Dear PoP – Are there More Suicides on Metro This Year?

no perspectives?, originally uploaded by cacophony76.

“Dear PoP,

I have a DC-wide issue that has been irking me lately, in more ways than one. Too many metro riders (including myself) are inconvenienced by riders committing suicide using metro trains.

A) What’s up with that? Why disrupt people’s travel and commuting? and
B) Is metro doing anything to combat this increasing issue?

Granted, it is a deeper societal problem with worsening economies, etc. Metro is having a hard enough time as it is with budget shortfalls and bad press. But why harm yourself using the metro? ”


“Dear PoP,

I keep reading reports of suicides or deadly accidents at Metros this year. It seems like a really high amount. Have there been more this year than in previous years? I’m not sure if it’d be reassuring to know that this was a normal amount…”

I thought it was interesting that I got two very similar questions like this on the same day. I put in a call to WMATA and spoke with a representative from Media Relations and he said he didn’t have those numbers at the moment but would get back to me. All I asked him for was the number of suicides by train last year versus the number to date this year. Sadly, he said that he’d get back to me and never did. Oh well.

We’ve got a lot historical knowledge ourselves. So what do you guys think/remember – do there seem to be more suicides by metro this year? Is there anything that metro can do to prevent these?

44 Comment

  • 1) It certainly seems like a lot more. Chalk it up to this simply awful economy.
    2) Nothing can be done about it. This a a huge problem in Japan. And on the Golden Gate Bridge.
    3) WMATA officials currently feel no accountability. Let’s please pressure the Board to fire the whole lot of senior management.

  • How very sad that anyone would feel taking their life by jumping in front of a metro train is their only option. It is even sadder that someone feels ‘inconvenienced’ by a fellow human being killing themselves.

    This is not the first time I’ve heard people say this kind of thing, and I never quite sure what to make of people who think like this.

  • Well, suicide is an inherently selfish act. I think there’s room in the human experience to feel sad about someone taking their life and also feel personally hurt by it (which can be expressed as inconvenience, annoyance, anger, etc.).

    Anyway, yeah, seems like there have been a lot more than usual suicides. You might be able to find tentative numbers by sifting through WaPo reports on it.
    I’m not quite sure what metro could do. They seem to barely be able to keep trains running.

  • The decline of the metro system is one of the sadder aspects about living here for 15+ years. During the 1990’s I recall there were virtually no accidents and perhaps only a handful of fatalities. That started to change about five years ago. What surprises me is that John Catoe seems to made out of teflon. If an airline suddenly started to have a string of fatal accidents I’d think the CEO would be forced out at some point – but Catoe keeps getting a free pass.

  • Catoe is one of the most worthless public servants this city has had. He’s up there with Marion in terms of sheer incompetence (and bulletproofedness).

    To give you an idea of how other transit companies handle problems:

    In Germany, the entire board of DeutshceBahn (the german rail network, which runs mass transit in cities as well) resigned after a train derailed in a station (no injuries/deaths) which resulted in two weeks of mild delays. It turned out that the train was due for maintenance but had not been scheduled yet. Yes, you read that right. The entire board resigned.

    As for the suicide thing, yeah ok, it’s terrible, but how narcissistic. Just my opinion, but no need for such a public spectacle that not only inconveniences people, but costs the city and the taxpayer a huge amount of money. metrorail costs 50k an hour to operate, after all.

    I find it odd that people get so spun up over death when it is sudden, tragic and senseless (i.e., the rail car crash in june), but not when it is systemic (i.e., suicides over a longer timeline). I’m willing to bet you don’t see metro install fencing on the stations anytime soon.

    FWIW, every two months, more people die due to lack of health insurance than the number of people who died on 9/11. What a shame that the gov’t seemed so OK to spend trillions on fighting the tragic (9/11) but is so hesitant to combat the systemic (lack of health access – including mental health access). /rant

  • Firstly, it must be said, because nobody seems to say it:

    Suicide is not a cowardly act. It takes a heroic amount of bravery and, depending on the situation, could be the last and most mighty exhibition of personal power someone can have. If one’s life has seemingly gone out of control, this could be the ONLY way to reclaim any sense of power. YES: It is a valid option, just as it has been for millions of years. I fully support everyone’s inherent right to decide.

    And I’m not even opposed to making it a public spectacle, but christ, folks, be considerate: Using the Metro makes it a DAMNED NUISANCE.

    I realize this is probably an unpopular opinion but it’s sincere. For once, no sarcasm intended. Self-offing can be the most noble act in a person’s life. But seriously, nobody on the redline is going to understand or appreciate it, so keep it off the rails.

