Published 10th October 2012
The rail industry put aside its West Coast woes at Euston when three train companies joined forces to honour the founder of the Samaritans, The Reverend Dr Chad Varah, CH, CBE.
In what is thought to be a unique event, two trains and a locomotive were named at the same event. Virgin Trains, London Midland, Direct Rail Services Limited (DRS).
Dr. Chad Varag’s daughter, Felicity Varah Harding, unveiled the nameplates and made a short but entertaining speech with every unveiling. The nearly new Virgin Pendolino No. 390157 , a London Midland Class 350 Desiro No. 350 232 and a DRS locomotive Class 57, 57302, at the event hosted by Virgin Trains.
London Midland has until now, had a policy of not naming trains but agreed to break their own policy after nearly five years of operation to support the cause.
The rail industry has put posters at platform ends and specially trained staff to look out for people who are distressed and several lives have been saved by alert staff.
It is estimated that around 250 people a year commit suicide on the UK’s rail network. This causes obvious distress to drivers and front line staff who have to deal with the aftermath. Passengers suffer minor inconvenience with the resultant delays and the amount of fatalities is growing, possibly due to the current economic difficulties.
In previous years, fatalities were not announced, merely that an incident was delaying trains but today there is a new policy of saying that a person has been hit by a train. Again, sadly there was a fatality on the day of the event near Rugby, bringing home just how important the Samaritans and railway initiative is.
Rail.co.uk was present at the event which also marked the impending retirement of Virgin’s media relations’ managers Stephen Knight and Allan McLean. Newsreader Nicholas Owen officiated while Pete Waterman and well known DJ Les Ross reminisced about the good old days!
Probably the best UK railway journalist, Modern Railways’ Roger Ford, was presented with a plate of frogs deferring to his ‘boiling frog’ syndrome describing the Department for Transport.
Felicity said of the honour:
“My father never drove a car, he believed in public transport, especially trains. In his lifetime he would have travelled thousands of miles visiting Samaritans branches up and down the country.
“He would say it is the best form of transport and would have been delighted that both he, and Samaritans, is being recognised in this way.”
Catherine Johnstone, Chief Executive at Samaritans added:
“To see these trains take to the rail network, named in honour of our founder, Chad Varah, is a testament to the impact his work has had on the millions of people that have used Samaritans since he set himself up with an emergency telephone almost sixty years ago.
“His idea of offering a non judgemental, confidential, listening service to people struggling to cope, continue to be the guiding principles of Samaritans’ service today.”
Chris Gibb, Chief Operating Officer at Virgin Trains said:
“We are delighted to be part of today’s event to honour the founder of Samaritans, Chad Varah. We have a number of explorers honoured with their name on the side of our Voyager trains, but this will be the only Pendolino train named after a person.
“Virgin Trains works closely with many organisations, including Samaritans, and we are pleased to honour its founder with the name Chad Varah on the side of one of our new 11-coach Pendolinos.”
The London Midland Managing Director, Patrick Verwer said that “We are honoured to be a part of this initiative and having one of our trains bearing Chad Varah’s name will ensure more people become familiar with his accomplishments in founding Samaritans, an organisation that has made such a positive difference to so many and continues to do so today.”
Neil McNicholas, managing director of DRS added:
“We are delighted to be associated in honouring a great man who founded a great organisation. With one of our locomotives named Chad Varah travelling on the network, it will be a very visible tribute to an organisation that has, and continues to contribute, so much to so many.”
Samaritans started in 1953 in London, founded by Chad Varah – who wanted to do something to help those struggling to cope or contemplating suicide. Launching what he called ‘999 for the suicidal’, he was in his own words ‘a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone’. He received his first call on November 2nd 1953, the date now known as Samaritans' official birthday.
As word spread Chad was contacted by many callers wanting support on the phone or face to face, as well as an influx of volunteers wanting to help. The role of the volunteer then was to sit with, or talk to, the caller whilst they waited to see or speak to Chad. But often they would talk through their problems with the volunteer as they waited and had no need to speak to Chad.
The simple act of listening was enough for most callers, with Chad realising that the power of the service was providing a safe place for people to talk and be listened to, without judgement. In February 1954, the Samaritan listener was born as Chad handed over the role of supporting callers to the volunteers, creating the service we know today.