WIGAN’S railways have been the scene of tragedies as well as transport.
Some of those who feel that life has become unbearable have chosen to end it in front of a speeding train.
Now a former express driver has welcomed an initiative by the Samaritans that will see their volunteers base themselves at Wigan Wallgate Station on Thursday.
The project takes the counselling organisation from its offices to Wallgate and 26 other railway centres across the region at the invitation of train operator Northern Rail.
It is part of the charity’s Talk to Us annual awareness month. During the morning rush hour its volunteers aim to raise awareness with commuters about the importance of talking to its round-the-clock service if they are struggling to cope. Northern Rail has also put the Samaritans’ helpline number on the side of 14 of its trains.
Aspull councillor and ex-train driver John Hilton has been on the footplate during a suicide as well as an accidental fatality of a colleague on the tracks. He has also, as an official of the train drivers’ union ASLEF, had to counsel younger drivers who have suffered similar traumas.
He said: “There have been younger drivers who were driving when a suicide took place and they took it very badly indeed - some could never do that job again because of it.
“Our job as a trade union was to try to counsel them, man to man and help them to recover from a very traumatic work experience. I would tell them: ‘It is not your fault lad, they have used you for whatever reason to get out of this life’ and sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn’t.
“We would reassure them that they were the innocent party involved in somebody else’s tragedy. I would advise them never to go back to the body, to stop the job on both tracks and under no circumstances to walk back to see what has happened.
“It has happened to me many years ago as a younger man and it was massive shock at the time for some days afterwards. But I remember telling myself that, with a family to support, I had to get straight back on the bike again after falling off, or that could be that.
“In my day, the train companies didn’t have any form of counselling for drivers whose trains were involved in suicides, so I know that railwaymen will be pleased to see Northern Rail now taking a pro-active role with The Samaritans.”
Customer service director for Northern, Natalie Loughborough, said the company was “community-focused” and proud to support Samaritans. She said: “Our employees will be donating their time to help raise awareness of Samaritans’ service across the north of England.”
Bob Howe of the Samaritans said that raising awareness of our service during the morning rush hour to rail commuters was really important. He said: “We want people to recognise the value of talking, rather than bottling things up.
People can get in touch with Samaritans’ service by phone, email and text, as well as visiting a branch to speak to a volunteer face to face. We are here round the clock, every single day of the year.”
n WIGAN residents can get involved by simply texting ‘SUPPORT’ to 70080 to make a £4 donation...the cost to the charity of answering one call for help.