May 9th, 2012

Changing Tracks

Posted in The Job - Experience by 200

Anyone see the news today, apparently there is a new advertising campaign to stop people killing themselves on railway lines. It showed clips of people having near misses on the lines.

My first ever dead body was a railway line fatality. I was a very young probationer at the time. I was on patrol with the sergeant when the call came over the radio. A train driver had reported hitting something on the approach to the station in the town I worked.

We arrived at the rough location with a couple of other officers, it was probably 3/4 a mile outside the station. We split up into two groups, one went north, the other south. I went with the sergeant towards the railway station. It wasn’t long before we picked up what looked like a bundle of clothes in the torchlight.

As it turned out this was about the cleanest of any railway death I ever attended through the years. Most of them have occurred at the station where people have just jumped in front of the train as it whooshed past. They can be very messy.

This one was much cleaner; the guy had just laid down beside the line and put his head on the track. The train had taken the top of his skull clean off. There really wasn’t much mess. I was given the job of collecting up what brain, skull and hair matter we could find.

We took the body to the mortuary by which time the black humour had fully kicked in. I won’t recount it here as times have moved on and things that happened back in the day wouldn’t happen these days.

One case I will recount was a guy who had been chopped in half by the railway wheels.  I had arranged to take some probationers up to the mortuary to see a post mortem. This was in the days when it was mandatory to see a PM as your first taste of death on joining your team back from training school. The mortuary assistant must have thought it would be funny to wind up the new police officers. When he had laid the body out on the slab he put the top half the correct way round, i.e chest facing up, but he put the bottom half the wrong way round i.e. bum facing the sky.

It was interesting checking out the probationers’ faces when the body was revealed prior to the pathologist arriving.

It’s funny but whenever I see something about railway safety I always think back to that guy in 1980. I forgot his name a long time ago. I sometimes wonder how many dead bodies I’ve seen over the years. I have long since forgotten the details of why he came to be lying on the railway tracks in the middle of the night, but I can still picture him.

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