Officials with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and other leaders gathered Monday to ask the public’s help to stop suicides on the Metro Blue Line.
They said even though fatal accidents have plummeted on the 22-mile north-south route from downtown Long Beach to downtown L.A., the suicide rate has gone up in recent years.
The Gold, Red and Expo Lines aren't nearly as bad.
So far in 2013, three of four deaths on the Blue Line have been suicides. Last year at this time, there were eight deaths along the line, including four people who deliberately got in the way of trains.
Officials added that too many people are reckless on the platforms and often ignore flashing lights, bells and crossing gates in order to dash across the tracks in front of trains.
“That train is going to be coming down that track very straight, very fast and you can’t outrun it,” Metro Board Chair Diane DuBois said at a news conference in front of the Willowbrook Blue Line station. “A three-car train can weigh several hundred thousand pounds. It can’t stop quickly.”
Dubois said police will ticket people who disobey safety laws. She said the minimum fine is $100 but could easily increase.
Officials reported suicides had averaged one per year since the light rail line opened in 1990, but that rate has climbed during the past few years. They’re asking people to report unusual behavior or get help if they’re contemplating suicide.
Former Metro Blue Line operator Roman Alarcon said he’s still haunted when someone jumped in front of his train and he couldn’t stop 19 years ago.
“That tragic day has changed me forever in good ways and bad ways,” Alarcon said. “There’s more victims than the person who’s committed suicide...there’s officers, there’s law enforcement that respond to the scene.”
Transportation leaders said they have assigned safety ambassadors – which are retired bus and rail operators – to spots where accidents have occurred. There are 14 ambassadors stationed at seven key locations in two shifts and have reportedly stopped three would-be suicides over the past 10 months.
Metro also began a partnership with the Didi Hirsh Suicide Prevention Center. Signs with the crisis line phone number – (877) 727-4747 – are also displayed throughout stations along the line.
Metro said its continuing to invest in resources to bolster safety. Improvements include installation of special gates at several high-traffic pedestrian crossings.
The agency plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next four years to replace track, overhaul the power system, refurbish stations and buy new rail cars along the route.
The Blue Line opened in July 1990 and carries 30 million passengers a year through Los Angeles, Vernon, Compton, Carson and Long Beach.