It was a glorious, blue-sky morning just before Christmas. The calm, half-empty train pulled out of London’s Waterloo Station. I had just finished work for the year and the cosy joys of the festive season sparkled ahead. One of the things I was especially looking forward to was taking my two-year-old boy on his very first trip on a choo-choo train. He loves his toy trains and I couldn’t wait to see his face when he actually saw a real one!
I was nearly at my destination when the train suddenly stopped at a small station. I could see people on the platform looking disturbedly at something under the train. The stationmaster came and shepherded them off the platform. An announcement came over the tannoy: ”Ladies and gentlemen, the train will be delayed for at least an hour. A person was on the line and the train has struck the person.”
A chorus of groans greeted the news. People immediately grabbed their mobile phones and began rearranging meetings and appointments. An elderly man demanded to know how he was going to meet his ferry to France. A young man in a suit rescheduled his interview. Nobody thought to ask about the welfare of the person who’d been hit. So I asked the guard how the person was: ”It was fatal,” he said politely and succinctly, with a look that said: ”believe me”. I was shocked — as was a woman opposite — however most remained completely nonchalant. A moment later, I heard a man on the phone saying, ”well, at least there’s a handy cemetery” referring to the one adjacent to the station.
I think — and I hope I’m right — that if this had been an Irish train the overwhelming mood would be one of concern and sympathy for the dead person and their family. Yet suicides under commuter trains are part of daily life in London. Nonetheless, I was aghast at the apparent callousness: few cared about anything except the delay and the inconvenience. I said a few prayers for the person — dead or dying under the carriage behind me — for fear nobody else would. I prayed they were being gathered up carefully, and taken to a place where they would be happier than they were here.
The police and emergency services soon arrived and — with something of a swagger — hauled the body down the platform in a white bodybag, one so transparent that it left few gruesome details to the imagination. Then, the train moved on. These unpleasant feelings and images haunted me all day.
As you can imagine, there was now something of a pall over the train trip with my son the next day. Yet, I decided to go ahead: it was a short trip, on a different line, and to a different destination. His shrieks of joy upon seeing, for the very first time, a real life choo-choo train soon dispelled any lingering fog from the previous day’s tragic events. He sat, in rapt attention, on his own seat watching as the countryside flew past us: cows, horses and other trains. We soon arrived in Guildford, took a ride on the merry-go-round, bought some sweets, and to his renewed delight took the train back home, where a happy-faced boy told mammy about the inexpressible joys of train travel.