For a number of years major Melbourne railway stations have had first aiders specially assigned to them. So what benefit does a rail operator get from spending money on something that at first glance, has nothing to do with running trains.
This 2008 article from The Age details how just one sick passenger can delay a rail network.
Packed trains adding to ill-passenger delays
May 14, 2008
A peak-hour train was delayed for 20 minutes at Alphington yesterday morning because a passenger had a fit.
The train remained at the station until an ambulance arrived, with other train services backing up behind it. When the ambulance arrived, the passenger did not want to be transported, a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Ambulance Service said.
Sick passengers are an increasing source of delays and cancellations on Melbourne’s train system. In April, 30 passengers fell ill, causing delays and cancellations to 946 trains.
In March, 25 sick passengers held up 894 services, and in February, 828 services were held up or cancelled because of passenger sickness.
When Metro Trains Melbourne took over the operation of the suburban railway network they actually decided to do something about sick passengers – in June 2010 they contracted St John Ambulance first aid staff to be on duty at five major stations.
Metro’s acting CEO Raymond O’Flaherty said May was a challenging month for the operator’s performance.
“We know we have limited influence over delays caused by external factors such as police operations, trespassers on tracks and speed restrictions, so we need to look at how we can improve in those areas we do have control over. An example of this is how quickly sick passengers are treated.
“Passengers requiring medical treatment on trains was an issue throughout May, with three major cases causing delays. In one case an ill passenger stopped trains on nine of our 16 train lines for up to 30 minutes while awaiting first aid to attend and treat the person.
“Everyone will benefit from reducing the time it takes first aid to arrive and treat the people who fall ill, so starting Monday we’ll have contracted first aid staff provided by St John Ambulance on-hand at five of our busiest stations to treat people who fall ill as quickly as possible. The Level 3 first aid staff will be in place during the morning peak at Parliament, Richmond, Caulfield, North Melbourne and Flinders Street stations.
“By reducing the time it takes to attend to and treat ill passengers, we will reduce the severity of the delays and flow-on delays these incidents can cause.”
Back in 2010 the State Opposition said the number of sick passengers was due to train overcrowding, but the spokesman for Metro Trains said otherwise in an interview with ABC Radio Australia:
Recently, the State Opposition released details of the Transport Department’s 2009 Train Operations Report. It says the number of passengers falling ill on trains has increased, largely due to overcrowding.
But Metro spokesman Chris Whitefield says positioning first aid officers at busy stations is not related to overcrowding, but instead… reducing delays.
“It doesn’t have a direct correlation with the amount of people on a train because ill passengers happen everywhere and any time of the day or night. Most of our ill passengers happen in the mornings and they will be cases of people who have not eaten their breakfast or do not have enough water, it can be something as simple as eating your weetbix and that can make all the difference to how you’re feeling”.
Since the trial began, St John Ambulance has treated several commuters, mainly suffering nausea and light headedness.
Theron Vassiliou of St John Ambulance says it’s too early to speculate if the cases of illness are linked to overcrowding.
“They’re very general incidents and they’re the sorts of things that can happen anywhere, anytime – workplace, home, on railway stations. We’re two days into the trial, we would have to see if that was the case or not”.
Originally the program was only a three month trial, but presumably the expense was worth it, as St John Ambulance staff remained on platforms until 2012, when they were removed from Caulfield and Footscray stations.
Metro cuts peak-hour paramedics at rail stations
January 10, 2012
Metro Trains has axed morning peak-hour paramedic services across the metropolitan railway network as a cost-cutting measure that will save millions of dollars each year.
The rail network operator last week terminated a deal with St John Ambulance to provide first-aid responder units – teams of highly trained paramedic staff qualified to provide specialised medical assistance – at Caulfield and Footscray railway stations.
Metro has also reduced the number of first-aid responder units at Richmond station from two to one during peak hour.
The only remaining paramedic teams on the metropolitan system during the morning rush will be at Flinders Street, Parliament and North Melbourne stations.
Sources at St John told The Age that paramedic services were already “stretched” during morning peak hour. “I would have thought the need was for more, not less,” one said.
“This is a decision based on the bottom line, rather than on passenger safety or the efficiency of the network.”
Metro Trains spokesman Daniel Hoare said station staff would be trained in basic first aid to cover the loss of paramedics.
“Our assessments conclude that North Melbourne and Richmond stations are the key V/Line-Metro interchange locations which require first aid staff, but they are no longer required at Caulfield and Footscray stations,” he said.
In March 2013 the first aid contract went to tender, and it appears St John Ambulance didn’t retain the contract – a new company called ‘Colbrow Medics’ has taken over the job.
Sydney does the same
In June 2014 Sydney Trains followed Melbourne’s example, and deployed first aiders across their rail network:
Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian today announced the rollout of dedicated paramedics on busy Sydney train stations to urgently help sick customers and keep trains moving to reduce customer delays.
A team of paramedics is now located at 14 busy stations in the morning and afternoon peak periods and can immediately respond to medical incidents.
“Around 30 per cent of delays on Sydney Trains’ services are caused when a passenger hops on a train and requires medical attention. We know this can be improved,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“Medical incidents can occur unexpectedly and the new team of paramedics mean we can get to customers faster and arrange additional medical equipment quickly – without holding up the rail network.”
Ms Berejiklian said one medical incident on a train can hold up around 20 trains on the network in the morning or afternoon peak – that’s around 20,000 customers impacted.
“By providing a team of paramedics at key Sydney stations – we can quickly provide medical treatment to a sick or injured customer and get trains moving again.”
The new paramedics will rotate through Town Hall, Wynyard, Redfern, Parramatta, Lidcombe, Epping, Strathfield, Sydenham, Hornsby, Chatswood, Glenfield, Blacktown, Bankstown and Wolli Creek stations.
In September 2014 Sydney Trains followed up the rollout with a campaign asking passengers to step off the train when they feel sick, and and ask for help at a station.
One person requiring medical treatment on a Sydney peak-hour train can delay up to 20 trains and make 20,000 commuters late for work.
Passengers who are feeling unwell will now be urged not to get on the train in the first place and seek treatment at the station instead.
In its “Feeling Unwell?” campaign, to be launched on Monday with posters to be hung at more than 150 stations, Sydney Trains is asking customers who feel crook to think twice before boarding the train.
Posters will also appear on selected trains encouraging passengers who are sick to get off at the next station and seek out a staff member rather than staying on board and potentially delaying other passengers.