On the way home

My colleagues and I settled into our VIA trip yesterday. The snack cart went by, then the conductor came by to collect our tickets, perhaps 30 minutes out of Windsor. Just as the conductor was returning our ticket stubs his radio squawked: “Uh, we just hit something, over”. “OK” responds the conductor tersely, disappears. The train stops. Hm, I think, maybe I misheard that. I am constructing hopeful mental scenarios involving fallen branches on the tracks or maybe a stray dog.

We’re sitting in some fairly picturesque bit of landscape — Lake St. Clair on our left, some pretty cottages on the shore, some nicely-kept bungalows on the right, sun on fresh snow.

We sit there for a while, then there’s an announcement that there’s “been a serious incident with a pedestrian”. We could be delayed up to three hours. I’m not paying much attention up to that point; too busy fighting with the very spotty onboard wireless Internet to do a bit of work which nobody who was actually in the office that day was available to do. But “pedestrian” definitely catches my attention.

People in reflective vests check the outside of the train on both sides, front to back.

The Windsor Star shows up.

We sit there and sit there. The conductor wanders back in and the women sitting across from us ask if the “pedestrian” is OK. Don’t know, he says. Still alive? Don’t know.

Our student nurse wonders if she should’ve offered her help, and wonders how she would respond in a real emergency situation. We chat about that for a while: I say that I’m sure she’d be just fine, that in my experience you step up and do what’s necessary at the time, then once it’s over and you have time to sit down and actually process it a bit, the shakes and the panic start. I mention that after one spinal rescue I helped with at camp that all of our hands were shaking too badly to open a packet of coffee grounds (why we felt stimulants would help I have no idea, but we did) and we had to go find someone else to make the coffee for us. I also recall — but do not mention — being pulled out of lunch once to look for someone’s big toe after he did something foolish with a lawnmower, eventually concluding it had been more destroyed than severed, helping one fierce Scottish camp nurse talk the other rather wimpier camp nurse into giving him a decent whack of painkillers (“I’ll just give him a bit.” “No! It’s an hour to the hospital! Give him as much as you’d want for yourself!”), packing him and his mangled shoe full of blood (and, we hope, what’s left of his toe, but we’re SO not looking) into a car to the hospital, and then the deep strangeness of heading back to lunch. I don’t recall whether I ate anything else. I bet not.

It feels discordant to be sitting there looking out at the sun shining on the pretty lake.

Eventually it’s announced that in order to move again we need two new engineers and “clearance from the Coroner’s office”. Well, that answers that question, then. How are the engineers doing, we ask. Shaken up, says the conductor.

VIA announces that snacks are free for the rest of the trip and we all get a travel credit worth half the value of our tickets for the inconvenience of the delay, even though it’s not the slightest bit their fault. We compare this to Air Canada’s typical screw-you response to delays. More discordance as we munch free chocolate bars and debate whether we should risk the stinky train bathroom or whether our bladders might hold out until Union Station. No luck there. We risk the loo. The onboard Internet connection gets less spotty for a while and I finally get the unavoidable bit of work done.

More people in uniforms walk up and down the sides of the train.

After two hours the Coroner concludes there was no evidence it was an accident. Someone deliberately stepped in front of the train, it seems. Of course since it was deemed a suicide there is no news coverage.

I wonder if people who decide to step in front of trains recognize that there are real people driving them who’ll feel responsible for their deaths, or whether they just focus on the train itself as a source of oblivion?

1 thought on “On the way home

  1. Oh my god, those poor engineers… how horrific.

    And my guess is that, no, people who step in front of trains are not in a mental space to think about the other people they might be affecting.

    Oh dear. The whole thing sucks, all round. Hope you’re doing ok.

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