EDITORIAL : When I hear of tragedies such as the apparent suicide of a 16-year-old Ramsey girl who stepped into the path of a train, I want to believe something can be done to reduce these deaths. But look a little closer, and you’ll find that NJ Transit is trying its best.
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I once suggested maps with pushpins designating the spots over the past 18 months or so where the most fatalities have occurred.
Turns out NJ Transit already had a system in place. “We use dots, not pushpins,” an agency official told me in a private exchange.
“You’d be surprised to learn that some of the most problematic stations are those with attendants and cameras,” the official said. “What would stop a person, standing on a train platform (which for obvious reasons cannot be fenced), from stepping out at the last second? How do you stop that?”
Newspapers such as The Bergen Record appear more than happy to publish these stories, including the exact locations — and sometimes adding the visual: a white sheet draped over a body.
Think people prone to suicidal thoughts don’t notice?
What’s more, the stories refer to the dead as “victims.” And if there’s one thing an emotionally troubled person can identify with, it’s being a victim.
But are they?
Think about it: The train engineer is powerless to do anything but hit the brakes and hope the behemoth stops in time. But the person stepping or jumping in front of the train knows that. Or they want it to go quickly.
So there’s never enough time.
Once the train does stop, that same conductor has to climb down, inspect the scene and call in.
Think he or she will ever forget that?
How about the passengers? Their lives are affected, too — if not emotionally, then logistically. How many loved ones are waiting down the line, wondering what’s happened? How do they feel when they find out?
Even worse: Witnesses told investigators the Ramsey kid stepped into the crossing at the last instant, stood there and didn’t move, awaiting the inevitable. Imagine seeing that and not being able to do anything about it.
And what about the families of the dead?
I once had a pie-in-the-sky belief that NJ Transit could protect people from themselves. But that’s not the agency’s responsibility. And from a purely logistical standpoint, how could that be done 24/7? Suburban passenger trains aren’t subways that run underground or on elevated rails.
“There are some people who are determined, for whatever reason, to end their lives. That‘s truly sad,” the agency official told me. “But if one is truly determined, no amount of fencing, security or outreach will help.”
Still, NJ Transit tries.
Bet you didn’t know: Suicide hotline numbers are posted at problem areas to give people someone to talk to, and maybe help change their minds.
Sadly, few call.
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