News came through yesterday evening of a passenger train derailment. The initial details were sketchy, but as ever, there were those ready to scream “rail crash”. The boring facts are that the 1820 hours Glasgow to Oban service derailed, and that the front coach of the two-coach unit suffered a rupture to its fuel tank, resulting in a fire. Nobody was seriously injured and all passengers were evacuated safely.
So far, so prosaic, but the Fourth Estate have papers to sell, so a little exaggeration is in order. In the vanguard of horror stories has been the Daily Mail, telling that “two coaches” were “precariously balanced” over an embankment, as it sounds hairier than “one coach”. But for once the empire of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre is comparatively restrained.
The real overkill has been done by Rupe’s troops over at the Super Soaraway Currant Bun, who tell that “60 cheat death in train crash”. The passengers, it asserts, “miraculously survived a horror fireball”, but the article then confirms that the flames were outside the coaches. The journalese extends to stating “Sixty travellers ... also told how they were blown off their feet by the giant blast” before managing to find only one.
Routinely bad journalism, for sure, and not exceptional, but the image it seeks to project is that there is something frightening about rail travel. Unfortunately for the scare merchants, the facts show a different picture: there has been only one passenger fatality in the last five and a half years (in the 2007 Lambrigg derailment). Rail is the safest land travel mode by some distance, but for some, there is a career to be forged from frightening the public.
One voice not yet heard following last night’s derailment is that of solicitor Louise Christian, who – regrettably for her – has had little to complain about of late, given the lack of fatalities. She whinged in a Guardian article back in 2007 that suggestions she was “some kind of ambulance chasing lawyer” were “deeply offensive”. But every time there is any kind of incident on the passenger carrying railway, the impression is given that Christian is not far behind.
Speaking up for her clients is something that Louise Christian is fully entitled to do, and I commend her for so doing. But to sink to the level of the tabloid press, and try to project an image of rail travel far removed from reality, is not credible, not helpful, and will invariably result in more assertions that she finds “deeply offensive”.