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Author Topic: Person hit by train - what it really means to people  (Read 16413 times)
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« on: March 30, 2010, 09:50:30 pm »

All too often, we see a status line or hear an announcement with the words, "This is due to a person hit by a train".  Every such case is a tragedy, and every such case is one case too many.  In almost all cases, the person who's hit dies, and in many cases, it's a suicide - in other words, a decision by that person to end their life.

First and foremost, every one of these deaths or serious injuries is one too many.  If you or a friend or relative or colleague needs help - thinks the future looks too bleak to continue - please contact the Samaritans.  Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year.  If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at .

They say "prevention is better than cure" ... so I have started with a request for people to seek help - to prevent suicides on the railway.  But saying "prevention is better than cure" is wrong in this case.  There is no cure; when you're dead, you are dead.  And once you are horrifically injured, you'll never be the same again.  But there will be people affected by the death or injuries - some for the rest of their lives too.

I don't know / can't imagine what it's like in the aftermath of a death on the railway.  Sadly, there are others who can.  We have a handful of members here who have been involved in one way or another.  Some - with a recent loss - have joined, written and read for reassurance, to help correct mis-information, and to ask questions.  Others have provided that reassurance, and I like to think this also helps them to move further on - though they will never forget.  Newcomers are welcome to post in the place that relates to their situation - for these deaths and injuries usually make the news here, and to talk via private messages or via email (even guests can easily find our contact details) and we can talk and help put you in touch.  And please let me add a few general words here too, which may go a little way to helping explain what happens.

First reports just say "person under train" or "person hit by train".  They're very impersonal - but, alas, they have to be.  There's no name, for that's not known ... it needs to be established (not always trivial) and relatives informed.  There's no reason for the death - statistically, it's likely to be a conscious decision by the person hit but there are numerous other possibilities such as an accident or a victim of crime.  And until an indication is given ("no suspicious circumstances"), little can be said.  And that in itself is tough, tough, tough for family and friends who will probably have a pretty good idea.  They will be in shock, and at the same time may find they're subject to searching police questioning, to anonymous reports in the media (for no name has been given), perhaps to eye witness reports, and perhaps to social media speculation and comment.

A recent post here said "he had a name ..." and that brings the personal tragedy home.  Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.  Colleagues, fellow students, the postman and the bloke who always said "hello" when he walked up the road.  They will all feel the loss - devastated in most cases.  Some will want to grieve in private, others may want to celebrate the life lost.  It's a very personal tragedy, and long lasting for those left behind.

Train crew - drivers, and anyone with them in the cab of the train - are also deeply affected.  They may live and relive the moments before and after the hit; they will remember little things in slow motion.  And they're unlikely to drive again for a while, or a considerable period, or perhaps ever.

The scene itself may be macabre - and that will affect passers by / untrained to deal with such a situation.  So there's inevitable effort put into reducing the number of people that see things, and reducing what people see too.  This thread isn't the place for graphic descriptions or lurid photographs, but I have seen a few and I know of many more.  A BBC» (British Broadcasting Corporation - home page) reporter once told me that a great deal of footage - around the world - is too shocking to show, and that's just as much the case in Slough as in Serbia.

The scene cannot be left just as it is; it needs to be returned to its regular state once any investigations and evidence have been gathered.  And the safety of those doing this work is paramount too.  The unusual circumstances of a tragedy mean that extra measures need to be taken beyond the norm - closure of other tracks in the area while people work, protective clothing, counselling even for the trained professionals.  And parts of the "scene" move as well - the train will need to be withdrawn from service, (a replacement driver taking it to depot) and deep cleaned with those same caveats and precautions.  Line closure is typically around 2 hours, but longer if there is any hint of suspicious circumstances or some sort of systemic fault causing an accident.

