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WHEN the moment comes, the man in the driver's seat is not much more than a spectator. It takes time to stop a six-carriage train weighing more than 300 tonnes.
Even after your left hand has lunged for the lever that activates the emergency air brake and slammed it forward, it takes time.
If you're on a high-speed section of track, doing 80km/h, or on a downhill grade, it takes more time.
If it's wet, it takes longer still.
All the driver can do is watch as the train's weight and momentum keep it grinding inexorably forward.
Even when it is decelerating, an electric train engine and the equipment hanging from its undercarriage is an unforgiving adversary.
The result, if it hits you, is almost inevitable.
So is the likelihood that at some stage of their careers most suburban train drivers will become killers -- victims of a dark, unspoken phenomenon that claims up to 40 Victorian lives a year.
Arthur Enver became a train driver in 1982 and drove for 17 years without being involved in a fatality.
Since his luck ran out, he's been involved in three in four years.
None was an accident.
All three victims were in their late teens or early 20s.
Arthur says fatalities have become an unavoidable fact of life for train drivers.
"It's not a question of whether it will or won't happen. It's a question of how often," he said.
"What you can't predict is where or when.
"You don't know if they're going to jump off the end of the platform in front of you, or the person waiting at the level crossing is going to step out and lay down and it's all over. It's anywhere, any time."
Last time it happened to him, he was off work for almost four months.
He says different drivers react differently, and find different ways to cope.
"I just can't sleep. If I do manage to get to sleep, it's only for one or two hours.
"You just walk around like a zombie and end up in this depressive cycle. Some people just never get over it.
"What they tell you in the shrink sessions is to detach yourself from the event, that it's not really you that's done the killing, it's the train.
"But that's hard to do.
"There's not a day goes by when you don't think about it. It never leaves your mind."
Counselling is important, he says, but the support, sympathy and understanding of peers is even more important.
He takes a pragmatic view of why drivers continue to drive after becoming unwilling collaborators in someone's plan to end their life.
"A lot of blokes only have one qualification -- and this is it."
The grief and trauma drivers suffer is aggravated when they return to work.
Arthur points out that he might pass by the spot where he's hit someone four times a day, and every time he remembers every last detail.
Drivers know from bitter experience that Christmas, exam times and tax time are all periods that put some people under extra pressure and can be a trigger for troubled souls.
Arthur says workers' compensation payments for drivers who take stress leave after a fatality only match their base salary, and might be half what they earn with penalties and shift work.
He says crimes compensation, if it is paid, is "a pitiful amount considering the amount of money you lose".
"It's a drop in the ocean when you take into account the effect it has on your overall life."
He says the current dispute about whether drivers should be eligible for crimes compensation for pain and suffering is not just a matter of money.
"You lose a lot more than just money. But getting something for pain and suffering at least acknowledges that you are suffering."
He says most drivers would experience at least one scare a day involving life-threatening incidents and people putting themselves in danger by "just doing stupid things".
"You constantly get these frights, and for some drivers it can be terribly traumatic, especially if little kids are involved.
"I honestly don't think I could cope if the next one happened to be a little child. I think I'd just lose the plot."
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