At 05:25 on 9th September 2013 a person was hit by a train near East Croydon station. They were hit by the London Victoria to Brighton service. The police, ambulance service and Network Rail attended the incident, and as the media like to put it, there was ‘chaos’ on the railway.
Throughout today I have seen people pour scorn on Southern Rail on twitter, and also heard people complaining at various stations. There seems to be not only a complete lack of understanding, but also a huge lack of compassion.
Let me make this as simple as possible for those who think that abusing members of Southern Rail staff through twitter is acceptable. This morning, someone died. Someone believed that their Monday was so bad it was no longer worth living for. They believed that they were such a worthless human being, that they were so hated and unloved that they would end their life. They saw no way out of their situation and problems, that they believed their only relief would come from a public act of suicide. This is the key element of the entire situation.
The key element is not that some people were late for work.
I’m no railway engineer. I do not work for Southern or Network Rail, I just happen to be a fairly well educated person who is also not ignorant of their surroundings. I do have some idea of how the infrastructure of the railway works and how it is far harder than a majority of regular commuters would believe, to actually keep a network running. This post might use a few comparisons, unfortunately I think the only way to get through to some people is to bring it down to the lowest of the low common denominators.
So, 12 hours after the event your service was still delayed, and this has made some people really angry, especially on Twitter.
I will make an attempt to explain two reasons why this happened. And the link referred to above is available here: http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/static/documents/maps/East_Croydon.pdf
Rolling stock displacement.
This is exactly as it sounds. The rolling stock is elsewhere. That’s not a hard concept to take on board. The incident of someone being hit by a train happened early in the morning before much rolling stock was on the move. Where I get my services from is a perfect example of this. I live on a branch line, and in order for there to be up services to London, down services have to have taken place. By the time I came to wanting a train service at 06:30 this morning, no services had made their way to the end of the line except for the last couple from the night before. Once they had made their slow way up the line, there was nothing left. This doesn’t just happen on branch lines, this can happen on mainlines too where the depot is behind the point of the incident, therefore rolling stock cannot move.
What do people expect Southern Rail to do in that circumstance? Do commuters really think that a Train Operating Company (TOC) can just magic some trains out of nowhere? Where do you people think they get the trains from, and how do you think they get there? Those trains don’t do magical dances or use teleporters when you’re not on them, they have to go on the same lines and on the same routes as they would if they were carrying you as a paying customer. This is a particular issue on branch lines. These lines have an end, and nothing can get up to that end from, say, further south because there are no rails to enable this, therefore services can’t run. The early hours of the morning is when most TOCs do a lot of rolling stock movement. Not all starting stations have the facilities to leave X amount of trains there overnight, so they get taken back to their local depot and are then moved in time for the early services.
Imagine that you live at Tattenham Corner. There are three platforms there. Two for services up down, and the third is not in use, but you can still store a train there. That’s three for the morning. All well and good, until you realise that there is an up service every 15-20 minutes. You can’t even run an hour’s worth of trains because you have run out. Imagine you have four meetings to attend in one day in various places. You manage to get to the first two of them, then an accident occurs in front of you on the M25. There is nothing you can do. You are stuck wherever you are. Trains cannot pass through an incident such as a person being hit by a train, much like the police won’t let you pass a serious accident on the M25 for safety reasons. This graphic explains it using simple diagrams. All signals in a particular nearby radius are moved to red for safety. The site needs to be attended to by the police, ambulance service and Network Rail. They have a very short amount of time to determine if it’s foul play, accident or suicide. But that’s all still more important than you being late for work.
Something that I notice a lot of commuters don’t seem to understand is that staff on the railways use…shockingly…the railway to get to where they need to be. A driver might get to Purley, attach his train to another service. You don’t need two drivers to move that train, you only need one. The driver that did the attachment is actually now needed in Chichester. He’ll get on the next Chichester service as a passenger and upon arriving at Chichester he will start his next service. Once he’s taken a service from Chichester to London Victoria, he might do a final service from London Victoria to Caterham because he lives in Caterham.
If the staff are using the railways to get around, but the entire railway has been shut down, how do people expect them to run services, when the driver needed to move the service from Chichester is still waiting at a red signal outside Purley? Do people expect them to not only magic extra trains out of nowhere, but also extra staff?
A Twitter user expected Southern to have an entire company’s worth of extra drivers on standby. I’m not entirely sure how they expect this to happen, as it takes years worth of training to become a train driver, which many people do not complete. You cannot expect people to be on call either because they would suffer the same fate as the driver needed in Chichester who is waiting at the red signal outside of Purley. It is not logistically possible, and even if it was financially possible, it would be pointless.
This is a perfect example of someone choosing not to understand. I fear that even if someone sat down with them and explained the difficulty of running such a complicated infrastructure it would fall entirely on deaf ears because they don’t actually care.
This brings me on to my last point. It appears that we, as a human race, have become so selfish, so self-absorbed that being 20 minutes late for work is more important than the death of a fellow human being.
I had a very long walk today to get a train, and I was 20 or so minutes late for work (minimised by the fact that I made a huge effort to get to a station where I knew things would eventually start moving – sometimes you have to do that even if it means walking for miles, and I mean miles.), but that doesn’t mean anything in comparison to the fact that someone died.
I actually feel sick to the stomach that some people feel the, likely preventable, death of another human being is a reason to abuse people online and accuse them of lying. That energy shouldn’t be put into abusing members of Southern’s staff. That energy should be put into helping other people who feel so very desperate that their life had hit such a hard rock bottom that they felt it was their only way out. Today, someone received a visit from the Police that they weren’t expecting, in order to tell them that their father/son/brother/uncle/partner/husband wasn’t coming home tonight, or ever again. The people doing the complaining can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to expect a day to be perfectly normal, or start off normal and then have your entire world shattered and fall to the ground, completely out of your control. If they did have any idea, they wouldn’t behave the way they do.
Southern Railway are not using someone’s death as ‘an excuse’ to cover up a problem with a service. It is a genuine reason, which, happening so early on in a day will have very long term ramifications whether commuters like it or not.
That is more important than your pathetic little Twitter tirade. One day the people on Twitter who do this pathetic abuse might need serious crisis help, and for their family’s sake I hope it’s available to them, like it wasn’t available to all of the people they make their petty complaints about.