Metro’s Answer to Post Traumatic Stress Amongst Train Drivers



In 1987 the Victorian government finally decided to set up a Trauma counseling centre for train drivers effected by the never decreasing problem of train drivers having to deal with the aftermath of the selfish actions of people with mental issues using trains as their choice of weapon, for departing this life. Before this trauma centre was established a driver was left to deal with his demons alone. He would visit his local doctor who may or may not have understood what emotional turmoil a person goes through after being the instrument of someone’s death. Then, after a day or two off it was back to work. Nobody had labeled train trauma then. If the driver showed signs of not coping it was put down as weak character, a sissy. Not a real man.  It was get back on your horse and deal with it. Some people did, but many didn’t. Some of our exclusive club members took their own lives, some hit the bottle, some lost their marriages and some just left the job that they had loved and walked away. It would be some time later, after much study before the stress suffered would be labeled ‘Post Traumatic Stress’ Our then Divisional secretary of the Australian Federated Union Of Locomotive Engine men (AFULE) Mr Frank Hussey managed to get the government to fund trauma counseling for effected train drivers. It was a defining moment for train drivers. The clinic was originally at the Footscray hospital and later on it was at Richmond. One of the first drivers to attend the clinic remembers it clearly:

Unfortunately for me and two other drivers, we were the first attendees to go through the new process of trauma counseling after all being  involved in a pretty bad level crossing accident. One of those drivers never drove a train again, and I was off work for a full year. Even with the new counselling process I barely made it and it was only through the efforts of Michael O,Neil and his colleague David Sullivan at the Trauma Clinic that got me back on track, so to speak, so I suppose that I was luckier than some.

Mr Michael O,Neil was a qualified counsellor who earned the trust of those that needed his help. Over the years he earned my trust. I saw him many times over eight incidents that I was involved in. I spoke, he listened, I cried, he sympathised, he advised and he helped me and many other drivers.

He saw many of us. When I told him I was struggling over one of the accidents he explained the workings of the mind and told me frankly and honestly that no one ever really gets over these sort of events and you just have to cope as best that you can.

He told us about the flashbacks that we would get at the strangest of times. He was honest, he didn’t gloss over the event, and he reiterated that there was a good chance that the memories of that day would never be far from the surface of your mind.  Yes, sure, they get pushed down into the canyons of your mind, but they can burst back to the surface in an instant.  Maybe it was a news item, maybe it was someone speaking about an event in their lives. And he was right. Your ghosts are never very far away, but you have to learn to live with them.

MTM’s Trauma Management Committee

Just like everything else on the Railways, when MTM took over, the Trauma management protocol was changed.  Whether to make it cheaper, or because they were able to charge the Victorian Government is only known by them.  Either way, money must have been involved for them to change something that worked so well, into something that caused MORE trauma and stress for their employees. MTM put up glossy posters on the walls telling their employees all about the new super trauma management committee. They were even invited to a party. Well, not a party as such, but a management sponsored BBQ that they are going to throw for a full day, and they wanted their employees to attend. “Drivers are encouraged to come along to the EVENT, grab a bite to eat and meet the Trauma Management Steering Committee.”
A BBQ to meet the ‘Trauma Management Steering Committee’ A committee to talk about what?
The Employees don’t need to talk to a management sponsored EVENT about fatal accidents. If they are unfortunate enough to have an accident they don’t want to be talking to a committee whose sole interest will be to ensure that they come back to work quickly so that MTM can keep their workcover premiums down.
The management style of MTM abhors consultation.
They don’t bother asking the advice of their employees, they tell their employees what is good for them.  Even with Workcover laws that ensure Employers consult their designated Workgroup Health and Safety Reps.  MTM management have an attitude of superiority.  Despite a lack of experience in the Industry.
But the thing about all of this nonsense is that it is quite obvious that the person who framed the wording on their blue poster has absolutely no idea of what they are talking about. This would be the same management team who go out of their way to circumvent the EBA, who change any and all rules to suit their needs. The same management team who bully, harass, intimidate drivers at every opportunity. The same management team that demand that drivers see their company paid doctor, even though every person in Australia has the right to choose what doctor they want to consult with. This would be the same management team that has, and is harassing a female driver for seeing her own doctor in defiance of their less than legal directive to attend their company paid doctor and not one of the employees choosing. The same management team who give undertakings to Fair Work and then renege on them.

