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Suicide on Railroad Rights-of-Way: A Psychological Autopsy Study


  • The research reflected in this report was sponsored by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The views expressed, however, are views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the FRA. Moreover, any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of FRA, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply an endorsement by FRA. FRA assumes no liability for the content or use of the material(s) contained in this document. As this study was sponsored by the FRA, it focused only on railroad rights-of-way under its jurisdiction for overview of safety. In the United States, transit systems fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Transit Administration, hence were not included here.


Findings from 55 psychological autopsies of decedents who perished on U.S. railroad rights-of-way between October 1, 2007, and September 30, 2010 are reported. Described are distal, proximal, and contextual factors of risk; understandings of why these suicides occurred on railroad rights-of-way; and opportunities for prevention of similar suicides. International comparisons of suicides on railroad rights-of-way are made to highlight distinct findings regarding U.S. cases. Decedents studied exhibited considerable predisposing risk for suicide, with a high prevalence of severe mental disorders and substance abuse. In addition, a number of acute risk factors were commonly observed, notably suicide ideation, hopelessness, anxiety, and anger. In the context of that acute risk, associated situational variables and a relative absence of protective factors are described.