When a 61-year-old Potomac, Md., man leapt from an upper level Metro station mezzanine to his death on Monday, he became at least the 15th person to use the transit system to commit suicide in less than a year and a half.

But the agency's plan to fight the tragic acceleration of self-inflicted deaths, which are now occurring five times as often as in the past, remains months late and far short of earlier promises.

The first tangible steps are not due until at least this fall, a full year after the agency pledged to fight the growing problem. And any steps that would be visible to the public remain unscheduled.

Need Help?     The American Association of Suicidology says the best intervention comes before a person heads to the subway platform. The group urges friends, family and co-workers to take seriously warning signs that include: »  Increased alcohol or drug use »  No reason for living or lack of sense of purpose »  Anxiety, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time »  Withdrawal from friends, family and society Anyone who needs help themselves or guidance on how to intervene should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's toll-free number, 800-273-TALK (8255).


Meanwhile, at least six more people have taken their lives in the transit system since the first plans were announced last September.

"We are committed to moving forward with this program," Metro spokeswoman Angela Gates said. She said the delay comes from the inability of the agency to fully fund the programs.

Since its opening in 1976, about two people a year have committed suicide on Metro. But that has changed rapidly over the past two years. Last September, after two teens killed themselves days apart following five other suicides in the year, the agency said it was partnering with a regional coalition of suicide prevention organizations led by CrisisLink.

Then in November, Metro said it had changed gears and was partnering with D.C.'s Department of Mental Health, the D.C.-based American Association of Suicidology and the Toronto subway system. Metro planned to start a public education campaign about suicides, as other transit agencies such as Boston's MBTA have done, and train all workers to spot and reach out to suicidal riders.

The program was slated to start in February 2010. But it has yet to begin.

Gates said the financially strapped transit agency had no funding identified for the program until it set aside $100,000 in the $2.2 billion budget that begins Thursday.

With that money, Gates said, Metro now plans to send an employee to Toronto to learn from suicide prevention steps taken in the transit system there. Starting in the fall, it will also teach about 30 employees to train their colleagues to intervene with potentially suicidal riders.

It's not clear, though, when all front-line workers would receive the subsequent training. Additional money would be needed, she said.

But Metro is currently paying an untold amount of money for every additional death. In addition to cleanup of the scene and counseling for train operators whose trains hit the jumpers, the deaths disrupt service and often force the agency to run free shuttle buses for riders to get around shuttered stations.

Gates said the transit agency is trying to find additional sources of funding for the suicide prevention program, but could not say how much money Metro would need to implement the broader suicide prevention plan that the American Association of Suicidology helped propose months ago. Metro plans to work on the campaign in the next two years, she said.

"It is important to note that the Toronto system's program, which Metro is modeling its program after, took five years to implement," Gates said.