An infrastructure program designed to improve transport performance in Melbourne, Australia, has also helped to reduce suicide deaths.
Content warning: this article contains references to suicide.
Since 2015, work has been underway to remove more than 100 level crossings in metropolitan Melbourne by 2030, under the Victorian Government’s Level Crossing Removal Project.
The crossings – where a rail line intersects with a road at the same level – are being removed by lowering or raising either the rail line or the road. These changes are designed to reduce traffic congestion, increase traffic flow and rail capacity, and improve safety.
The number of people dying by suicide has decreased by up to 68 per cent at sites where the level crossings have been removed, according to a study led by the University of Melbourne.
In many cases, the changes to the crossings have made the rail tracks difficult or impossible for pedestrians and car drivers to access.
Dr Angela Clapperton and a team from the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health wanted to test whether this lack of access had an effect on the number of deaths by suicide. Reducing access to methods of suicide is known to be effective at helping to prevent suicide, as it can give individuals more time to seek help or be helped by others.
The research team identified 41 intervention sites where level crossings had been removed before 31 December 2020 and noted the start and end dates of the removal period. Each of these sites was randomly matched to a control site, where a level crossing had not yet been removed by 30 June 2021.
For each pair of sites, the researchers compared the average number of deaths by suicide per month before and after the level crossing was removed at the intervention site. Data on the location and date of suicide deaths was obtained from the Victorian Suicide Register for the period covering 1 January 2008 to 30 June 2021.
Within a radius of 500 metres of an intervention site, the average monthly number of suicide deaths decreased by 68 per cent following the removal of the level crossing. Within a radius of one kilometre, the average monthly number decreased by 61 per cent. The researchers found no change in the number of suicide deaths at the control sites.
Based on their findings, the researchers suggest that future plans for transport infrastructure projects should consider what design features might have the biggest effect on suicide prevention.
Banner image: Level Crossing Removal Project
The researchers plan to update the study as more level crossings are removed. This will help them to assess whether the Level Crossing Removal Project has contributed to an overall reduction in the number of deaths by suicide in Victoria, which has remained fairly stable over recent years.
Clapperton A et al (2022) Preventing railway suicides through level crossing removal: a multiple‑arm pre‑post study design in Victoria, Australia. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 57: 2261-2266, doi: 10.1007/s00127-022-02340-9
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