So far, I've talked about tens / dozens / perhaps a hundred people.  But a busy railway line closed for several hours can affect tens of thousands.  A person under a train between London and Reading (one of the most common stretches for this to happen) results in a freeze of services.  Some will be stuck in trains already departed from Reading or Paddington, others (perhaps the lucky ones) won't even have set out and will either have to wait for a number of hours, or find an alternative route.  Even when the line has re-opened, there will be a backlog to clear, services cancelled and running late and a "person hit by train" in the London area in the morning may cause disruption and a change of plans all the way across the country and all the time into the evening.  The tens of thousands of travellers affected are remote from the scene and affected from within hours of the incident, so inevitably will see it at the "impersonal" stage; those who are regular travellers will have been through the same scenario before, and may come across as impersonal in their comments.  I suspect the majority of them - us - are not uncaring; rather, we've just not got the data to know what to care about.  We accept, with some stoicism, the delays (which is all we have to talk about, as we know nothing else) and can all too easily write something that comes across wrong when it's seen by the people at the heart of the tragedy - for that's what every "person hit by train" is.

Seek help if you need it.  Contact those who know how to support you and are equipped to do so.  Here they are:

The Samaritans:  They say "If something's troubling you, then get in touch.  We're here 24 hours a day, 365 days a year." at - 08457 909090 ("A phone call is the fastest way of getting in touch with us.")  There's a fact sheet / further information at

Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK (United Kingdom). Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults.

Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information.

Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts.

Bullying UK is a website for children and adults affected by bullying.

Support for those bereaved:

Cruse Bereavement Care - Cruse is here to support you after the death of someone close. Find out how get help for yourself or for a child by reading our articles, or contacting us for telephone, email, or face-to-face services.

The Compassionate Friends - offers many different kinds of support for bereaved families. Whatever the cause of your loss, wherever you are in the UK, and whatever your circumstances – we are here to help.

The Rosie Crane Trust - offers support for bereaved parents.


National Rail Chaplaincy Service
They say "The National Rail Chaplaincy Service is available to all rail staff members (including those who are retired), their families and the travelling public. Our Chaplains offer help and a listening ear to anyone who needs it and their contact details are available on this site. When life turns up the heat, no matter what your faith (or none) or lifestyle we are here for you." [Now the Railway Mission - updated 9.3.2018]
at - Contact details - Chaplains by area

Technical note - this thread is locked as an announcement. That's to ensure it stays as a standalone introduction to these circumstances - quick for newcomers to find the basics.  Individual members (including new joiners) are welcome to post on this subject on any of the boards / threads that are open, just as they are on any other topic.  But please note that we don't have the resources to provide immediate 24 x 7 help here, nor (with perhaps one exception we know about) the experience and training.  Call the Samaritans if you need.  Should you feel this thread can be improved, please let us know.

Edited to update text and include additional links - grahame and Chris from Nailsea, March 2018

« Last Edit: March 12, 2018, 01:33:34 pm by Chris from Nailsea » Logged

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Chris from Nailsea
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« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2015, 10:44:38 pm »

I'd like to update this topic now, if I may, with a related item from the BBC» (British Broadcasting Corporation - home page):

What is it like to break the worst possible news?

This year the lives of thousands of families across England will be shattered. They will learn a loved one has died. But what is it like to be the bearer of the worst possible news?

"I've been hit, I've been punched," says PC Sam Sparkes. "I've had people fall to the floor and I've had people simply scream at me. Sometimes they say 'sorry' afterwards - they have nothing to apologise for."

PC Sparkes is one of the scores of specialist officers across the country who tell people their loved ones are dead. It's a process that goes like this.

"The first thing is to make sure I've got the right house. Then I make sure the person opening the door is the right person. I'll ask if there is anybody else in the house. Even at this stage, 98% of them already know why I am there. I try to steer them into the living room because it is the most comfortable part of the house. Then you tell them.

"Of course I empathise, but I do not put my feelings on to the family - it would be unfair and unhelpful to them. And if I joined the grieving process, I would carry that home with me and I cannot do that."

