There’s been a disturbing set of events which has happened over the past few days. A train came off the tracks in Cumbria, killing one person, which is fairly disturbing in itself, but not what I’m referring to. I’m more worried about the great media bandwagon that has now inevitably churned into action.
What prompted me to be worried is the news in this morning’s paper that one of the crash survivors has “demanded answers” and wants the world to “prove that rail travel is safe”. Why is this headline news? Why is this person being listened to? He, along with many others, survived the crash, which I agree is a good thing, but how does this give him the right to “demand answers” from the enquiry? Personally, I’m keen for the enquiry to actually come up with some reasons behind what happened, because that’s where the “learning” bit of the “learning from mistakes” comes in. But I don’t have a throng of reporters outside my door waiting to hear about what I want. Why is this? It’s because I’m not a railway expert and therefore not really qualified to comment on the railway, it’s management structure, it’s processes etc.
But wait a minute, this guy in my morning’s paper isn’t an expert either. Somehow, he’s managed to get the press to listen to him, just because he was a victim of the accident. Now, I agree that questions like “What was it like” and “How are you feeling” are valid questions to ask a crash survivor, because I’d argue it’s questions they’re qualified to answer. Random demands for “proof” that the railways are safe and that the enquiry produces “answers” are nonsensical ramblings. Does this person (and the rest of the world) honestly think “Oh, well, we were just going to bungle this enquiry and say nothing much, but now a victim has demanded answers! Better pick up the phone and actually try and figure this thing out then.”?
Of course, there are industry commentators and analysts (for example, Christian Wolmar whose columns I was reading years ago) who are in a good, non-biased position to take an objective view of what happened and what should be done about it. No doubt such experts are aware of rail standards and guidelines, as well as other technical things like how points actually work. So please, great media, report on what people with a clue are saying, not on the fact that a person who was involved in an accident (and therefore has an emotional involvement with the entire subject) is suddenly “demanding answers” and may the god of the earth strike down every living person unless he gets them.
Whilst I’m being cynical, I noticed this article on the BBC site, which seems to be nothing more than a solicitor who has previously made money representing train crash victims trying to drum up business around this particularly incident. Why is this news? “Solicitor who makes a living from train accidents demands inquiry (probably involving lots and lots of solicitors/barristers/whatever) into train accident!”. Shock horror. Who’d have thought?
So please, can everyone stop being excited about the fact that people are demanding things? The general public does care about the answer to the question “What happened and why?” and there are groups of people who will work for months trying to figure that one out as accurately as possible. Lets just wait for the facts to come out and then get excited. Victims and lawyers jumping up and down saying “OMG trains aren’t safe someone must be to blame for this who can we get money out of!?” really doesn’t help anything.