- Suicide prevention. (Photo: John Hendel)
As you recover from this morning's cracked-rail Metro delays, let's turn to another rail system — one that, interestingly enough, also suffered from a cracked rail on today's January 2012 morning due to the frigid weather.
In the last week, I journeyed north and found myself traveling on the Long Island Railroad, the 700-mile, 24-hour-a-day commuter rail that connects New York with Long Island, commonly known by its acronym of LIRR. Naturally the commuter service differs from WMATA and MARC in several ways but two significant differences stood out to me as I stepped onto the Carle Place station platform.
What first caused me to pause was the big suicide prevention poster. "Suicide is not the route," the prominent sign announces before you walk to the rail. It's splashed with a big image of tracks and advises people to call the 24/7 confidential hotline.
Like WMATA, the LIRR experiences a handful of suicides and suicide attempts every year as people jump onto the tracks. A high-profile suicide earlier this year on D.C.'s Metro inspired WMATA officials to promise its own set of suicide prevention posters throughout the system, expanding on $250,000 worth promised for suicide prevention training and efforts last year. The LIRR began the suicide prevention in mid-2009. LIRR suicides totaled 15 in 2010, according to one Newsday article. WMATA recorded fewer than 10 in this past year but each one creates enormous ripples throughout the system if it's during rush hour — and the effect on the train operator and transit crews can often, I imagine, be devastating. I considered the broader question of WMATA suicides and how various efforts may be able to curb such impulsive actions back in October. Will Metro's own posters resemble these ones in the LIRR?
The other truly strange thing I noticed in Long Island — 30 Rock actor (and Words with Friends fan) Alec Baldwin is the celebrity voice of the LIRR.
I burst out laughing when the electronic system first crackled to life and I heard, "Hi, I'm Alec Baldwin" and then his distinctive vocals asking me to mind the gap between the train and the platform. Baldwin is a Long Island native, so it's not all that shocking ... just a pleasant surprise. These announcements have apparently been running since about 2008 or so. You can hear a snippet of this audio here.The LIRR also has a station named "Baldwin," and given these announcements, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it's named for the man who brings Jack Donaghy to life (Update: Although I initially offered the last thought as a joke, I will here confirm that no, sadly, the Baldwin station is not named for the acting family).
There's a real virtue to featuring Baldwin, however, beyond the hilarity. People like and pay attention to celebrities. Too often Metro announcements blend together in a dull hum of monotony and no message gets through to the riders. Get a celebrity to introduce his or herself and you'll have more than a few ears perk up. At the Carle Place station, a fellow rider told me that she barely notices the Baldwin announcements now herself but several of her friends continue to get a kick out of the actor's voice.
What D.C. celebrity or personality might lend his or her voice to our capital city's Metro? Is there any voice or individual distinctive enough? Multiple people independently pointed to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's Metro announcement. And yeah, yeah, yeah ... that's something. But we need more glamor (not to diminish Napolitano, Transit Police Chief Taborn, or other WMATA announcers like "Is that your bag?" voice Alice Riley). Look to our city's natives and you might be surprised. Project Runway's Tim Gunn, for instance, hails from the District and could lend his powerful voice. Could Gunn — dare I say it — make WMATA work? Comedian Louis C.K is from D.C. Actor Samuel L. Jackson spent his childhood in Tennessee but was technically born here and would be terrific. Perhaps Katherine Heigl or Bill Nye. Actress Hayden Panettiere has advocated for D.C. federal representation and lent her name to the cause. Why shouldn't she also lend her voice to our struggling transit system?
The possibilities are endless. Who would have imagined Long Island had so much to teach us?