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Fatalities on the railway affect everyone

A death on the railway not only affects the family and friends of the victim, it also lasts a lifetime for those at the controls in the driver’s cab. Metro train driver Alan Hudson talks about his experience and how a serious incident spurred him on to become a corporate counsellor for his colleagues at DB Regio Tyne and Wear.  

During his 14-year career with Tyne and Wear Metro, Alan Hudson has experienced a number of incidents. However, he was always able to emotionally move on from them. It wasn’t until he was involved in a fatality on the line that his life changed.

While today Alan is stronger, more resilient and able to talk about his experience, he knows he wouldn’t be where he is now without the support of his colleagues at DB Regio Tyne and Wear, which operates trains on behalf of Nexus.

After the accident, DB Regio initially provided Alan with counselling, but the real support began when the 52-year-old returned to work three months later.

He said: “When I returned to work, I was really nervous. It was only during a conversation with another Metro driver who had experienced a similar incident that I began to open up.

“My colleague explained that my experience was a natural response to a traumatic event, as were the nightmares that plagued me.

“This gave me an idea that DB Regio could provide real benefits for staff through peer-to-peer counselling.

“For me, it was more comfortable talking to an experienced colleague rather than a psychologist, and whilst I can’t understand someone’s inner feelings, I can empathise because I’ve been through it.”

Alan says one of the things that affected him badly about the accident was the feeling of powerlessness being forced to watch a fate unfold that he could not change.

Alan talked to his bosses at DB Regio about the possibility of him taking a counselling course in order to assist other staff going through similar traumatic experiences. The train operator paid for Alan to attend a three-month intensive counselling course at Gateshead College.

“I was a little intimidated because I had to stand up and explain why I was on the course.  You could have heard a pin drop after I told the class what had happened. I found the course hard academically as I’d left school at 16 and this was the first time back in a classroom. Towards the end however, I ended up helping students because of my life experience.”

Alan completed his coursework on rest days and DB Regio helped support him by changing his shifts when needed.

“Doing the course really helped me, both professionally and personally,” said Alan.

Alan then joined Newcastle City Centre chaplaincy and became the chaplain for Eldon Square for a year, he also visited The Cyrenians charity during this time.

“Eldon Square was good experience, I went around shops meeting staff. I was someone to talk to and confide in if anyone had problems. The Cyrenians took me to visit the homeless people they work with. It was really sad, especially since many were ex-servicemen like myself.”

Back at DB, Alan (pictured) is now qualified as a ‘corporate counsellor’ and provides a listening ear to any staff member who needs it, any time of the day or night.

alan metro (2) (2)

He said: “DB has been very supportive in promoting the counselling service, distributing my number to all those who have experienced incidents.”

Alan, who was previously in the Armed Forces for six years, said: “When there’s a lot of men working together, you find there’s often a macho culture in which they will carry their burden without tears. Men will often bottle their feelings up. I always say that you are better off crying than holding it in.

“If someone is involved in an incident, they are given my number and often call me. I then arrange to see them in their home, a café, or even at my own house.

“The incident was five years ago now, but it never goes away, you just learn to live with it. People sometimes forget, it’s not just those who die who are the victims, it’s people like me, the ambulance people and police who turn up too.”

Despite the tragic nature of the incident, the experience has changed Alan’s life for the better. He has attended three trauma courses for The Samaritans, advised Chiltern Railways on developing a similar counselling service for staff and he’s even received a regional award for going the extra mile to help his colleagues.

The biggest reward for Alan, however, is seeing someone he’s helped back at work, smiling and laughing.

He said: “When I won the ‘Individual who makes a Difference’ category at the Equality North East awards, I was beaming, a little embarrassed, but secretly delighted. I didn’t think I’d ever win an award. 

“I’ll often be walking across the depot and someone will say to me, Alan I don’t need any counselling, but…and a 10-minute walk turns into 20 where they pour their heart out to me. Then I’ll follow it up and they’ll come back and say thanks so much for listening.

“It doesn’t matter where I am, if something happens, I will go and help. Five years ago, I would have offered help, but I would have been wary. Now I’m not afraid.  I feel like I have to help now. The training I’ve had has made me more caring. I’m less judgmental.

 “You have to be in the right frame of mind to be a counsellor. The hardest part is finding the best person. When I retire I’d like to work for a homeless charity. My wife and I help Hospitality and Hope in South Shields by donating food and collecting for them, but I’d love to do more.”

(This interview was conducted and provided on behalf of DB Regio Tyne and Wear)  


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