  • The last case was a 19-year-old kid. Do you really think that angst over the state of the economy was the reason?

    Or could it be that Metro has been under the microscope since the Ft. Totten accident and these things get press now while previously nobody paid attention?

  • The 19-year old was an Iraq War vet. No doubt he witnessed some unimaginable things over there and probably didn’t get the mental health care he needed upon his return to the states. You don’t know anything about his family life or his living situation. Things could have been really bad for him. The fact that ending his life was the only option he had left is an indicator that he reached a really dark place that most of us do not understand.

    Are you really that self-centered to hear this story and think “how inconsiderate of him to not consider my commute”? Next time, try a little bit of empathy before you speak.

  • @Intangible Arts: I second your opinion. I don’t believe suicide is a selfish or cowardly act; it might be the only thing in a person’s life that makes perfect sense at the time.

    Also, I agree with Sullivan. Instead of being annoyed that his death was an inconvenience to your daily commute, have some compassion. He was just a kid who grew up too soon and saw things that the average DC commuter could probably never fathom.

    I hope we can agree that his death, irregardless of how it took place, is still a tragic loss.

  • Metro suicides and attempts

    2007: 6 attempts, 2 of them fatal
    2008: 5 attempts, 2 of them fatal

  • @Anonymous 9:04–great link, but that count is from mid-June of this year. I believe there were quite a few more attempts and fatalities in July and August (and at least 1 fatality in September). Can you find an updated link and share?

  • Thanks for speaking up Sullivan, my sentiments as well.

  • oh yeah, people are committing suicide. BLAME JOHN CATOE.

    Come on!!! John Catoe is a hard working and honest man. He continues to run one of the county’s safest, cleanest and most on-time systems. Even despite the crash, which was a terrible tragedy, we are lucky to have this system.

    Compare him to Marion Barry is ASENINE, uneducated and simply irresponsible.

  • It’s genuinely sad that rather than address the dispair and anguish those who commit suicide must go through, there are those who focus on the great tragedy of disruption to their commute and categorize it as a nuisance. Are we so individually selfish that we care not a whit about others and the tragic loss of a life. Do you really believe that in the midst of an emotional breakdown where one’s sole focus is to die, that they could have the ability to pause and ponder about the impact on the yellow line?

  • Its not disrupting MY commute, its disrupting THOUSANDS of people’s commute…its one thing to commit suicide, its another to be a friggin’ jackass about it.

  • @Intangible Arts: I also strongly agree with your opinion.

  • @metrorider

    I’m not saying he isn’t hard working or honest. I am saying he and the rest of the board are incompetent. The system has noticeably degraded in service and reliability in the last five years. Anyone who believes otherwise is lying to themselves. Take for instance the last fare increase. What do they do? they institute a fare hike that cannot be reviewed for 18 months, but was only adequate to pay for 12 months of operating costs.

    This has nothing to do with suicides; obviously that isn’t his fault. I’m saying that if this city and the region actually held people accountable, he and all the other idiots that run metro would have been out on their asses the minute it was revealed that the accident was not the fault of the metro conductor. hell, if he had any self respect, he would have resigned. He is a joke, the board is a joke (and most of them DRIVE to board meetings anyways). Screw them.


    shawres – seriously though… i dont know your experiences, but I think it would do you some good to try some of the other systems around the country. Ours is leaking money like a siv, but it is one of the best. be grateful for what you have.

  • I have no compassion for suicide. Sorry. People have bad lives all around the world but learn to deal in a less pathetic manner. The fact that they affect thousands of other peoples lives in the process of their cowardice just makes it worse.

  • Actually I think the metro and BART systems are some of the worst mass transit options in the country. Intervals between trains can be 10-15 minutes outside of rush hour, delays are constant because of the single-tracking issue, and the infrastructure is sufficiently complex that it is becoming unsustainable as it ages. The New York and Boston systems, while creaky and dirty, have worked day in, day out for decades.

    But I don’t want to get into a pissing war about subway systems. Suffice it to say that on its own terms, DC Metro’s service has declined noticeably during the last 5 years, and there appears to be no financially sustainably option to repair it.

  • Sorry for the inconvenience you sick bastard. How can we so insensitive to the pain and suffering of our fellow citizen.

  • I agree that in most cases Catoe would be canned. However, I think he is doing the best he can with the authority he is given by the systems legal governance structure. Instead of an all powerful intra juridiction or interstate organizational, Congress as provided Metro with on of the weakest governance structures, plus had really short arms when it comes to providing adequate funding for the system. There was litterly no recognition that systems lifecycle needed to be managed and funded on that basis. Its a good system, just week a week managment system, by design.

