Every year, more than 140 people choose to end their life on Switzerland’s vast railroad network. While suicides are always a great burden for the relatives and friends of the deceased, train drivers are often heavily traumatized as well. The Swiss public train company is in silent agreement with the media that train suicides should not be reported on to prevent copycat suicides. Hence the topic is not part of any public debate and prevention efforts are sparse. Meanwhile, train drivers have to deal with suicides on a daily basis. On average, every Swiss train driver is involved in at least one suicide during his or her career, most of them experience it two or even three times. Many suffer from sleeping or eating disorders, some can’t go back to work at all.
40 METERS gives one of these train drivers a voice. Kurt Spori reflects on how he managed to deal with the three suicides he had to endure and hints at what needs to happen in order to dismantle one of Switzerland’s biggest taboos.
KURT SPORI – RETIRED TRAIN DRIVER
The whole thing is a matter of luck, right? How many times it happens to you. A guy from our depot hit twelve in his entire career. I hit three.
Some guys are spared. I guess that’s the way it is. You ask yourself if you will be next. Or will it be some other guy? It’s destiny.
A train at full speed travels 40 meters while the driver is still reacting. Train drivers… How do I put this?
We don’t have the best reputation among women. They say that we’re loners. We do have a lonely job.
There were days we couldn’t talk to anyone. We could only pet the engine a bit.
You realize how many people you transport. You never talk to any of them. It’s true, we become loners and lone fighters.
I’m also a bit of a nature person. I love nature. And I loved being surrounded by nature during work. During fall, when the herds of cows were outside. I just had to watch those cows. And on the way back you saw them again. Then they were grazing somewhere else. Of course work always came first. But during work you could observe nature. I really liked that. Well, I also hit a cow once. That was not fun at all. But that’s nature as well. Sometimes I also hit birds. That was difficult. Those birds of prey. As they fly their rounds. And that really got to me. They were looking for food for their younglings. They didn’t go in front of a train intentionally. 70 meters until the breaks take effect.
The first time it happened in the middle of a train station. I drove a cargo train. I was heading for the switch yard. I drove along the platform. Not knowing what was about to happen. Then a person walks across the platform and steps onto the train tracks. I thought: “God damn it, why can’t you use the underpass like everybody else?” But this guy doesn’t keep walking and stops. I thought he was one of those guys who want to cross the train tracks because they are in a hurry. He stops, facing the direction of Basel. And I drive right into his back. I still see him. He wore a black coat. I don’t know how old he was. I only saw him from behind. It was dawn. Well I stopped. I didn’t go look. There is nothing you can do anyhow. With this force… only pieces like this remain. In a moment like this you’re controlled by your autonomic nervous system. You can’t control that. First, you’re in shock. Then, there’s a reflex. You pull the breaks and so forth. How it truly is, you cannot anticipate. Everybody reacts in a different way.
The second time… I can still see it as well. This guy just jumped out of nowhere. He took a full length dive. I still see this… red vending machine on the platform. He was hiding behind it. And when I came along he took a dive like a nose-dive into a swimming pool. How long did I see him? Maybe a second, maybe two. Hard to say. You could say I was lucky that I didn’t see much. I didn’t have much time to think. I could only act.
I heard from colleagues who saw it coming for much longer. Those guys had to suffer way more. They saw it for a much longer time. 100 meters until a complete stop. After something like this you become more sensory. Especially if people are near the tracks. Do they want to jump? There are days when you fear people are waiting behind every pole.
Of course there’s train drivers who now have problems. Sleep or eating disorders. I know of a colleague who couldn’t drive for another meter. So I told myself if this ever happens to me again if it’s somehow possible to keep driving, I will keep driving. I have these people behind me in my train with all their appointments and so forth.
The last time I hit someone, I drove at 140 km/h. It was far away from the next city. What do you think happens then? My train will stand still for two full hours. Then comes a judge, the police, your supervisor, a fire and rescue train. One big circus. The whole route is blocked for two hours. So I said to myself: ‘Not on my watch’. So I called it in. You have to call it in, obviously. I continued driving, as I decided to. When I arrived in Lausanne my supervisor immediately called the police and then they confirmed it was a person. Which I knew. The first thing they asked me to do is a breathalyzer test.
‘This guy could be drunk!’. That’s the first thing you have to do. Completely crazy. After what just happened that’s another slap in the face. ‘Now this is my fault? I’m supposed to be driving drunk?’
There’s this agreement between the train company and the media to minimize coverage, to prevent copycat suicides. That’s all good. But if we put a lid on it we’re not going to change anything for anyone.
We should be able to prevent someone from jumping in front of a train in the first place.
I read this newspaper article written by a psychologist. He said that people, who make this decision enter some sort of a trance. He was able to prove that 90% of all people who could be stopped from doing it, regretted their decision afterwards. If we manage to go talk to that person and tap on their shoulder to get them out of their trance maybe for them that’s like an epiphany. “What was it exactly that I wanted to do?” Of course, I’m not angry at these people. I never was. They are in too desperate of a situation to realize that they are involving someone else in this. Someone who has to kill them. I always felt like there would have been another solution. And finding these solutions is what we should be working on.
Biography Samuel Flückiger
Born in 1982, Samuel Flueckiger grew up in Basel, Switzerland. After graduating in Sociology and Cinema Studies from University of Zurich, he worked as a production assistant for Zurich based Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion (IRAQI ODYSSEY, CHRIS THE SWISS).
In 2011, he attended professional programs in producing and screenwriting at the University of California Los Angeles School of Theatre, Film, and Television.
Samuel Flueckiger’s award winning short films TERMINAL (2013) and NIGHTLIGHT (2015) screened at various renowned festivals around the world and were sold to multiple broadcasters including CBC (Canada) and SRF (Switzerland).
Born in 1982, Samuel Flueckiger grew up in Basel, Switzerland. After graduating in Sociology and Cinema Studies from University of Zurich, he attended programs in screenwriting and producing at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Samuel Flueckiger’s short films «Terminal» and «Nachtlicht» won awards at various renowned international film festivals and sold to multiple broadcasters.
Fensterlos (2019), Short, Drama, 27’, Aaron Film GmbH (CH), Modernist Film (USA)
40 Meter (2018), Documentary Short, 14′, Flueckiger Film (CH)
Nachtlicht (2015), Short, Drama, 13’, Aaron Film GmbH / Lithium Studios (CAN)
Parler Métier – ein Werkstattgespräch mit Alexander J. Seiler (2013), Documentary, 52’, Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduktion (CH)
Terminal (2012), Short, Drama, 21’, Lithium Studios (CAN/CH)