The train was heading towards an unavoidable crash – with helpless cleaner Sara on board.
In January, the 22-year-old cleaning lady was accused of taking a commuter train for a joyride after the empty vehicle careened off its tracks and crashed into a three-story building outside of Stockholm. But it later transpired that Sara started the vehicle by accident as she was cleaning it in the middle of the night.
“I realized in that moment that everything will go to hell,” the 22-year-old tells trade union newspaper Sekotidningen in her first interview since the accident.
When the train started moving she wasn’t surprised at first – sometimes trains are moved when they are in the train yard.
“Then I remember that I thought it travelled much too quickly and in the wrong direction,” she recalls.
After that her memories are vague.
She says she had time to think that it would be best to jump off the train to a platform on the right-hand side. She tried to stop the train by turning the ignition key, she recalls. The seconds before the crash into a residential building, she sat down on the left-hand side of the train, behind the driver’s seat, and braced herself for the impact.
The train crashed at more than 80kph through the barriers at the end of the station and into the building. It took more than two hours for emergency staff to free Sara, who was then brought to hospital with injuries to both legs, a fracture in her pelvis, nine broken ribs, a punctured lung and a badly injured ear.
“They kept me sedated for three days. My sister told me that I asked whether I was still trapped in the train when I woke up,” she says.
Immediately after the accident, Stockholm public transit operator SL and the subcontracting train operator Arriva told media that Sara had stolen the train. The police investigation showed that there were serious security flaws, that the train had the wrong gear active and the safety mechanism, the so-called dead man’s switch, was deactivated.
Sara says she isn’t bitter about the accident: “I don’t want to be angry. You may as well laugh it off when it’s done. They are the ones who have screwed up.”
Both Arriva and SL have apologized to Sara.
She has now turned down all interview requests, save for her own union’s paper. She says she doesn’t want to become a public figure.
“I choose to tell my story here and now. In part to perhaps invalidate some prejudice out there. There are theories on racist sites about why media has been so silent and that the reason should be that I’m an illegal immigrant – which I am not.”