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‘It’s a savage line’: V/Line driver’s pain sparks quest to protect other women

The North-East line is described by many in the industry as a goat track due to its poor condition. Many male drivers have complained of back and neck pain caused by the train being jolted around on uneven tracks, a process known as rough riding.

But with so few of V/Line’s drivers and managers being female, the problem of breast pain is less known.

The train line to Albury is notorious among drivers.

The train line to Albury is notorious among drivers.

The closest thing she could compare her pain to was mastitis – a painful inflammation of the breast common among breastfeeding women.

Most of her colleagues were men and didn’t understand and when Ms Blanks notified her superiors of the pain, she said they grew uncomfortable.

“They were embarrassed to talk to me about it,” she said.

After lodging a complaint, Ms Blanks continued driving along the route. On the advice of a female HR representative, she started wearing a compression bra and that helped, for a short time.

But by 2014, she was in agony.

“I couldn’t cross my arms or cross my chest without causing excruciating pain, my kids couldn’t hug me, my husband couldn’t touch me, walking down the stairs would bring me to tears,” she said.

“I was in pain 24/7 … I thought I would need to have a double mastectomy just to be out of pain.”

A sports surgeon at the Australian Institute of Sport diagnosed her condition: a muscular skeletal injury to her chest wall, caused by rough riding. There was also internal bleeding in her breasts.

She said the doctor told her that inserting meat hooks through her breasts and “swinging from a ceiling” is the only other way she could have damaged her breasts so badly.

“My pectoral muscle was torn away from my rib cage,” she said.

As the pain intensified, making it difficult for Ms Blanks to drive, she battled with the rail agency over a series of WorkCover claims and eventually sued V/Line.

In an out-of-court settlement reached in late March, V/Line agreed to cover Ms Blanks’ medical bills.

It was a small win nearly a decade after trying to manage the debilitating injury.

But Ms Blanks is concerned about other female drivers who say they are suffering the same symptoms but are too embarrassed to speak out in the male-dominated industry.

She is now campaigning for compression bras to be introduced as a form of PPE at V/Line, but this has so far been refused.

Rail, Tram and Bus Union’s Victorian secretary Luba Grigorovitch said Ms Blanks’ concerns were “shared by many women across numerous jobs within our industry but too often their concerns are not addressed and simply don’t see the light of day”.

She said what might appear as a “personal injury” is in fact a “workplace injury” and should be treated as such.

“Similar instances are sadly familiar to many others and employers need to do more to ensure employees feel safe seeking support and speaking out about issues that affect them.”

A V/Line spokesman said there was a “well-established process to provide support to staff throughout the recovery process from any injury”.

“The health and safety of our staff is always a priority so a thorough investigation into this complaint was undertaken at the time.

“We regularly review the uniforms of all staff to ensure they meet the requirements of each role.”

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