While speaking to the BBC, PC Sparkes is called over the radio to a fatal accident in Dunstable. She double checks she has her police hat and tells control she is on her way.

Asked what is going through her mind she says: "I have to deal with it professionally. I always work on the basis that I have got nothing to do with the collision. I have not caused it and I could not have prevented it. But I know that when it comes to telling people what has happened I am going to change their lives forever.

"My job is to make sure they are always aware of what is happening and what information is in the files," she says. "I ensure there will be no surprises for them."

Sometimes this is easier said than done.

One of the more unusual cases involved a bigamist killed in a car crash between the homes of his two wives. Before he was killed he had resumed a relationship with his first wife, whom he had never divorced. His second wife was unaware of the first wife, or their new relationship. When he was killed she thought he was returning from work. The truth of his bigamy and "affair", says PC Sparkes, was "never divulged" on the grounds it would have caused massive and unnecessary additional misery.

One of the hardest cases PC Sparkes has ever been involved with concerned three teenagers who died in a road traffic accident. The driver passed his test on a Thursday evening, picked up his car at 09:00 the next morning, went to pick up his two friends. By 13:45, all three of them were dead.

Her first bereavement call involved a 10-year-old child. "If I could break the news to a family losing a child then, being a mum myself, I knew I could deal with anything."

PC Sparkes, who trained as a dancer, says she became a traffic officer and later a family liaison officer following the death of her cousin Vanessa on the A14 in 1994. "That's why I do what I do," she says. "I just know that I want to treat people as I would like to be treated. I am completely passionate about this job. If I can make the most horrendous journey any easier for the families affected then I will."

Tina Hughes's 14-year-old daughter Olivia Bazlinton was killed, along with her friend Charlotte Thompson, on a level crossing at Elsenham in 2005.

Ms Hughes was told of the accident by her elder daughter and went straight to the village railway station. It was there - in a tent set up by the police - that a police officer broke the news her daughter was dead.

Moments later, she learned Olivia was not only carrying her own identification but that of her older sister too - so that she could purchase cigarettes. "We started laughing," said Ms Hughes, who said the discovery of the swiped ID card was an encapsulation of her daughter's cheekiness.

The reality of Olivia's death took about six weeks to hit, says Ms Hughes. "I just did not know how I would cope if I went into that black hole of grief so I just coped as well as I could."

The support from the British Transport Police family liaison officer was invaluable, said Ms Hughes.

But what happens when it goes wrong?

"How people are informed can have a lasting effect," says Ann Oakes-Odger, whose son Westley was fatally stabbed in the neck outside a cash machine in Colchester in 2005.

Ms Oakes-Odger received a hysterical phone call from a friend of Westley's saying her son had been seriously injured. She called the hospital where she heard staff in the background saying "oh, yes, he's dead". The police had not had the time to formally notify Ms Oakes-Odger. "It was the worst possible way to hear and it has had a terrible impact on our family."

I offer this informative article in support of the original post by grahame here, and hope that our readers will understand more of what happens behind the scenes and in the time after any such very sad incidents.

William Huskisson MP (Member of Parliament) was the first person to be killed by a train while crossing the tracks, in 1830.  Many more have died in the same way since then.  Don't take a chance: stop, look, listen.

"Level crossings are safe, unless they are used in an unsafe manner."  Discuss.
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« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2018, 02:30:53 pm »

Many thanks for updating the original post with current links, Chris ... and I have made it sticky.  With this extra post, it should move to the very top of news and assistance.

May I add - from a newspaper quote - a reminder to members that our forum is visited by a very wide range of people, and that will include those involved in all sorts of ways in "person hit by train".

“This is a devastating time for our family and we ask that our privacy is respected and that people are sensitive as to what is being posted on social media.

This thread is locked.  Please feel free to follow up using our usual posting conventions elsewhere;  it's locked to keep the thread short, clean and easily read by those who are anxious to be able to find the data it contains.

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