What’s it like to respond to a railway incident? A CN constable shares her experience

When someone is killed or injured by a train the repercussions are felt by many. Families, railway employees, first responders and entire communities can be forever changed in the aftermath of an incident. For this week’s post, we asked Winnipeg-based, CN Rail Constable Lise Aquin to share what it’s like to be a first responder at a railway incident.

What’s it like at the scene of a railway incident?

As a first responder at such incidents, it is usually chaos within the first moments of arriving due to a number of factors: large crowds of people, other first responders, bystanders, the train engineer and conductor, as well as injured people who may be in a state of panic, confusion, pain and/or delusion. Vehicular traffic and train traffic gets congested and tensions rise on both sides. Debris litters the scene. The railway bells ring constantly in the background, and the sound often echoes in your head for days afterward. Police, Fire and Ambulance work hard to care for any injured people, while keeping focused on their priorities. The scene begins to clear when all people involved are medically taken care of. By this time, an investigation into the incident has already began to unfold. In addition to the physical damage on the vehicles and/or people involved, it is the emotional damage that can often have the longest lasting impact. While part of our investigation is to interview witnesses, victims, suspects and train crews, we see damages from all angles.  

When you reflect on the incidents you’ve responded to, do they have anything in common?

I’m always struck by the knowledge that most of the incidents I’ve attended, if not all, could have been avoided. Accidents do sometimes happen due to factors we cannot control like weather, but even in those cases, if a motorist drives according to conditions, their reaction time should be sufficient to avoid hitting a train or being hit by one. Being complacent has taken many lives. Furthermore, trespassers knowingly break the law and put themselves and others in grave danger usually for a “shortcut.” I often hear “what’s the big deal” or “I’ll hear a train coming” while two ear buds are stuffed in their ears. The mentality of “it’s not going to happen to me” is still prominent, but if we can all work together, we can eliminate such avoidable catastrophes from happening. [caption id="attachment_15383" align="aligncenter" width="640"] CN Rail Constable Lise Aquin[/caption]  

How has attending railway incidents as a first responder affected you personally and professionally?

When I started with my career, I did not understand how many people would be impacted by one incident. It is not only the victim(s), it is the witnesses, emergency personnel, family and friends. In addition, all of the employees who work for the railway that attend, and even those who do not, are profoundly impacted by such incidents. It has changed the way I see the world, as well as the one that I work in. Police can often be labeled as “too serious.” I only wish that I could somehow integrate my experiences into the minds of those who are seemingly oblivious so they see for themselves how such tragedies can be completely avoided.

What's one thing you'd like Canadians to know about rail safety? 

A shortcut can cut your life short and that extra 10 minutes is just not work the risk. It is only you that chooses what path you take, please take the right one as there may be no turning back.

What would you like them to think about when they see train tracks and railway property?

Railway property should be treated the same as major freeways or airport landing strips. It is simply not an area to be in. The dangers associated are too great and it reaps no benefit to anyone. Train your brain to stay away!