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VR backtracks on criticism of girls who pulled emergency brake for stranded toddlers

The rail firm's communications chief later admitted the girls acted appropriately when they pulled the emergency brake to help the children’s distressed mother.

Ihmisiä tulossa junasta Pasilassa.
The toddlers had been stranded on the platform at the Pasila station while their mother was on the train. Image: Antti Aimo-Koivisto / Lehtikuva

Finnish state rail company VR has climbed down from criticism of a pair of teenage girls who pulled the emergency brake to stop a train after a distressed mother said that her young children had been left behind on a station platform.

Earlier this month the mother, who just gotten off the train with her two and four year-old children at Helsinki's Pasila train station, realised she had left her bag on the train and reboarded the train to fetch it. The train's doors closed and began to move toward the city's Central Railway Station, leaving the woman's toddlers alone on the platform.

Now, stuck in the carriage where the two teenage girls were seated, the panicked mother began looking for the emergency brake. Since the girls were sitting near the brake, and because other passengers and the mother were urging them to act, the girls pulled it.

When the train came to a stop however, the conductor and two guards ordered the teens off the train under threat of a fine. At the time, VR said that passengers should not pull the emergency brake in such circumstances, because it is only meant to be used or a person’s life or health is in immediate danger.

However on Friday morning VR’s communications director Tatu Tuominen walked back those statements and told Yle that the young women acted appropriately.

“According to our understanding and specifically in this case there was clearly a danger that warranted the use of the emergency brake. The girls did the right thing,” he noted.

Emergency brake for hazardous situations

According to Tuominen, passengers should use the emergency brake in situations involving an emergency or the threat of danger.

“For example if someone falls ill, then you should first call the emergency number for guidance,” he said, referring to the emergency phones that can be used to contact engine drivers.

“Emergency phones are a bit different are in different locations depending on the type of train, but they are usually very visible. In practice the emergency phone has a button with SOS. Pressing it gives you a direct line to the driver,” Tuominen explained.

According to the mother of the infant girls who were stranded on the platform, passengers had tried to call the driver on the emergency phone but it didn’t work.

She said that the guards who later arrived threatened the girls with stiff fines and escorted them off the train for having pulled the brake.

Tuominen said he didn’t want to comment on the guards’ actions, but noted that the use of the emergency brake on trains is always considered on a case by case basis.

“It was found that there was no liability for damages in this case because it involved a clear hazard. The conductor, guards and train staff settled the situation on the spot away from our operations centre and it took some time,” Tuominen concluded.

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