Real life: A survivor’s first-hand account of her encounter with a train

We at Operation Lifesaver have embarked on a new series that will feature some firsthand accounts from survivors, those who work with victims’ families, and rail employees willing to share their experiences. In sharing their stories, we hope that you will be reminded of the very real dangers associated with trespassing on railway property and behaving unsafely at highway-railway crossings. Please share these stories with your family and friends so that no one you love befalls a similar fate.

And now we’d like to introduce you to Stacey Trayling, a married mother of two: a daughter (19) and a son (15), who shares with us how her life forever changed after August 25, 1992.

 The day that would forever change Stacey’s life

Bright-eyed, 19 years old, and eager to start her life after high school, the world was Stacey’s oyster. Like many new graduates, she decided to take a year off before embarking on her college adventures. Stacey had just accepted a position as a full-time deli worker at Farm Boy in Orleans, Ont. 

“I left home early that day as I was meeting with new co-workers to travel to Cornwall for job training at their only retail location. It was a beautiful sunny day, full of new beginnings. I had brought a book to read during the trip as it would be about an hour ride.”

There were eight brand-new employees, ready to undertake their training, in the Budget rental van that day. Stacey chose a seat in the back of the van, across from two other female coworkers that she would later find out she would only know for a brief snapshot of time.

They were nearing a highway-railway crossing on Hwy 38, near Maxville, Ont., when Stacey’s attention was suddenly snapped away from her book:

“I heard commotion, people talking, and then yelling ‘STOP!’ The words, ‘He's not going to stop!’ echoed in my ears as I looked up to see the train in front of us.” 

The sound of sirens

Everything was a blur when Stacey woke up; she was upside down and could hear the sound of the sirens in the distance. “I remember thinking, ‘Thank God they know we are here’.”

Emergency workers approached Stacey and kept her talking while they worked to free her from the flipped van. “I desperately didn't want them to cut the seat belt. I had no sense of sight, no sense of smell, just my hearing.”

The gas tank had ruptured and Stacey was covered in gasoline. The van was shredded by the two impacts with the train it endured and a third with the light standard/crossbuck.

“Rescuers had to locate me in the wreckage. My left arm was merely held together by a badly battered artery, and my chin was fractured in three places. The two women beside me had perished in the impacts. Six of us had survived.

“I can easily recall the feeling of the stretcher under my back, and the ambulance attendant telling me to keep talking to him. I knew I would go into shock. I flatlined three times en route to the Ottawa General Hospital. Amazingly, I was able to tell them my name, my mother’s name and home phone.”

A call a parent never wants to get

Stacey endured 15 hours of surgery while doctors worked to re-attach her arm, during which she flatlined several more times. They removed an artery from her right leg, proceeded to do skin grafting, and used metal plates, screws and an internal fixation device to repair what was left.

Stacey’s chin, which suffered significant trauma, also required metal plates and screws to bind the fractures - all of which she still has in her and lives with today. To allow Stacey’s body to compensate for the trauma she endured, doctors then placed her in a seven-day drug-induced coma.

“It was devastating for my family, to struggle all those hours and days, not knowing if I would survive, or what type of an uncertain future I would have.”

Road to recovery

After five weeks in the hospital, Stacey was finally on her road to recovery. But it wouldn’t be easy and would take over a decade.

“I did 12 weeks of physiotherapy to learn how to deal with my new physical disability, then 10 years of psychotherapy to help cope with flashbacks, memories and PTSD. The guilt of surviving when others did not was monstrous. 

“I have confronted so many aspects of fear, pain, heartache and anger that I can't even begin to explain. But every day is a new day and a fresh step forward. I strive at seeing the amazing things, the beauty, and the positivity that can be harnessed.”

Rail safety is a shared responsibility

Stacey is very lucky to have survived this incident, but she lives every day with reminders of it. In sharing her story she hopes we’ll all make rail safety a priority – now and always.

“It is an amazing opportunity to share my story and hope that people will see that no one is invincible. To value life, it is so precious, every minute of every day. There is so much to experience in a lifetime that an uninformed decision could steal away in a heartbeat. 

“These type of incidents can be avoided so easily through education. It is our duty as Canadians to always make it our goal to keep each other safe. It would also be my honour to pay homage to those who passed. They deserve to be remembered—every day.”

[caption id="attachment_8166" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Stacey Trayling Stacey Trayling[/caption]

Thank you so much, Stacey, for sharing your story with us.

For more information and a wealth of free online rail safety resources, please bookmark Operation Lifesaver, and share it with your family and friends.

Now that you know Stacey’s story, we encourage you to read a few more:

Remember: Look! Listen! Live!