“Awareness may be the appropriate thing these days, rather than covering it up,” a train driver has said, describing the ongoing trauma for those who experienced Wednesday’s train fatality in Ballarat; the third in as many months.
Ralph (not his real name) has experienced a fatality on the tracks and said trainee drivers are told during orientation they will almost certainly experience a fatality in their train driving career.
“People cope with the (train) delay, but once the passengers are informed it’s a fatality, people become distressed. Then there’s the recurring memories for train drivers who have been through it all before.”
“The moment I was told today, it just reminded me of my own experience,” he said.
Victoria Police have confirmed a man was killed after he was hit by the Ballarat-bound V/Line train shortly after 1pm near the Stawell Street pedestrian overpass in Ballarat East.
The spokesperson said the death was not being treated as suspicious and a report was being prepared for the coroner.
The man has not yet been formally identified but is believed to be aged in his late 30s.
A resident in a nearby house said they heard the train whistle blowing long before it reached the pedestrian overpass and continued as the train came to a stop.
“That’s a panic reaction ... the driver hangs on the whistle, hoping like anything something will dramatically change at the last second because we know we can’t stop,” Ralph said.
“It takes hundreds of metres to stop the best braking train in the country and it takes a kilometre and half to stop a freight train travelling at full speed,” he said.
The train was enroute from Melbourne, carrying dozens of passengers who waited and watched for an hour before being helped off the train and transferred to buses. Passenger Payscha, from Bendigo, said she is not a regular commuter. She had been on her phone and “oblivious” at first, thinking the train had just stopped to let another pass as it sometimes does at Bacchus Marsh.
She said rail staff first said they wouldn’t be stopped for “too long”, but then came through the carriage saying the train “had hit someone”.
Payscha said she saw police cars and paramedics arrive and hoped the person might still be alive. One passenger said his “heart sank” for the train driver.
“It’s not fair. The drivers do such a good job, they shouldn’t have to put up with something like this … It’s incredibly sad.” Another passenger, a qualified doctor, became distraught at not being allowed to get off and help.
Payscha said she noticed water on the tracks where the train had been washed and the front of the train was covered with a tarpaulin.
“Getting off the train was like a funeral. It was so silent. Nobody spoke unless it was to answer if we were okay to carry our bags, or something. There was a lot of respect,” she said.
Ralph said his family support was a huge factor in helping him deal with his own trauma. “Train drivers are a close-knit community and other drivers will reach out and help and share stories.”
He said unlike other jobs, train drivers can't avoid that part of the rail line. “We can’t not turn that corner or take a different route. The first times over that line are horrendous and even many years later, if you go over again at the same time of day, it resurrects the feelings again in a heartbeat.”
Road Trauma Support Services Victoria through TAC offers counselling services to people impacted by transport trauma, including public transport and customers. Contact RTSSV on 1300 367 797, a V/Line spokesperson said.
For those in need of professional help, contact Lifeline on 131114 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.