  • thank you Intangible. It is a usually painful act of self-determination.

    anon At 10:23 people in various circumstances around the world commit suicide very day. By saying you have no compassion for suicide, you are saying you have no compassion for those who are mentally ill, despondent, or victimized. As for cowardice, peek over the Gate & tell me what kind of coward would take a header off that. Was it cowardice that sent that kid over to war? Was it cowardice at our continued support of it? Would it have been less cowardly for him to start offing random people…you perhaps?

    Posting as anon…get the word coward out of your mouth.

  • I think I read some where a time ago (I say that way too much) that men prefer to kill themselves in a dramatic fashion. With a gun, jumping in front of a train, or anything that makes a mess. Women will often take pills, slit their wrists in a bathtub or carbon monoxide poisoning. They don’t want to be an inconvenience.

    That aside, I have a friend that tried to kill himself recently and I had/have deep sympathy for him. We all work so hard to build a life, putting in so much energy and time to create something that we hope and think will make us happy only to have that very life blindside us. This is what happened to him and at that moment he saw only one solution. Thankfully he failed and is in a much better place now (mentally and physically). But at that moment when he had lost control of a life that he had worked so hard for, the only power he still held onto was ending it.

  • You’re right…what a brave brave soul. It was very courageous of him to emotionally damage the train operator for life, as well as give those who have to literally pick up the pieces something to break up their monotonous work days. Why not just call him a hero?

  • Anyone else loving the irony of “anonymous at 10:23” calling someone else a coward?

  • Heres the compromise:
    Just leave the body down there until 3am so none of the souless, uncaring people are disrupted, then drag the body up when metro isnt runnning so the sensitive and empathetic people can show up for a non-disruptive public mourning.

  • We can’t hold Metro accountable for the suicides, and it’s pretty awful if your main complaint is the inconvenience to riders rather than the sad circumstances of those who are killing themselves publicly in our transit system.

    That said, Metro can and should be held accountable for the increase in accidental deaths to employees, and the Red Line crash. Catoe and the Metro board seem to think they’re not to be blamed, but surely their leadership and policies are ineffective at operating a system that’s safe for us all.

  • I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that most commenters feel empathetic for any person who contemplates and/or commits suicide, nor to suggest that these people can disagree on whatever method they deem smartest, bravest, less pathetic, etc. in dealing with mental health concerns. Someone might think getting help and starting a treatment plan the bravest option, and yes, it would cause less disruption of the commute…but I think it’s understandable for people to be upset about the commute without intending to be cold or insensitive.

  • Metro should post some PSA’s at least.
    Just putting this out there:
    National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK
    or 1-888-628-9454 en Espanol.

  • A lot of other subway systems around the world don’t have this problem — many in large Asian cities (Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai) have a barrier-and-gate system. (HK)
    If I recall correctly, putting up even a simple barrier on noteworthy bridges decreases suicide attempts dramatically, so it’s not like we’d have to make it overly tall and ruin the aesthetics of the metro platforms.

    Given that all metro trains now pull up to the end of the platform (since the Fort Totten accident), there are now relatively standard door locations, so this would not be impractical.

    Furthermore, as we may all recall from the Inauguration Day mess, when an accidental (and I believe non-injury-causing) fall onto the tracks completely screwed up the trains for hours, a controlled-access system on the platforms would be cost-effective, substantially reduce deaths or injuries from jumping / falling onto the tracks, and improve service.

  • I wonder if any of the recent suicides are a direct result of Metro’s decline in reliability.

  • I think it’s premature (if not incorrect) to blame Catoe/WMATA board for the red line crash. It’s been almost 3 months now and the NTSB still hasn’t released a report indicating what exactly happened. If it were more clear-cut what was at fault (i.e. differed maintenance on a track circuit) I believe we would have heard something by now.
    I’d also point out that there have been a lot of improvements to the metro system in the last ten or so years. Ten years ago we didn’t have electronic arrival signs or NextBus telling us when the next train or bus was coming. We used to have escalators that were constantly breaking down but now (probably aided by the awnings built over them) I would say that has been reduced. And could you imagine what the increase in ridership would’ve been like if metro hadn’t adopted SmarTrip cards? Not to say there aren’t new problems or that Catoe should get credit for these improvements, but I think sometimes we loose sight of the positive changes in the metro’s conditions.

  • Dcster – almost all root cause analysis points to managment and leadership functions rather than just operator error. Read through US Air Force crash investigations. Nearly always someone higher in the chain of command acted or failed to acted in a way which set up the accident to happen. The result is that they are fired. Same with the US Navy. You are correct, that we should wait for the NTSB, but they usually examine the managment decisions that precipitated accidents. I feel bad for Catoe because his governance structure sucks. I predict that a stronger governance structure will be recommeded.

