Passenger Action

I made it  to Brighton last night, safe and well and in good time. It seems the flooding was finally fixed early yesterday morning and my train was neither delayed nor re-routed. I even got here in time for dinner. Having a look at facebook while I was on the train I saw a friend of mine had posted a story from the Independent about suicides on the railways, which are sadly on the increase, and the cold and unsympathetic response they often receive from the travelling public.

A few years ago when I was external examiner, I was on a train from Nottingham to Cambridge going to an examiners meeting at the University of Cambridge. I had a window seat near the front of the carriage on the right hand side. Just outside Peterborough, the train was on a curved stretch of track so I could see the line in front of us. There was a level crossing with the barriers down and cars waiting either side. I could see quite clearly a female figure standing in the middle of the crossing but as the train got closer to her she vanished from view, obscured by the train. I heard the train’s warning signal and, seconds later, the driver shouted out “Oh No..”.

There was a horrible thump and the train lurched as it travelled over something that had gone underneath. The gruesome sound of a human body being sliced apart by metal wheels is something I’ll never forget. The train came to a halt, and the driver opened the door to his compartment. I could see that blood had sprayed over the front window. The poor driver looked like a ghost. He sat down, shocked. He said that when he sounded the alarm the lady had turned and walked along the track towards the train. She looked directly into his eyes as the train hit her.

Eventually, perhaps an hour later, transport police and an ambulance arrived at the scene and a replacement driver was brought to us; train drivers can never carry on after such an event.  Some even have to quit the job. A police chaplain came too. The police and ambulance people collected the remains, made measurements, interviewed various people who had seen what happened and declared it a suicide. We moved to the next station, March, and got off onto the platform, the front of the train quickly hidden from us by a large piece of white canvas.

There had been time for the transport policemen to talk to the passengers who were all, like me, rattled by the experience. They (the police) had been through this all before, they said. That particular level crossing was  a place people came to specifically for that reason. Nobody could say why there and not somewhere else. Apparently it’s the same on the London Underground. Some stations have many suicides of people jumping in front of trains, others virtually none. Who can say why.

Suicides are not as rare as you might think. In the United Kingdom each year about one person in ten thousand takes their own life; we’re actually quite a long way down the league table for suicide rates. Men are about three times as likely to do it as women. My cousin Gary did it a few years ago. There are several per week just at railway stations or on railway lines across the United Kingdom, adding up to over 200 per year.

When I was told these facts I was completely shocked. It has never crossed my mind to take my own life, especially not in a way that seems designed to cause other people suffering too. And I’m not talking about the inconvenience of being delayed. Meetings can always be rearranged, plans can be altered. I mean the anguish such events cause to people who care about their fellow human beings, even strangers. Nobody really understands another person’s pain, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we don’t then do we really have the right to call ourselves human?

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12 Responses to “Passenger Action”

  1. There is the question to what extent such rankings reflect reality. In some countries, what would be termed an obvious suicide elsewhere is recast as an accident for religious reasons (i.e. if the family believes suicide victims go to hell, then there is pressure to tell them something else).

  2. A humanist through and through, thanks for enlightening us about the shocking number of suicides. I will check if they are on the rise. Both my parents committed suicide, at different times.

  3. Just wondered if you got my last comment, or any of them?

  4. The rates in Japan and South Korea are 4 times that in the UK and, shockingly, the most likely way for a male between 20 and 45 to die in those countries.

    • Again, Japan and Korea don’t have the tradition that suicide is messing with God’s will, that suicide victims go to hell etc so perhaps while these numbers might be realistic the numbers for other countries are lower than they should be.

      • I was really very upset when I watched the film “The Falling Man” about a picture of an unidentified man jumping from the World Trade Center when it was on fire.

        None of the possible families of this man wanted to believe it was their husband/father in the picture because they were Catholic and didn’t want to think that he had jumped.

        The choices the people on the upper floors of the WTC had to take that day make me feel ill just thinking about. The idea that a religion teaches that one should stay to choke and burn in that situation because jumping is “sinful” demonstrates quite how stunningly inflexible religious thought can be sometimes.

      • IIRC, suicide was such a big sin that in some cases attempted suicide was punished by death.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        If you don’t believe an omnipotent God exists, don’t blame him for everything. If you do, don’t blame him for giving humans freedom to behave badly.

        What is and is not suicide is not clear in extreme situations like 9/11. Those who take the Bible seriously should know that no condemnation is given to attempted suicides in the laws of ancient Israel in the Old Testament. This silence about suicide outranks the condemnation of churchmen who theoretically accept the Old Testament. (Incidentally I too have had a relative who killed himself.)

        Nobody should be forced to accept Christianity, but those who do should understand for themselves what the God of the Bible says.

  5. … that was in the Mikado, wasn’t it?

    • I don’t know, and I am not a lawyer, but a quick internet search found this (cited in a court judgement):

      “By the English common law suicide was a felony, and the punishment for him who committed it was interment in the highway with a stake driven through the body, and the forfeiture of his lands, goods, and chattels to the king. “

      • Monica Grady Says:

        We only employ that punishment now for people convicted of inappropriate or incorrect apostrophe usage.

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