Book review: ‘A collision on the track’, Joris van Casteren
For most people, collisions with trains are a phenomenon that they incidentally encounter as a passenger and that mainly causes nuisance. In the railway messages they appear under the heading ‘unplanned obstructions’ as ‘collision with a person’ or ‘collision with a vehicle’. It may make you silent for a moment, think about the victims and hope that the delay will not last too long. Some react angrily or cynically: why does this have to happen while I’m on my way to an important job interview? Few ever wonder what triggers such an accident and how many people are directly or indirectly affected.
- Author: Joris van Casteren
- Title: A collision on the track
- Publisher: Querido Phosphorus
- Year of publication: 2017
- ISBN: 978-90-214-0847-7
Joris van Casteren has taken the trouble to conduct extensive research into one specific accident on the railway that occurred on 28 November 2016 at the level crossing with Sionsweg in Nijmegen, a bit south of Nijmegen Heyendaal station. On that day the Veolia train from Nijmegen to Venlo had a collision with two women and five dogs. Only one of the dogs survived the accident, the women and the four other animals were killed.
Change of perspective
Van Casteren accurately describes the events of that fateful morning, in a bare, documentary style, paying particular attention to the facts. The report has a chronological structure and the perspective changes constantly, as if we were watching a documentary in which the camera is constantly aimed at a new scene.
When the book starts, we watch the train driver. We follow the routine actions he performs after he gets up early in the morning, gently so as not to wake his wife. Then we get to know a number of travelers who board the train and their intended travel destination. If the collision has occurred and the transport company and emergency services are alerted, the perspective changes again.
We are told how a number of witnesses – the passengers, but also some people waiting in front of the railway trees – experienced the accident. Some are able to take a very business-like view of the situation, others are completely upset, partly depending on what they may or may not have learned from the chaos on the level crossing. We then get to hear the stories of the employees of the funeral home and the police officers who have been summoned. The search for the identity of the victims begins. The first clue is a hastily abandoned car near the level crossing.
The deceased are identified on the basis of the registration number. And then in time follow the stories of the bewildered relatives. Slowly a drama unfolds that gradually takes on increasingly bizarre features. There appears to be suicide, so it was not an accident. But that immediately raises new questions. Why did these two women want to die? Did they make the decision together or did one of them persuade the other? And why did they want to take their dogs to death?
Van Casteren does not ask questions like this explicitly, but presents the facts step by step in the order in which they emerge during the detailed investigation. In this way the reader can form an image for himself that gradually becomes more complete and sharper. This consistently neutral stance works very well on a loaded subject like this one. This prevents it from becoming a sensational, ‘colored’ story.
Talking and writing about such a subject always evokes mixed feelings. NS policy is to remain silent about collisions with trains as much as possible and to keep them out of publicity in order to prevent copying. Furthermore, some people find it an unhealthy kind of curiosity to delve into these nasty things.
On the other hand, anyone who is confronted with a suicide on the trail will have wondered at some point about the background to these kinds of incidents. Jumping in front of a train is not something you just do; you have to be hopelessly desperate to get there. What must have preceded such a desperate act to reach that ultimate psychic state? Knowing more about that could help prevent at least some suicides in the future.
Viewed in this way, this detailed description of one specific case also serves as a substitute for the more than two hundred other cases of suicide on the trail that occur every year. By becoming aware of how the immediate environment of people in psychological distress functions and how they respond to the signals that are or are not picked up, we can gain a better understanding of the complex history of these types of incidents – a history that can sometimes be tens. covers years.
In the case described here of the simultaneous death of two women and four of their dogs, a tragic outcome seemed almost pre-programmed. Anyone who knew all aspects of the situation would have seen that there was one here accident waiting to happen. Tribute to Joris van Casteren for his meticulous, honest work and the breathtaking account he made of a family drama, without any form of sensationalism, that leaves the reader speechless.