Monday, 1 April 2013

Life Ending Arguments

The BBC website today carries a story on its homepage about a young man killed by a train after an "altercation", which the British Transport Police are treating as suspicious. This case looks decidedly fishy and like the young man who died was being hassled, mugged or attacked. The sad and, for me, unfathomable truth though is that many people end up on our tracks and those of Network Rail not because they are being hassled, or because they are mentally ill or pushed or tripped, but because they have just had an argument with their other half. The incident last week at Highbury and Islington on the Victoria line, which some of you may have been caught up in, was just such an event. The woman who ended up under the train had jumped on to the track because she had been having an argument with her boyfriend, who looked on in horror from the platform. Miraculously, she was entirely unscathed, but others have not been so lucky. At Wimbledon last year, this time on the mainline, a man and woman were having a blazing row when she dropped her mobile phone. She followed it on to the tracks after ignoring, in her rage with him, her boyfriend's pleas not to do so, and was hit by a fast train on its way to London. There are several more instances of this I could tell you about, each as sad and frankly incomprehensible to me as those discussed here. All the cases I know of involve women being the ones to get on to the track, and in none of cases were they sectioned afterwards. Is this really something that a perfectly sane person is capable of doing in the heat of an argument? I am certainly no stranger to fierce rows, but would like to think - wouldn't we all? - that it would never come to this.


Unheard Melodies said...

Human misery apparently has no limit. And in big cities, there are large numbers of people who are mentally or emotionally disturbed to an extent that they are capable of behaving irrationally or desperately. It can't be easy for those who manage and operate the trains and tubes to be witness to it.

3.1 said...

Around the time the recession was formally announced, a chap decided to jump in front of a Central line train one Boxing Day. A week later, we had another one under, in the same spot. I can't remember how many years it was ago now – it seems like ages – but there was one day, in the months that followed, where we had something like 5 lines down, all because of one unders that were either in progress or that we were attempting to recover services from. The station's service update announcements were pretty sobering.

I assisted with one on the Central line one summer's day whilst I happened to be on meal relief at the train crew accommodation at that station. There was a call for any staff available on-site to come and assist; some of the train crew came to assist also. We had a particular problem at the station with the fact that people would run up the stairs onto the platforms (there were two sets of stairs, which would bring you out sort of a third of the way towards the front and the same distance towards the rear) and just run out and take the chance, regardless of if there was a train there or not, but they usually timed it just right. The approach to the station meant the incline and curve just before the platform made sighting of any jumpers particularly difficult, not to mention the speed of the approach. On that particular day, this chap managed to time it just right, but had also made quite a distance that he had stowed in the window on the I/Op's side of the train, fallen in momentarily, and then fallen out and underneath the train with the force of the emergency brakes. Apart from the smell (which probably bothered me more than the actual end result), what bothered me the most was when the body was being removed from the station – we couldn't close the station, but we'd developed a general practice of working there, whereby passenger flow could be stopped or redirected at certain points as we had at least 3 platforms where passengers could cross over to another subway / platform if access via the normal way was out of bounds. This way we wouldn't disrupt services for the other TOC operating at the station. Anyway, some passenger flow had to be stopped at two particular points as the body was being carried to an emergency exit, all in the height of the evening peak. People were generally compliant, and there was also this eerie silence at a station that would usually see thousands pass in a matter of an hour or so across that particular concourse. There was this chap up on a mezzanine level at the time though that thought to film all on his phone. Then the doors to the ambulance shut and within seconds, everything was back to normal as if nothing had happened. It was the most bizarre thing ever – a body bag had just made its way across in the line of sight of a whole train's worth of passengers, yet everything was now back to normal. That will stay with me for the rest of my life.

3.1 said...

Around the time I left stations, a woman decided to attempt to take her own life on the Central line at one of the stations I used to work at, but with her 4-year-old son. She wasn't successful on her first attempt, but was hit by another train shortly afterwards as she got another chance being on an island platform. Thankfully, both survived, though I often wonder what that boy must be doing (who must be 6 or so now). But there is no doubt in my mind that his mother was sane at that time.

Having had my own experiences of being pushed pillar to post with the ever under-funded and forgotten NHS Mental Health Trust resulting in having to go private, I worry that in these times, given the recent talks about the NHS, that there are going to be lots of people who need help, who wont get it and will seek desperate measures. I also think that some of the media, whilst it highlights the obvious risk of why people shouldn't commit acts of trespass for whatever the reason, in cases where it is an act of somebody taking their own life, it makes it seem glamorous to those who are seeking options on doing the same (the disruption that ensues afterwards being a massive show of the middle finger to the world, &c.)

I don't think it's just rowing couples we need to worry about. With the increase of disruption caused by people under the influence on our railways, there needs to be someway of mitigating risks there – we can't manage those with mental health issues, but we can do something about drunk and disorderly behaviour to a point. One of my near misses on the Piccadilly line was down to a drunken fool wanting to play chicken. In the case of the Victoria line, I have heard about discussions for PEDs, like on the Jubilee line Extension, as part of our Deep Tube Programme. That will certainly mitigate many of the potential one unders.

Sadly, it's just one of the occupational hazards of our jobs. And I think on the railways it always will be unless they PEDs on every platform and walls along every stretch of open track.