Simon Palmer’s blog

November 14, 2008

Person under a train?

Filed under: Uncategorized — simonpalmer @ 9:27 pm

I went to Canada 5 years ago and lived there for 4 years.  Before that I had lived and worked in London since being a student in the mid-80’s.  During the entire time, and in the year since I have been back, I have commuted on the tube.  I don’t use it quite as regularly as I did, but I now travel on it 3 out of 5 days in a given week.

On a couple of my first journeys in London after being back from Canada I was delayed because of a “person under a train”.  I can’t remember having heard that for a very long time and other than the obvious contradictory thoughts of, “how awful, I hope they are OK” and “I’m annoyed they have made me late”, I didn’t think much more of it.

However since then I have noticed with increasing regularity that the reason for delays seems to be more people under trains.  About two months ago I started counting the number of trips that I was delayed for a “person under a train”.  Since a journey to London Bridge on September 16th I have been delayed no fewer than 7 times where that has been publicly announced as the reason.

I think that is a very high number.

What I can’t quite work out is whether these incidents are accidents, attempts at suicide or a creative form of excuse used cynically by the tube.  If they are accidents, then I am surprised that the zealous health and safety executive hasn’t jumped in because I can’t be the first person to notice.  If they are suicides, then there appears to be a remarkable increase in this grisly and inconvenient choice of means and if they are an excuse, then it is a clever and dastardly consiparcy – after all, who is going to complain about a delay caused by rescuing someone from under a train?

I’m going to keep looking for statistics to see whether there has been a sudden spike in suicide deaths on the tube commensurate with the indidence of “person under train” announcements that I am now morbidly counting.  As far as I can tell London Underground does not publish publicly the safety statistics for the network.

I’m not quite at the point of crying conspiracy, especially as the human and long time tube traveller in me can quite understand the thought of killing oneself, and especially not in such a public, unreliable and disruptive way.  I can’t help thinking that if I was at the point of taking my own life I would not go and buy a ticket at a station and stand amongst the silent commuting throng waiting for the next Southbound Charing Cross train.  But then…


  1. My boyfriend and I were in London a week ago and experienced this tragic event. As the Piccadilly Line ran late, a very proper female English voice announced (quite calmly) that there would be a delay as there was ‘a person under the train’. The same announcement scrolled across a digital board on the platform and the announcer repeated it every short while. No one batted an eye. The thought is still quite disturbing though I am safely tucked away back at home in U.S.

    Comment by Lisa — March 29, 2009 @ 2:19 am

    • I’ll be leaving for London in about a week and 1/2 from Washington State University to do a summer study abroad at Middlesex University. Naturally, I’ve been trying to read up on the transportation system and acquaint myself with the area best that I can from this great distance.

      There is an online posting for today on the TFL site that the Piccadilly line is currently delayed due to “a person under a train” (which is what prompted me to look up these occurances, and consequently, to come across this blog) Wow…as I have spent the past couple of months dreaming of London, such a ghastly picture has never entered my mind, until now! This does seem surprisingly common…why else would no one have “batted an eye”, as you said? This is very disturbing!

      Comment by Lonni — June 16, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

      • Don’t worry too much about it. The Tube is amazing really, although quite expensive. What I wrote reflects more the minor aggravations of using it every day rather than anything fundamentally wrong or dangerous about it.

        Comment by simonpalmer — June 17, 2009 @ 6:12 am

  2. I have lived and waited in London for several years now and I guarantee you that this is a rare occurrence. Very few times have I ever heard the expression over the tanoy.
    You guys must have had a bad week.
    London is not a grisly place – it is a Premier fashion hub, with unbeatable nightlife, phenomenal theatre and anything else one could possibly want. Sure you may feel it’s different and frightening coming from peaceful US villages but simply because something horrible happened on your visit doesn’t mean you should judge the city accordingly. I am Irish – I come from what is regarded as the most friendly and peaceful country in much of the world. So I ask you to not berate London but rather accept it for what it is – not on first impressions. It may be different to what you’re used to but life is a series of experiences, the more you see the more experiences you live and the more of life you experience.

    Comment by William — October 25, 2010 @ 9:55 pm

    • Mark, I think you got the wrong end of the stick. Nobody is berating London or calling it dangerous. Contrary to coming from a peaceful US village I was born and raised in London, and I lived, studied and worked there for 40 years. Like most Londoners I used the tube every day, several times a day. I agree it used to be a rare occurrence to hear this, which is exactly why the frequency was such a shock.

      Comment by simonpalmer — March 17, 2011 @ 3:55 pm

  3. Its absolute BS ! I live slightly outside the M25 and take FCC( over ground) and last year it was person under train 9 times!! With those 9 times and your 7 , none of them made the news?? My husband and I have decided person under train means ” lazy ass engineer” can get it together.

    Comment by JW — December 1, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

    • Unfortunately it happens so relatively frequently in London its not news unless there are unusual circumstances. Recently I was on a station platform when a mother tried to commit suicide with her young child. She failed and the driver of the oncoming train put on the emergency brakes on. He was white as a sheet when we saw him come to investigate and he later went off duty due to the incident. Myself and colleagues got a police officer on the train to speak to the woman and we tried ourselves to ensure she didn’t try again at that station by ensuring she got on a train – we had to get off at the next stop for work reasons and left the woman and her child on the train, hoping she had changed her mind. When we went to continue our journey 20 or so minutes later the trains had been halted due to a person under a train at the next stop – we have to assume it was the mother and her child. Needless to say, myself and colleagues were upset and blamed ourselves for not trying harder to get her out of the original station but with hindsight we did all we could to dissuade someone set on suicide. Unfortunately it will still live with us, and no doubt the two drivers involved and any one else who saw it for a long while to come.

      Comment by JB — June 10, 2011 @ 6:46 pm

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