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Such a waste

Warning: morose, rambling words follow; this is more an attempt at catharsis than anything I particularly care if anyone else reads -- Al

I suppose it's inevitable that, if you travel around enough on the rail network, you're going to come into close contact with a suicide attempt where someone has thrown themselves under a train at some point.

A couple of weeks ago I was on a train passing through a local station when I saw a man crouching less than a foot from the edge of the fast train platform, almost at the end of the platform. It was late at night and there was no reason for him to be there. Going on the way he was dressed, he didn't look like the train-spottery type. I didn't see a camera. It looked, in short, like he had no reason to be there. I remember thinking at the time that he looked out of place. I even tweeted, in some impotent attempt to alert the gods, that I hoped he would maybe get back from the edge of the platform, rather than get any closer to the passing trains. Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge, nothing came of it; I was just being paranoid. That was enough stress for me though, thanks very much...

Flying in the face of my GCSE statistics tutor's warning that just because something rare has occurred - a lightning strike, for example - it can just as easily reoccur, I thought that that would probably be as close as I'd come to seeing someone put themselves in the path of danger on the railway in my presence. Maybe, somewhere deep down, I even went so far as to hope that was the case. I know these things - suicides, accidental deaths, whatever - will happen; I just hoped, like anyone who doesn't slow down at the scene of road accidents and crane their heads round to try and see some gore, that that was it for me, and that I would be spared any more unpleasantness for the forseeable future.

Clearly, my powers to foresee the future are somewhat lacking...

Having just got onto my train to work this morning, about as late for work as I've ever been and therefore on a train I shouldn't have been on, as we pulled into the next station along the line, and with the train almost into the station and therefore moving no faster than a brisk walk, I realised that the brakes were on harder than usual, felt the wheels skid momentarily, and then we stopped abruptly. The doors didn't open, and the driver, whose compartment was just ahead of my seat in the front carriage, jumped out and started looking under the train.

Passengers on the platform almost as one turned their heads to look at something I couldn't see, a couple with hands to mouth. The look of a person who's seen something, but they don't know what; a person no longer standing where they were just a moment ago, as it happened.

Almost as if under water, or maybe in slow motion, everything slid sideways slightly. Standing up, I looked out of the window at the passengers on the platform, as one seemingly frozen in place, unable to decide what to do, looking for an authority figure to take charge. Railway workers working nearby in their fluorescent orange safety clothing suddenly realised what had happened; presumably it was one of them who went to cut the power to the third rail.

I remember commenting, seemingly inanely, to another passenger still engrossed in his book that I thought someone had gone under the train. It was so quiet; no sounds, certainly no screaming. It felt unreal. I questioned my sanity. Was I imagining something that simply wasn't there?

Those of us on the train were stuck; the doors were deactivated, and moments later as the power was switched off, only a handful of the train's lights remaining lit from the train's backup batteries. That's when it became clear that it was really happening. Something had gone very wrong.

The guard came up from the back of the train. He didn't seem to know what was happening either, just knew that something was up. I told him what I had gathered. He pushed on, letting himself into the guard's compartment, locking the door behind himself.

Unable to get out of the train, I called to a person standing on the platform whether they knew what had happened. Their reply confirmed my fears that someone was down there, had gone under.

Still there was no sound, even as people started to stand inside the carriage, getting out of their seats as they realised something wasn't right. A woman in her '60s asked me whether the train would be going soon; I told her that someone had fallen under the train. Maybe it didn't register with her; she responded that it was very important that she got to her meeting. It didn't even occur to me to be angry, or disappointed, or to make a judgement about her response. I just let it pass me; I had to do something, keep myself busy. Didn't want to think about what had happened, how powerless I felt to help.

That's the thing that always gets to me; the times when I've witnessed a road accident, or anything bad happening, where I can't help - I always feel the same absolute need to help, and I always feel completely powerless to do so.

Still, at least I've never run away. God knows it occurs to you to do so, but you're all in it together. Can't shirk the responsibility thrust upon you. Wouldn't be right, would it?

I ended up walking the length of the train, telling the passengers sitting in the gloom what I knew, which wasn't much, just to do something. Minutes later we were able to file off. I was last, checking the train was empty as I went; there were maybe thirty passengers walking up the platform to the station exit, a route which thankfully didn't allow a view of the body. A sideways glance showed me that paramedics were already present, presumably having come from the nearby hospital; one at the edge of the platform at the front of the train with a red-blanketed stretcher, the other standing on the tracks in front of the train.

Exiting the station, I just wanted to get past the people variously milling in the ticket hall demanding to know what the train company would do to ensure they got where they wanted to go, or simply in shock that this had happened in front of them, the back-and-forward exchanges of people simultaneously trying to work out what had just happened, and what to do next.

A lost-looking girl told me she needed to get to Wimbledon. Somehow we muddled our way to the nearby bus stop, making inane chat, both of us trying to avoid talking about the one thing we felt compelled to discuss. She's training to be an accountant and simultaneously studying philosophy, the latter a subject she thinks is a waste. I disagreed, as you do...

That person who decided that they couldn't go on was, to the best of my knowledge, a woman in her '50s. Just "a woman"; her name hasn't been publicly reported yet. It may never be. The saddest thing about this all, as far as I can see, is that, reading the news website article about the incident, a police spokesperson was quoted as saying that they were opening an investigation to identify the woman; did she set out that morning with no identification on her, knowing she was going to finish things in this way?

It doesn't bear thinking about. There's certainly nothing more I can do or say to help her, or her family, if she has one.

Maybe it would be better if it turned out now that she didn't have any family left behind to wonder where they went wrong, how they let her down.

That's the point about suicide, isn't it? It's designed to kill two people, not just the one...

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