A scheme, which aims to keep vulnerable people safe and save lives on the railway in the West Midlands, is being launched on what is dubbed by many as the most depressing day of the year.
‘Blue Monday’, which this year falls on 16 January, is often circled as the unhappiest date on the calendar, when people are left facing dark mornings, post-Christmas debts and a month of restraint after over indulging during the festive period.
While the science behind ‘Blue Monday’ is questioned by many, there is no disputing our commitment to helping the thousands of unhappy and depressed people we encounter on the country’s rail network each year.
In 2016, officers in the West Midlands attended more than 460 mental health incidents, 21 suspected suicides and six people who are believed to have deliberately harmed themselves on the railway. They also made 80 life-saving interventions and worked with hundreds of people to make sure plans are in place to keep them safe and help them recover.
In a bid to help officers, Rail Pastors – an initiative of the Ascension Trust made up of trained volunteers from local churches – will patrol platforms and trains on the line between Stourbridge and Birmingham Snow Hill from 16 January, looking out for vulnerable and distressed people.
They are the fifth dedicated Rail Pastor team in the country, taking the number of volunteers on the network to around 100. The scheme was introduced in Barnet in 2014 and in their first year of operation, they conducted 30 patrols and made two life-saving interventions.
The team of 18 volunteers from Stourbridge and Bewdley Street pastors – who have undergone training provided by Samaritans and rail safety courses – will travel on London Midland trains and have direct access to BTP’s control room.
Inspector Dave Rams, from BTP in Birmingham, said: “Research by Samaritans shows there is a small window of opportunity, around 20 to 30 minutes, where a timely intervention – simply speaking to someone and listening to their concerns – can prevent a person from taking their life.
“While this is something our officers do on a daily basis, unfortunately we cannot be everywhere and the Rail Pastors provide extra eyes and ears on the network to prevent vulnerable people from coming to harm.
“We look forward to working with the pastors and I am confident they will be able to help us save more lives, while also reducing disruption caused by suicide-related incidents on the network in the West Midlands.”
Bewdley Street Pastor coordinator, Alison Underwood, said: “We are excited to be involved in the Rail Pastors scheme in the West Midlands, working in partnership with BTP and London Midland.
“We hope our skills and experience will be a valuable addition to the force’s work to offer protection to those who need it most on the rail network.”
Tom Joyner, passenger services director at London Midland, said: “The welfare and safety of our customers and colleagues is our number one priority.
“This initiative is very much welcomed and fits with our commitment and ongoing investment to ensure everyone using our services feels safe when doing so. We look forward to seeing how this rolls out across the network.
“Many people will already be aware of the excellent work carried out by Street Pastor teams across the country. A chat with a friendly face can make all the difference to people in vulnerable situations.
“We have provided members of the Ascension Trust team free travel on our trains recognising the importance of this type of support. We would welcome further approaches from Street Pastors across our network.”
Richard Godwin from Network Rail, who have provided the pastors uniforms, said: “Street Pastors are recognised as a valued community resource willing to engage with and help people in need and without prejudice.
“They often patrol in the vicinity of stations and so training them as a railway resource makes a lot of sense. I am delighted to see this collaborative scheme rolled out in the West Midlands and to have assisted in funding it.
“Their reassuring presence will provide a friendly face to anyone who needs it and provide eyes and ears on and about the rail network, watching out for vulnerable people and providing an extremely valuable suicide prevention resource.”
We support Samaritans’ ‘We Listen’ campaign which seeks to reduce the number of suicides on the railway.
If you need to talk to someone please visit Samaritans webpage or call them free on 116 123.