Collecting a corpse: how long should it take?

After somebody dies on the railway network, there are two competing priorities: treating the deceased in a dignified manner, and getting the train service back on track. A few weeks ago the London Underground received some unwanted attention when it was revealed that they store bodies in storage rooms within the station until they can be taken away by an undertaker.

As a comparison, my trip to Williamstown yesterday shows that Metro Trains Melbourne take an even less respectful approach when dealing with fatalities on their network. The first outward sign of something being wrong was an innocuous disruption message posted to the official Metro twitter account at 4:05 PM:

Twitter message form Metro Trains: 'Williamstown line: outbound trains will not stop at Will'town Beach. Citybound trains will continue stopping, so please plan accordingly.'

Meanwhile on my train headed for Williamstown, the train driver made a similar announcement over the PA system, along the lines of:

due to a sick passenger at Williamstown Beach station, this train will be running express from here to Williamstown station. You can either leave the train at North Williamstown, or stay on the train to the end of the line, then come back.

By the time we passed through Williamstown Beach station it was easy to see what the actual issue was: a white Ambulance Victoria blanket was on the platform with someone beneath it, a pair of Victoria Police officers in their fluoro yellow vests were standing next to it, and a few more Metro staff in their fluoro orange vests were taking notes.

Down trip, 4pm. Police and Metro staff stand over the body bag

I didn’t pass through Williamstown Beach station again until 30 minutes after: due to signalling faults at Williamstown station 20 minutes of that was spent on a train that wasn’t moving. On my return our train did stop to pick up passengers, who had been waiting on the platform with two Metro staff.

Arriving into Williamstown Beach on a Hitachi, a dozen waiting passengers on the up platform looking over to a corpse

Despite this, the passing of time had not changed the scene on platform 2: the police were still standing guard, the white blanket was still on the asphalt, and the 30 degree sun was still beating down on the deceased.

30 minutes later, Metro staff and Victoria Police still waiting for someone to collect the body from the platform

On the opposite platform passengers had been there waiting since the last citybound train had passed through 20 minutes earlier – only two tracks separating the living and the dead.

Main station building on platform 1 at Williamstown Beach station

The above photo is from a different day.

So what is a transport operator to do with the body of a deceased person on their premises? I don’t have an answer, but leaving them on the platform for 30 minutes with just a white blanket over the top probably isn’t it – especially when you have a dozen passengers waiting for a train just a few metres away.

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10 Responses to “Collecting a corpse: how long should it take?”

  1. Andrew says:

    Ill or even dead passengers should not disrupt the service as much as they do. I’m sure other places must handle these things better. It does sound callous, but the person needs to be removed from the train quickly. Someone needs to stay with them if they are ill or even dead and many stations have waiting rooms that could be cordoned off. I suppose in days of old when there were staff at all stations, it wasn’t such an issue.

  2. Jack Piper says:

    Why do people, especially train drivers, get so theatrically upset (“… help me hence, ho…”(faints). (Shakespeare, Macbeth; Lady Macbeth trying to divert attention from Macbeth to herself after the deed to allay suspicion)) at the sight of a corpse? Don’t we all see several of them every night on T.V.? It’s just a dead body, like road kill, for heaven’s sake. Get real. (Once upon a time there was a suburban train driver with a sense of humour and the right attitude to morons who get themselves killed at level crossings who rejoiced in the nickname “Killer”. His favourite trick was to try and beat the boom barriers in the hope of catching a motorist who disobeyed the warning devices. Unfortunately our V.R. signal engineers (we actually had them in the good old days of the V.R.) had done their job rather too well and as far as is known he never succeeded.) If I were the V.R. Commissioner I would give a medal to every train driver who eliminated another fool with stupidity genes on a crossing or railway track – it would be good for the species.

    • Marcus says:

      I once heard a story of a suburban train drivers who had been involved in so many incidents, he saw them as the chance to get two extra weeks of paid leave for doing absolutely nothing. I guess every driver deals with fatalities in a different way.

  3. Tina says:

    I was also taking the train around 5pm that day and I can’t get the incident out of my head. Either way it was not handled very well even when I was taking the train. Does anyone know what happen?

  4. Michael says:

    It’s a sad fact, but, people die. And sometimes it’s inconvenient.
    I saw a news story this afternoon of a 95 year old who died in the front row of a fashion show. The models just kept walking even while people came to aid, and subsequently carried the lady out.

    I don’t disagree with you that this might not have been handled in the best possible way. But I do think that you can’t always plan for every contingency. Maybe the coroner or some other important person was held up at another death? I surely can’t see the Dept. of Transport putting a nice person sized fridge at every station *just in case*.

    And lastly, in regard to the Train Drivers. There are many who joke about fatalities on the railways. For some, they really have stopped caring, for others, it’s a kind of bravado that covers up how they really feel. And for others still they are permanently scarred with memories of looking into the eyes of someone who stepped in front of their train.
    Many drivers leave the job after a fatality.
    Maybe just a little consideration could be shown. You don’t know how recently a driver has had some other incident, even a near-miss, that has put them on edge.

  5. Sir Ken says:

    Spot on Michael.
    Consider the wait for a coroner, the wait for a pre-paid funeral plan undertaker to come and collect the body.

    As For train drivers; many have a very dark sense of humour when it comes to fatalities… mostly to cover for the fact that whenever they pass a particular station, or level crossing, or just close their eyes; they will see a flash of a persons face just as they comes to the realisation that they are about to die.

    Spare a moment for the train drivers.

    • Marcus says:

      Having to wait for a specific undertaker to come to the scene and pick up the deceased sounds like a joke! One would have assumed whoever is available attend to the body would get called up to do the job, with the transfer to the appropriate funeral home coming later.

      If your car breaks down in the CityLink tunnels, then Transurban will come out there quick smart and drag you out of there. Their aim is to keep traffic moving – they don’t keep the lane closed while you wait for your dodgy mate Dave to turn up and tow you to your local mechanic.

  6. Mark says:

    That looks like a Hitachi train!

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