Fear and loathing on the Pakenham line
In the wake of yet another tragic level crossing accident in Melbourne, a Melbourne train driver gives his perspective on the often frightening view from the driver’s seat…
Express running is the worst, or running empty cars back to a depot because you are not scheduled to stop but the punters are attuned to the stopping of trains at platforms.
They assume you’re going to stop and if they quickly duck under the safety barrier they can still catch your train!
A couple of my fellow drivers have hit small children at level crossings. Imagine pulling the train to a stand still, getting out of the cab and being confronted with the grieving parent. One train driver even had the mother screaming at him and physically hitting him.
Often the person is not killed, in which case there is the very injured person to be dealt with. All the while you are responsible for the “scene” until the police arrive. The train controller needs to be informed of as many details as possible - i.e. your location, whether there is a fatality, whether an ambulance is required etc.
The police arrive, and the train assessors, and the first thing that happens is you are breath tested and assessed as to whether or not a drug test is to be recommended. Then you must consult the trauma clinic within 24 hours. This is necessary to start the ball rolling on a week to two weeks relief of duties. A second consultation is usually recommended after a few days to make sure you are ‘following the normal curve’ which is:
Days 1 to 3: letting the adrenaline subside and take stock of what has occurred. Your fellow drivers will usually contact you and even come around with some drinks and tale swapping.
Days 3 to 7: the dip into depression or blues.
Days 7 to 14: a noticeable swing out of the depression and a returning to some semblance of your “normal” self, then back to work. The main concern is if you don’t follow this pattern. Like the driver who is ready for work the next day, or not ready for weeks and months, both of which has occurred.
So far I have not had a fatality - touch wood. I have had some near misses, or close calls.
I was approaching Huntingdale Station at about 8.30pm coming back into the city from Pakenham. The speed limit at the section of the line is 80 km/h, then as you approach you slowly reduce the speed of your 250+ tonne train down to about 50km/h as you hit the platform, which brings you nicely to a standstill with the whole six car train at the platform.
Anyway, I set up to stop as usual, and as I hit the platform, a drunk passenger from a city train that had arrived earlier decides it would be quicker to jump into the pit and cross the tracks rather than use the passenger subway.
Unfortunately he trips on the tracks. Having seen what is about to unfold, I have already placed the brake into the emergency position (maximum braking). We lock eyes, and wait through those endless seconds as 280 tonnes screams its way to a stand still with him just dissappearing under the front coupler and out of my view.
He then rolls out, stands up and gives me the big middle finger with some verbal abuse and continues his illegal journey over the tracks and on his merry way.
I look up to the platform and there is this couple who have witnessed exactly what I have, both holding their heads in their hands, mouths wide open, unable to move. I ease the train fully onto the platform and scream. I mean a guttural scream into the night. I get out of my cab and share an incredulous laugh with the couple and bum a cigarette off them and smoke my first cigarette for a few years.
What are my options at this stage? Well, I am entitled to be relieved right there and then. This would entail me waiting there with the train until a standby driver could be sent out by taxi from Flinders St Station, which would take at least half an hour. If I drive the train to Flinders St, it would take about the same time.
Standing on a platform for half an hour with a train full of stranded Saturday night revellers opens you up to all sorts of ignorant abuse. So I finished the cigarette, make an anouncement apologising for the delay and head into the city.
I went half sick as soon as I got in, and now four years later, I still see the drunk guy’s eyes coming toward me closer and closer and closer whenever I relive the moment. Those eyes…
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