Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Wild ride home - danger in the air on the trains

A few months ago, works were undertaken at Seddon train station in the inner west of Melbourne. One of the undercover seats was removed and a room was renovated. An airconditioner was installed. Signs designating the area as being for "staff only" were hung. I waited to see who it was for. Weeks turned into months and there was no sign of anyone until a few weeks ago, two Protective Service Officers were standing out on the platform on a cold winter's night. They had just started that night and would be there every night from 6pm until the last train.

It's a good move actually. Seddon is very quiet and the streets around the station are deserted at night. I've often felt very alone and wondered what would happen if something happened. I always greet them whenever I see them and it feels like they're becoming part of the community.

canComing home from the Melbourne International Film Festival the other night, I boarded a train with my friend and immediately felt like we'd chosen the wrong carriage. Two men were in a heated, loud argument with each other. The argument was verbal only, but aggression was in the air and I was glad to be sitting quite apart from them. A banner on the wall of the train advertised "anti-hate spray". It felt like I could do with a can in my handbag. We stopped at North Melbourne station and then the train sat for longer than usual. The argument continued to rage and we struggled to hear the announcement from the driver that we were stuck for a while because of a police operation at the next station (South Kensington).

Announcements came reasonably frequently. The driver sounded more and more frustrated as the announcements turned into statements about how nothing had changed and we were still stuck. It sounded like he had a lamb roast waiting for him at home and this was the third time this week he was going to be late. Meanwhile, the two men continued to rage against each other. My friend and I talked and swapped notes on unlocking the mysteries of our iPhones.

Soon I noticed sitting at the other end of the carriage a woman who looked deeply distressed. She was quiet, but rolling her head back, wringing her hands and seemed to be inside her own head. Her face betrayed deep pain.

I couldn't stand it any longer and decided to move to another carriage. The aggression and distress in the air was starting to get to me. We moved forward one carriage. Before long, there was yelling and a woman screaming uncontrollably, coming from the carriage we had left. I wondered where the PSO's were. They arrived on the scene shortly. It was interesting to see how they worked. There were four of them, one took the lead to engage with one of the people and the others stood around, close enough, but far enough. I didn't hear what happened, but I was pleased that people were on hand to assist and diffuse. I was glad I had changed carriages.

When I arrived back at Seddon station, there were the PSO's waiting on the platform. I hope they never have to do anything. I think just their presence should be enough to make sure they don't. I hope the people yelling and crying got the help they needed.

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