By Nicholas Shelly
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The death of a pedestrian struck by the MARC Penn Line Train 694 days ago near the Bowie State University train station has officials worried about an increase in suicides across the nation.
Amtrak police continue to investigate the death that occurred around 8 p.m. on Feb. 24. The northbound commuter train, which left Union Station in Washington, D.C. at 7:30 p.m., struck the pedestrian who was trespassing on the tracks in Patuxent Research Refuge.
MARC riders were stuck on the train until the Maryland Transit Administration could transfer passengers to another train around midnight. During that time, all trains were prevented from using this route. The MTA worked with police from Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, as well as Amtrak Police.
The stranded riders, who could not get off the train because police feared tampering of the evidence along with the fact that there were no near usable roads, spent their time getting acquainted. Police told riders that they suspected that this had been a suicide.
“I think it’s a really unfortunate situation, of course, that someone committed suicide,” said Martin Smith, a Morgan State University student who was returning to school from an acappella competition in Washington, D.C. “The reason that we’re here is because we’re in a police investigation. That’s crazy.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention said that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. The results of suicide and self-injury cost the U.S. $69 billion in 2015, a cost that probably has increased in four years.
The U.S Department of Transportation Volpe Center reported that the two leading causes of rail-related death are suicide and trespassing. The Federal Railroad Administration said that last year 205 fatalities and 35 injuries were reported in the United States as a result of an individual committing or attempting to commit suicide.
“It’s probably hard for the driver, the staff and the crew,” said passenger Norman Sarria, a Nicaraguan citizen on a business trip from Asia. “The whole thing is probably very complicated.”
Amtrak has taken measures to prevent rail suicides, said Beth Toll, Amtrak’s public relations manager. The popular passenger railroad service has partnered with Operation Lifesaver, a national, non-profit safety railroad education group that works to eliminate deaths and injuries at railroad crossings and along railroad rights of way.
“The safety of our customers, employees and public is our top priority,” Toll said. “Amtrak has a police department with a national safety mission and is a partner with Operation Lifesaver.”
Train operators are emotionally impacted by rail suicides, according to a 2013 New York Times article. One operator tells how “I still see that boy jumping in slow motion in front of my train,” while another said, “I couldn’t even get the strength to turn the key to open the door to climb down to see if the person was all right.”
A Volpe Center report said that “with rail suicides, emotional stress extends to train crews, emergency responders, and bystanders. Additionally, when rail suicides happen, they often receive media attention, which can result in copycat suicide attempts.”
“I have conflicting thoughts about it,” added Sarria, who stopped in Baltimore for two days to visit relatives in Timonium. “I don’t feel sad or anything, I’m just living through it and I’ll know how I feel afterwards. Right now, I don’t know.”
Researchers found that suicide is the hardest for the survivors who cared about the person who died. Many survivors begin to wonder if they could have done something to prevent the death, experts said.
Harvard Health Publishing said that every suicide leaves around six “suicide survivors,” described as people who’ve lost someone they care about deeply and are left grieving and struggling to understand.
So far, the pedestrian struck has not been identified.