A real train wreck

I should probably stop blogging so much about the news, because it’s obviously worked out where I live. At about six o’clock yesterday morning, around the time the US was realising that, yes, it had just elected Donald Trump President, a tram packed with passengers went off the tracks going round a bend and overturned, a few minutes walk from my flat. Seven people killed, forty injured, the worst (and only) loss of life in a tram accident in this country since 1959. Link.

The first I knew about it was my Mum phoning me up a couple of hours later to check that I was still alive, although I had been wondering what the chorus of police and ambulance sirens I could hear going off all around were for. It only hit me later that the last time I’d heard so many sirens go off at once in London was just as the news about the 7/7 bombings started to filter through.

Mum’s reaction was understandable.  Although I never take the tram to work, I do use it a lot. In fact, I was on a tram on exactly the same line that the crash happened on last weekend. The reports I’ve read quote various locals to the effect that trams tend to take the bend, which is where that line comes up from a tunnel to join the other tram lines coming into central Croydon from the east, too fast. That may or may not be true; what’s certainly true is how often I’ve been sitting on a Croydon tram and thought “Huh, these things are slow. I bet it could go faster, then I’d get home faster. What’s the point of having modern technology if it’s going to crawl along like this?” My judgement on public transport safety is about as trustworthy as my judgement on politics.

What can you say about a hideous tragedy, beyond that it’s hideous and tragic? Nothing, really. Speculation about the cause is too early, and potentially illegal given that the police are investigating. Trying to say consoling things to the victims and their families would be frankly insulting. But there is something to be said about how Britain’s second-biggest current news story reflects on its biggest – the US election and its aftermath.

Emotions have clearly been running very high over the Atlantic, and, even more than here after Brexit, some people, notably younger people, are getting extremely overwrought at the result – protests in the streets, internet meltdowns and so on. I have the privilege of detachment here, of course. My family isn’t at risk of being deported back to Mexico and my free healthcare isn’t at risk (well, actually, it sort of is, but that’s a different story).

I think it’s fair for people to feel disappointed and upset in this situation, and to express their feelings about that, but everyone also needs to have some perspective. If you can’t cope, emotionally, with an election that “your side” didn’t win, how are you going to cope when you lose your job, get ill, get divorced, or the host of other bad things that life can present you with, without warning and with no concern for what you think about it? For that matter, how about injury or death?

If there’s one thing that the Croydon tram crash shows, it’s that sometimes death can come quickly, without warning and in horrible ways. This isn’t inevitable for most of us, or even likely, but it is possible, so we shouldn’t cheapen the privilege of being alive by wasting life on futile anger over things we can’t control. To put it another way: we often describe some kind of messy or difficult situation, like Trump in the White House, as “a train wreck”. The horror of a real train wreck, though, is simply beyond the comprehension of anyone whose never been in one, and we should all remember that.


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