who feel the need to jump but also get rid of delay times for other passengers.

“I think it’s smart,” said Orr-Campbell about PED. “If it’s to prevent jumpers I definitely think it’s worth it.”

However, others have different opinions on the matter.

Cailea Shin, 20, a second-year Multimedia Design and Development student, said she has experienced delays on the subway and wondered if someone jumped in front of the train.

“It’s selfish to say, but I’d rather the money go towards expanding our subway than trying to add in a safety measure,” said Shin. “I feel like if somebody is at that time in their life (of committing suicide) they’re going to find another way to do it.”

There has yet to be a decision on when the TTC will install PEDs on subway platforms and where the money will come from.