‘I felt his body thumping under the train’
MICK WHITE was a train driver for 30 years, but out of all he experienced, he says it's the feeling of the bodies going under his carriage that has stayed with him forever.
During his career, Mr White experienced three fatalities and more 20 near-misses on the tracks while he was at the head of a train. A string of horrific events far outside his job description.
Now retired, he's opened up about the unspoken realities of deaths on our railway tracks, and how the three lives lost during his career left him with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"I was leaving Blacktown station [in Sydney] ... and a man jumped out underneath the bridge," Mr White explained to Insight host Jenny Brockie.
"He just smiled at me and made eye contact and then I hit him."
Mr White, who said the man's face had stayed with him since, was required to stay on site for 90 minutes before he was relieved from duty.
"The police came and breathalysed me within about half an hour," Mr White recalled.
"I felt like I had done something wrong ... The department has to cover themselves and you've got to be covered too ... but you feel like a criminal."
Mr White said following the incident at Blacktown, he was subjected to another death just a few years later while driving towards Toongabbie station in Sydney's west.
Coming around a bend one evening, Mr White said he was chatting with a train guard when he saw a man lying on the tracks just 50 metres ahead, and quickly applied the emergency brakes. But it was too late.
"I hit him ... I felt everything and felt his body go up underneath my feet and thumping along as the train went over him. You could hear everything, and then the train came to a standstill," he said.
Mick said the adrenaline following the incident was high, and he was left wondering why the man had put himself on the tracks.
"I was angry, really angry," he said. "I was angry and then I felt sad. Very sad for him and his family."
Mr White said there was no chance he could have stopped, even with the emergency brakes applied.
"If you've got a full load of passengers and you're travelling about 80km/hour you'd need 500m to pull up," he explained.
The third fatality Mr White experienced took place in Penrith in 2007, and was the hardest of the three incidents.
"The police wanted me to come down to the station to make a statement, but I told them to go and get nicked," he said.
Mr White said police later told him the man had indicated he wanted to end his life "for a fair bit", and that his brother had suicided months earlier.
According to the National Rail Safety Regulator report, Victoria has had the country's highest number of train related fatalities for the last four years.
In the past year alone, there were 41 deaths on Victoria's rail network, 33 deaths in NSW, nine in WA, five in South Australia and none in the other states and territories.
Mr White believes he didn't receive adequate support from the NSW railway department, who he said didn't make contact for four days following the Blacktown incident.
"I felt isolated, away from everybody, I had the shakes and I was getting flashbacks of it all the time," Mr White explained.
"I was feeling the body roll up under the floor and hitting my feet and pummeling through my whole system.
"I felt that they couldn't give a toss about me. And I was angry about everything."
In a statement to news.com.au, a spokesman for Sydney Trains - which has been responsible for the operation of the rail network since 2013 - said the agency was committed to ensuring the health and well-being of all staff, and that employees were provided with an assistance program and "additional support" when involved in a critical incident on the network.
"For both drivers and guards, this support includes immediate crew relief, access to qualified medical and psychological professionals, Critical Incident Leave and a structured return to work program," the statement read.
"Every effort is made to ensure staff are relieved from an incident within 45 minutes... Sydney Trains also provides training to shift managers and other staff to ensure incidents are handled sensitively and the welfare of employees is considered at all times."
According to Lifeline, the overall suicide rate in 2015 was 12.6 per 100,000 deaths in Australia. This is the highest rate in 10-plus years, and equates to more than eight deaths by suicide across the country each day.
Mr White said following each of the three incidents, he had difficulty sleeping, turned to drinking, took personal leave and decided to work on his property.
"I couldn't drive my car for a while because of hitting bumps or anything in the road ... and just the movement of other traffic beside me," he said.
Mr White said he would never forget seeing the man's face before he jumped on the tracks at Blacktown.
"I accepted I couldn't have done anything, but I felt very sad for him and sad for his family," he said.
"As soon as he smiled at me and I made eye contact that was it. That brought me undone. That took me a while to get over that."
If you feel distressed please talk to someone you trust or if you are in need of support, there are 24/7 crisis support services. Contact: Lifeline 13 11 14
Mick White will appear on this week's episode of Insight on Tuesday at 8.30pm, which will look at what happens when someone is responsible for an accidental death.