Towards the bottom of the big blue poster titled ‘Coping with trauma’ is written a section on ‘How to manage trauma’.  It mentions recurring thoughts, dreams and flashbacks are normal.  That part is ok, because it’s true.  It then goes on to say that these ‘decrease over time’.  Ask most train drivers that have been involved in fatalities and they would be able to give you chapter and verse on every minute detail of every accident that they have had.  The poster tells drivers to ‘get plenty of sleep but don’t drink alcohol, caffeine, smoke or eat sugar’.  Of course it then goes on to mention that one trouble of trauma is ‘trouble sleeping’.

Have they any idea of what actually goes on in a drivers mind after he has seen the look in a persons eyes just before they die? Have they any idea of what goes on in a drivers mind when he looks at all that remains of what was once a living human being? Have they got any idea of the sickening colours of a person’s brains sitting on a coupler?  Many drivers were upset about what they see as managements way of trying to make light of the issues that anyone of them, as train drivers can and do face at any given time during their working day. How do you get plenty of sleep when your mind is going around in circles over the event that you have experienced? The author of this document has no bloody idea. So what do the rest of the Trauma Management Steering Committee know about Trauma?

WARNING: What is written now is a graphic description of the events of a fatality.  It may disturb some readers.

It’s dark, and the train is going somewhere between 60 and 80 kph on a downhill gradient. A young man is standing in the middle of the track with his back facing the oncoming train.

You blast the whistle and at the same time you yell, get off the fucking track. But this young man doesn’t hear your cry. He has decided that this world is not the place for him.

It will no longer matter to him, but he will leave behind for someone else, tears, grief and questions.

You slam the brake handle forward so hard you think that you have broken your wrist. You are still frantically blowing the whistle, the brakes are squealing, but now it’s too late. You hear the thump and then the crunching of broken bones under the wheels.

You are willing the train to stop, and eventually it does.

What to do next? You are trying to remain calm, put everything into perspective. Don’t think about what has just happened. Call the train controller, it takes forever for him to answer.

Put up your red marker lights, just in case you have thrown the body onto the other track.

Stay calm, make a PA announcement to the passengers. What to say, how to put it?

Tell them not to try and force the doors open. Now what, your heart is racing, calm down, calm down.

Your mind is going crazy, should you check, he may be still alive. What if he is still alive and you don’t check? You don’t really want to check, remember the last time?

But if he’s not dead, how can I stay here in the cab without checking, this is someone’s son, it could be yours,

Damm it, you know that he’s dead, but your mind is playing games. What if he’s not, what if he’s awake and dying. You could maybe talk to him, maybe hold his hand, fuck, I don’t know.

Your standing in the darkness of your cab, the only lights from your gauges, and the headlights still pushing into the darkness. You decide to check, even though your mind is saying don’t.

You slide the cab door open and climb down the cab steps. The hand rail is sticky and so is the step, you are loosing your grip and you let go, and drop a meter to the ballast, you feel the Achilles tendon tear in your foot.

What made you slip and loose your grip, and then you shine your torch light onto the step.

Blood, it’s everywhere, the hand rails, the steps, your hands and your shoes.

Your heart is still racing, you wipe your bloody hands on your trousers. Your ankle hurts like hell and the torchlight seeps between the wheels and the piping, but you can’t see anything.

You keep walking back, and then you see something, your pulse quickens. The beam from your torch leads you to a bloody mess. You can’t comfort him, you want to look away, but you also want to look, you know that you shouldn’t, but you do, and the vision that confronts you, becomes part of you.

This is the world of a train driver, the circumstances are different, but the outcome is usually the same.

Train Drivers live in hope that one day, someday, they will have a management team that is really interested in running trains, rather than scamming the taxpayers.


One comment

  1. sc

    I don’t really know what to say, this is a great piece and i would like to applause you on how true you are.
    Coming from the daughter of a Metro employee who was involved in a fatality quite similar to the one depicted, the conflicting information sent home honestly made me consider how much they cared for the mental health of their employees when they go thorough such a traumatizing event.


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