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Drop in railway deaths as fatal accidents stay at a record low

ACCIDENTAL deaths on ­Scotland's railways are at their lowest level in a decade while the number of people taking their own lives on the tracks has fallen after peaking in 2012.

The figures for 2013, provided by the Rail Safety and Standards Board, show 19 people committed suicide on railway lines in ­Scotland in 2013 - slightly higher than average but down from a high of 27 last year.

Since 2003, the annual rate of railways suicides in Scotland has fluctuated between a low of 15 and a maximum of 27 last year, with a total of 200 people taking their lives in the past 11 years. The average is 18 per year.

The Samaritans has installed signs to highlight the counselling services it offers at more than 10 Scottish stations, and offered suicide prevention training to rail industry staff.

While for passengers the impact of a death on the line is usually limited to delays and disruption, the experience can be highly traumatic for those who witness it.

ScotRail says about one in 20 drivers who are involved in fatal collisions never want to return to work and are redeployed into different roles.

Others feel able to return to work the next day, while some take up to six months before they are ready to come back. ScotRail offers a "rehab plan", which allows a phased return to work for drivers, ranging from simply sitting in a moving carriage to watching an instructor so they can gradually build up to driving a train again.

A private health firm is also available to provide counselling sessions, not just to drivers but to any other station staff or crew affected by seeing someone killed on the tracks.

A ScotRail spokesman said: "We support the work being carried out by a wide range of partner organisations to address this important issue."

Meanwhile, the number of ­accidental deaths on the tracks - through incidents such as people trespassing or falling on to the line - has remained at two for the second year in a row, the lowest level in a decade. Accidental deaths peaked at nine in 2009 but have hovered around an average of five per year. A total of 54 have been killed accidentally in the last 11 years.

The risks of being accidentally hurt or killed at train stations were highlighted in a summer safety drive by Network Rail that warned passengers not to "let a tipple turn into a trip".

The campaign, launched in July, featured footage of a drunk football fan attempting to kick a pigeon on the platform at Waverley station in Edinburgh, before losing his balance and tumbling on to the tracks. He landed just yards in front of a parked train and luckily nothing else was coming at the time.

Although few incidents are fatal, Network Rail said it had recorded 65 accidents at Glasgow Central in the 12 months to March 2013 and 101 accidents at Edinburgh Waverley.

The dangers of trespassing were also emphasised following an incident near Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire in May, when a 15-year-old boy suffered serious burn injuries from an overhead power line. The teenager had reportedly been "surfing" on top of a freight train when it stopped at a signal box and he was struck by an arc of electricity.

Weeks later a 12-year-old boy was taken to hospital with severe burns when he was electrocuted after trespassing on to a line near Barnhill in Glasgow.

A spokesman for Network Rail said: "We work closely with the British Transport Police, rail operators and leading charities such as the Samaritans to try to reduce the number of trespass deaths on the railway. The Samaritans help to provide training to enable railway staff recognise the signs of a vulnerable or suicidal person and how best to engage with them.

"We also work with the BPT to educate the wider community and children in particular about the potentially deadly risks of trespassing on the tracks."

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