  • The WTOP article is illuminating: the first hard, current figures I’ve seen for Metro suicides. And suicides are indeed up for 2009.

    But there’s another factor at play also: major media outlets usually don’t report on “routine” suicides because a) they’re not newsworthy, and b) it encourages copycats. I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with this voluntary self-censorship, since it causes the public to have a warped, sanitized view of the world, but I understand the motivation (particularly since there is hard evidence that the suicide copycat effect is real).

    Bottom line: we’re probably seeing all this reporting on Metro suicides because, ever since the 22 June, any Metro incident has suddenly become “newsworthy”. And, I’m guessing, the copycat effect has indeed kicked in.

  • Rusty, it happens enough in Tokyo for them to pass the cleanup costs off on families. My first day there a guy took a header from the platform. A guy tried to stop him and a lady screamed. It was awful (I only saw it on the news).

    ontario~SF does that

  • Dante put suicides in the second level of the seventh circle of hell, one level below those who do harm to others. It is never a “mighty” or “brave” act.

    Depression is a serious and difficult disease. Suicide is complicated and and in rare occaisons, one could make an argument that it is justified. But unless you have no family or friends, suicides, especially public ones, are selfish and cruel. And yes, cowardly.

  • To assume that suicide is cowardly is to assume that life is better than death. Does anyone really know that? What if by killing yourself you go to a much better place? Maybe the people offing themselves are the only smart ones. Maybe not. The point is no one really knows. But when we’re in physical pain, we do whatever it takes to alleviate it, doctors, surgeries, medicines, drugs. When we’re in emotional pain, it’s much more difficult to find answers. Sometimes drugs, therapy, friends and family don’t do the trick. I don’t think suicide is particularly heroic or cowardly, it just is. It just is one thing some folks do. Does it hurt the living survivors, especially loved ones? Sure. But shit, living humans selfishly hurt their loved ones on a daily basis. That’s part of life, and death.

  • @ Victoria- Dante’s Inferno is a great book-stress on the word book here-but that’s all it is.

    Suicide is a fundamental human right; as far as self ownership goes, we have the right to live, and if we so choose, the right to die. Stating that it is selfish or cruel is a blatant disregard to our basic human right; reasons for committing suicide are very subjective and personal, and it may not make sense to other people but it does to the one who is taking his or her own life.

    It’s more selfish for one to ask someone who is suffering to stay and continue a life of pain, than it is for someone who is suffering to make the choice to end the pain permanently.

  • I was on a Metro train many years ago when someone jumped in front and killed himself. I was on the first car and felt it go over his body. Worse, I heard the awful scream from the driver. I won’t complain about the small inconvenience I had getting home, but I sure do remember and feel bad for the woman who was driving that train. Whether suicide is selfish or not, I don’t know, but I do know that the guy could have killed himself some other way without unnecessarily traumatizing the driver. I’m sorry for the guy, but I often wonder what she (the driver) had to go through afterwards.

  • Arguments can be made whether suicide is a legitimate choice for a person to make — but you cannot make a case that it is OK to harm another person by making that choice. The person commiting suicide has no right to inflect that trauma on the train operator and other metro workers. Having said that, if a person is in that much pain they probabily are not thinking rationally enough to figure that out. Or just don’t care

  • ugh…I think someone was just struck at the Columbia Heights station a few minutes ago.

  • Like Buck says, I think we are in copycat territory now. Unfortunately, a few factors make me doubt it’s going to get better anytime soon:

    –journalistic best practice is to report as little as possible about the method, and a little as possible about copycats, to avoid contagion, but it’s hard to do with public methods which are inherently newsworthy.

    –Metro riders now demand to know the reason behind every delay, and the ridership would complain if the explanations for delays were more circumspect. Look how mad people were when Metro was coy the afternoon of the June crash.

    –the 24-hour news cycle, or more accurately the 1440-minute twitter/text/blog cycle, makes each incident a focus of attention, and the reporting gets more and more breathless (like DCist’s UPDATE…UPDATE…UPDATE). It’s hard for the outlets to de-escalate when writes are fighting for readers and people like to read about…well…train wrecks.

    –this will only get worse as the death count rises. it’s already “more than any other year”, and pointing that out creates expectations for the next one.

    Wish I had the answers. I would like to say one thing, as someone who’s had a few suicides in my family. It’s never as simple as brave, cowardly, selfish, rational, etc. what makes it hard is that it’s all those things at once. It’s very complicated to feel grief and anger at the same time.

Comments are closed.