Suicide on the London Underground

Suicide on the London Underground has been an issue since the Underground (also known as the 'Tube') opened in the 19th century. It involves a person intentionally jumping into an oncoming train's path so that the impact kills them. Suicides on English railways increased significantly following newspaper reports in 1868 about the method;[1] all injuries on the country's railways must be reported, in accordance with the Regulation of Railways Act 1873.[2]


Underground management and train drivers use several phrases to refer to suicides, sometimes using "person under a train" or "passenger taken unwell" (usually to inform the public), "person on the track", "passenger action," but most commonly "one under", or "jumper" — well-known phrases across the network.[3][4] Those who survive are often charged with offences such as "endangering safety on the railway" and "obstruction of trains with intent".[5][6]

Effect of track layout

About half of the stations, mostly those actually underground, have a pit under the tracks. Originally constructed to drain water, they have now been shown to reduce the number and severity of injuries and deaths, although not to eliminate them: as a Transport for London (TfL) spokesperson has said, "people fall into [the pits] and the train rushes on overhead". A study of 58 cases showed that the presence of a suicide pit halved the number of deaths. Another safety mechanism are platform edge doors (PEDs), which separate the train from the passengers. These are installed exclusively at the below-ground stations of the Jubilee Line Extension.[7] PEDs are expensive to install and can fail to open, adding a potential reliability problem to train services.[8]


Alison Wertheimer wrote in 2001 that there were 100–150 suicides annually on the Underground.[9] The annual number of suicides in the 1940s was 25, increasing to 100 by the 1980s, which, according to Farmer et al, is less than expected, given the increase in passenger numbers.[2] A report by Time said there were 50 suicides in 2007.[10] Between 1940 and 1990 there were 3240 incidents of "persons under a train". Research suggests that 64% of incidents involve males, and that those involved are disproportionately young.[1] The fatality rate fell from 70 percent in the 1950s to about 55 percent in 1990, and in 1993 a TfL spokesman said 40 percent of attempts resulted in death. Stations near to psychiatric units tend to have a high number of suicides, and a high proportion are by patients: 55 percent at Tooting Bec station.[11]

In 2011, figures for the previous eleven years were released by TfL. The rate had gone up to 80 per year, as compared with 46 in the year 2000, and this was attributed to the financial crisis. The worst-affected station was King's Cross St. Pancras while the numbers for the decade by line were:[12]

Suicide attempts by line for the period 2000–2010[13]
LineSuicide attempts
Circle and Hammersmith & City47

Most deaths on the Underground are suicides. Farmer et al. said they found no attempted murders during the period of their study.[2] Research by O'Donnell and Farmer suggests that 93% of deaths are deliberate and 7% are accidents.[1]

Staff training facility

TFL opened in 2010 a special staff training facility at "West Ashfield tube station" in its Ashfield House, West Kensington at a cost of £800,000. It is a mock-up of an actual station and platform where tube staff can undergo realistic training in the event of an accident. Meanwhile, London Mayor, Boris Johnson, decided the facility and the building which contains it should be demolished along with the Earls Court Exhibition Centre as part of Europe's biggest regeneration scheme.[14][15][16]

In 2008 the comedy film Three and Out was released, about a Tube train driver who is told that if he witnesses three suicides in a month, he will lose his job, but will receive a large amount of money. ASLEF, the train drivers' union, criticised the film, saying it was insulting and foolish.[17][18]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 O'Donnell, et al. (1994).
  2. 1 2 3 Farmer, et al. (1991)
  3. Kuper, Dan. "Notes from underground". Prospect. 24 September 2006. Accessed 8 August 2011.
  4. Hicks, Wynford (2004). Quite Literally: Problem Words and How to Use Them. Routledge. p. 169.
  5. "Tube 'suicide attempt' woman lies between rails". The Daily Mail. 22 February 2007. Accessed 7 August 2011.
  6. Clarke, R. V.; Poyner, B. "Preventing suicide on the London underground" (subscription required). Social Science & Medicine 38 (3): 443–446. February 1994. doi:10.1016/0277-9536(94)90445-6.
  7. Mitchell, Bob (2003). Jubilee Line Extension: From Concept to Completion. Thomas Telford. p. 250.
  8. Coats and Walter. For the TfL spokesperson, see: "Pit falls halve tube deaths ". BBC News. 8 October 1999. Accessed 8 August 2011.
  9. Wertheimer, Alison (2001). A Special Scar: The Experiences of People Bereaved by Suicide. Brunner-Routledge. p. 20.
  10. Harrell, Eben. "Suicide on the Tube". Time. 29 July 2008. Accessed 7 August 2011.
  11. Farmer, et al. (1991) For the TfL spokesman, see: Oxford, Esther. "Suicide attempts on the Tube fall". The Independent. 20 June 1994. Accessed 7 August 2011.
  12. Tom Harper (9 November 2011), "Tube suicides increase by 74 per cent as recession worries hit home", Evening Standard, archived from the original on 11 November 2011
  13. "Suicide statistics (Freedom of Information request to Transport for London)". WhatDoTheyKnow. October–November 2011.
  14. Michelle Stevens (18 January 2010). "Mock tube station gives London Underground staff real-life training". CIPD. Retrieved 1 March 2014.
  15. "Earls Court demolition plan approved by Mayor of London". BBC News. 3 July 2013. Retrieved 4 July 2013.
  16. Hill, Dave (26 November 2012). "Earls Court: Kensington and Chelsea's go ahead can't hide the contradictions | Politics". Retrieved 2014-01-15.
  17. "Union angry at Tube suicide film". BBC News. 26 March 2008. Accessed 8 August 2011.
  18. "Protest to greet Tube film launch". BBC News. 17 April 2008. Accessed 8 August 2011.


Further reading

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