By Paul Holmes
Key Themes: autobiography, depression, anxiety, humour, empowerment
After 35 years of almost normal life, everything Paul Holmes had known was turned upside down with an accident he was involved in while driving a train. What followed was to drag Paul down to the depths of severe depression, an eating disorder, post traumatic stress and anxiety, he was now damaged goods. Over time Paul had to work hard in trying to make things right for his wife and himself. Battling with an uncaring large company, unhelpful medical system and friends that one by one fell by the wayside. This was almost impossible as lack of understanding from family and friends made them feel totally alone. A Man Derailed is his story.
About the Author
Paul Holmes was born in London in 1968 and had a wonderful childhood growing up with a good family and a pack of Greyhounds. School went by without too much problem and soon adulthood meant moving from job to job trying to find that elusive career. In 1998 he found the career he wanted and became a train driver, marrying Mandy 4 years later. Then in 2003 he was involved in a train accident. The rest, as they say, is history.
Can you walk like a train driver?
Come on, you know what I mean. As he gets out of his driving cab he deliberately holds his rucksack over one shoulder making it look like it weighs 200 lbs and looks at the floor. As fast as his body allows he marches up the platform to the other end of the train, avoiding all eye contact with any other person on the platform. He usually looks like an old man carrying a bag of coal into a head-on wind. There is actually a perfectly good reason for this: it’s to avoid a stupid conversation with passengers. As shown below:
Passenger: Excuse me! Is this the train to Cambridge?”
Driver: Do you mean this train here? The one with Cambridge written on it. The train on the platform marked “Train for Cambridge”, the one with the automated message blaring out “THIS TRAIN IS FOR ALL STOPS TO CAMBRIDGE”?
Passenger : Erm, yes, is it the one?
Driver nods in disgust and moves on. Of course it can be quite daunting when travelling on the railway network and you aren’t familiar with your surroundings, but as a train driver you tend to have this conversation at least a dozen times a day, it makes you turn into some xenophobic creature. Basically you spend all day on your own in the cab, a total solitary creature and then as soon as you get out of the cab you are bombarded with stupid questions. All you want to do when you pull your train into a terminus is to get to the other end as quick as possible, pull away and go home.
So you climb into your driving cab, turn all your lights off and wait for the right time to pull away again. You close the train doors, make your announcements and then the rest of the trip is just staring out of the window and watching the same old piece of scenery you have been driving past for years. It pays the bills.
I had become a train driver in 1998 and, though it was a work environment I was totally unprepared for, it turned out to be good for me. I had more time on my hands, despite the shift work, and a bloody good income. I went through all the training with some good people and we all worked together to get each other through the coursework and exams. Once you pass out the scariest thing is being given a train full of passengers to drive on your own for the very first time. All of a sudden you can not remember a thing. Where do I brake? Where am I stopping? You suddenly have total responsibility for hundreds of people’s lives in the back of the train; it was a daunting time. Then after time you learn the train driver walk, avoid all humans, never work your break and get into the swing of things and settle down to the railway culture.
Friday 7th November 2003, the 2040 hours to Shoeburyness via Basildon was an important journey for me. It was the last time I ever climbed into a driver’s cab and drove a train. I sat in my cab at Fenchurch Street, I could not wait to pull away. It was my last trip of the day: into Shoeburyness and then off work for 3 whole days, heaven. It was a pretty uneventful trip, as most journeys were. I was running on time, the train was full of drunk kids all going to Southend to enjoy some night life and drunk office workers coming home after a hard week behind the keyboard. Once you leave a station at night there is very little to see out of the cab window. You see other oncoming trains, stations in the distance and maybe the odd house, but mainly lit up railway track and loads and loads of gravel and ballast packed in underneath it.
Forty minutes into my journey I was contacted on the radio by the signalman. He was informing me that the train driver ahead had reported something strange happening and asked if I would inspect the line between the stations. This meant driving at 20 mph and looking at the line ahead. Also at night you have to get your guard upfront with you as two sets of eyes are better than one and I have to drive the train. I set the train in motion; we both stared out into the darkness looking down at the track that was lit up by the headlamps. As I got the train moving to 20 mph I leaned forward to see if I could see anything on the track, cursing as this was making my working day those few minutes longer. Then there was a huge explosion.