It's every parent's nightmare, and it's more likely to happen on a Melbourne train

Carrie McCluskey and her children Freddie, 2, and Esther, 4.
Carrie McCluskey and her children Freddie, 2, and Esther, 4. Photo: Paul Jeffers

It’s a nightmare moment: being separated from your child on a city train network. And it’s more likely to happen to you in Melbourne than in any other Australian capital city.

Metro Trains' safety boss Anthony Fewster revealed last month that parent-child separations were alarmingly common, occurring on the rail network about once a fortnight.

But figures obtained by The Age show Melbourne's figure is higher than in other states. On the Sydney metro system parents and children were separated just three times this financial year.

In most other states, rail authorities say separations occur relatively rarely.

Only Brisbane reports a figure closer to Melbourne's, with an average of one separation every 5½ weeks.

In Perth, there is about one separation every three months and Adelaide has had just three in the past two years.

The Melbourne data came to light after a mother was separated from her baby while she was attempting to board a peak-hour train as the doors closed at Southern Cross Station in May.

The woman got her baby and pram on board but was left stranded on the platform while her child continued to Flagstaff. They were reunited four minutes later.

Metro says its fortnightly rate includes separations within the stations, not just on trains, but other parents have since come forward to detail their own frightening experiences on Melbourne's rail network.

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Seddon mother Carrie McCluskey was at Melbourne Central in December when she became trapped in a train's doors.

Her mother, four-year-old daughter, sister-in-law and baby had boarded the train first. Ms McCuskey was following with her 18-month-old in a pram when the doors closed on her. She was freed by other commuters and forced her way onto the train.

Ms McCluskey said while she wasn't separated from her children or seriously injured, she was left shocked by the incident. She had bruising to her elbow and upper arm.

"I was not badly injured but very shaken," she said.

"Metro did an investigation and according to CCTV they saw it happen, the doors shut on me. I was boarding in the disabled section and still the train driver did not see me and closed the doors on me.

"If I didn’t have those people’s help to force open the doors, who knows what could have happened?"

In a report seen by The Age, Metro told Ms McCluskey that CCTV showed the area between the yellow line and the train was not clear as the driver shut the doors.

Metro apologised via email but also provided Ms McCluskey with a brochure on how to board the train safely with a pram.

Ms McCluskey said she was "very surprised" by Metro's reaction.

"And a little pissed they sent me a brochure on safe entry of trains when I was clearly entering safely," she said.

Pakenham mother Monique Lee was pulling her pram backwards off a train at Kananook station in 2016 when the doors closed.

Unable to reopen the doors, she pushed her one-year-old in her pram back into the carriage as the train moved away. Thankfully, her friend was also still inside.

"It was really scary ... there were no beeping noises, it just slammed shut on me."

Ms Lee said she waited 40 minutes to be reunited with her baby. She reported the incident but says she heard nothing in response.

Metro said this week they also investigated this incident and found the driver was at fault.

Mr Fewster acknowledged the incidents were "distressing" for the parents and children involved.

"Metro reached out in both instances to apologise to the passengers, explain the circumstances of what happened, and how it was being investigated and addressed," he said.

The reasons for Melbourne's higher rate of separations is unclear.

A spokeswoman for the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia said separations didn't occur very often in Perth – "once every three months at most" – because a lot of stations were manned and drivers used rear-facing dashboard cameras to see people getting on and off.

NSW has staff on board each train to help people with disabilities, parents with prams, or the elderly to get on and off at stations.

In Adelaide, a series of warning tones sounds as doors are closing, similar to Melbourne's procedure.

Mr Fewster said in May one separation every fortnight was "definitely too many" but "in my experience, they’ve all been safe separations in the sense that no one’s been hurt".

"It’s just a really stressful time for parents and children," he said.

Metro encourages parents with prams to board towards the front of trains where they are more likely to be seen by the driver.

The rail operator is currently trialling extra staff on platforms and other measures to help passengers board and exit trains quicker, improve safety and reduce the time a train spends on platforms during peak periods.

The trial will be conducted throughout 2019 and its performance evaluated, with plans to extend it to other parts of the network.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union branch secretary Luba Grigorovitch said the trial was a major acknowledgement of the important role played by frontline staff.

"Our public transport is at its best with people at the centre of focus," she said.

"Safety and service delivery for commuters must be the number-one priority and adequate staffing remains critical to improving these outcomes."

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