Press release: Samaritans founder honoured by the rail industry

Today, on platform 16 at Euston station a unique event took place. Virgin Trains, London Midland, Direct Rail Services Limited (DRS) and Network Rail came together to honour Samaritans founder The Reverend Dr Chad Varah, CH, CBE by naming three trains in his memory.

His daughter, Felicity Varah Harding, unveiled three trains, a Virgin Pendolino 390157 , a London Midland Class 350 Desiro  and a DRS locomotive Class 57,  57302, at the event hosted by Virgin Trains today.
Virgin Pendolino named after Samaritans founder Chad Varah
Felicity said of the honour:
“My father never drove a car, he believed in public transport, especially trains.  In his lifetime he would have travelled thousands of miles visiting Samaritans branches up and down the country.

“He would say it is the best form of transport and would have been delighted that both he, and Samaritans, is being recognised in this way.”

Catherine Johnstone, Chief Executive at Samaritans added:
“To see these trains take to the rail network, named in honour of our founder, Chad Varah, is a testament to the impact his work has had on the millions of people that have used Samaritans since he set himself up with an emergency telephone almost sixty years ago.

“His idea of offering a non judgemental, confidential, listening service to people struggling to cope, continue to be the guiding principles of Samaritans’ service today.”

Chris Gibb, Chief Operating Officer at Virgin Trains said:
“We are delighted to be part of today’s event to honour the founder of Samaritans, Chad Varah. We have a number of explorers honoured with their name on the side of our Voyager trains, but this will be the only Pendolino train named after a person.

“Virgin Trains works closely with many organisations, including Samaritans, and we are pleased to honour its founder with the name Chad Varah on the side of one of our new 11-coach Pendolinos.”

Samaritans started in 1953 in London, founded by Chad Varah – who wanted to do something to help those struggling to cope or contemplating suicide. Launching what he called ‘999 for the suicidal’, he was in his own words ‘a man willing to listen, with a base and an emergency telephone’. He received his first call on November 2nd 1953, the date now known as Samaritans' official birthday.

As word spread Chad was contacted by many callers wanting support on the phone or face to face, as well as an influx of volunteers wanting to help. The role of the volunteer then was to sit with, or talk to, the caller whilst they waited to see or speak to Chad.  But often they would talk through their problems with the volunteer as they waited and had no need to speak to Chad.   

The simple act of listening was enough for most callers, with Chad realising that the power of the service was providing a safe place for people to talk and be listened to, without judgement. In February 1954, the Samaritan listener was born as Chad handed over the role of supporting callers to the volunteers, creating the service we know today.

“We are honoured to be a part of this initiative,” said Patrick Verwer, the Managing Director at London Midland. “Having one of our trains bearing Chad Varah’s name will ensure more people become familiar with his accomplishments in founding  Samaritans, an organisation that has made such a positive difference to so many and continues to do so today.”

Managing Director of London Midland Patrick Verwer, Samaritans Chief Executive Catherine Johnstone and Felicity Varah-Harding with the London Midland train named after Samaritans founder Chad Varah





Neil McNicholas, managing director of DRS added:
“We are delighted to be associated in honouring a great man who founded a great organisation. With one of our locomotives named Chad Varah travelling on the network, it will be a very visible tribute to an organisation that has, and continues to contribute, so much to so many.”

Samaritans Chief Executive Catherine Jonstone, Neil McNicholas Managing Director of Direct Rails Services and Felicity Varah-Harding at the Direct Rail Services train named after Samaritans founder Chad Varah






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For further information please contact Samaritans’ press office on 020 8394 8300 or email

Notes to Editors:

A fourth train, a Network Rail locomotive (on operational duty today), will also be named after Chad.

Network Rail and Samaritans launched a five-year partnership in January 2010 to reduce the number of suicides on the railways. Overall rates of suicides have generally been declining for the last ten years, but the number of suicides on the railways in the UK has remained above 200 a year.

Suicide on the railways has a devastating effect on family, friends, train drivers, frontline rail staff and witnesses. Suicides on the rail network have a knock-on effect of disruption to rail services, which costs the rail industry around £20 million every year.

The partnership features a programme of prevention and post-incident activities:

  • Training for railway industry and British Transport Police staff to give them skills to identify someone in distress, how to intervene, and get that person to a place of safety.
  • Training for people who manage train drivers to ensure they are correctly supported following a fatality.
  • A ‘call-out’ programme where Samaritans volunteers from local branches can be called out to speak to people in distress.
  • Samaritans volunteers providing support at stations to staff and witnesses following a fatality.
  • British Transport Police officers referring people to Samaritans.
  • Samaritans working with the media on the reporting of suicides.

Over 2,000 railway staff and BTP officers have been through Samaritans training since the beginning of the partnership.  The charity has been informed of over 40 incidences where railway staff and BTP officers have identified someone struggling to cope and intervened.

  • ‘We’re in your Corner’ Samaritans awareness campaign aimed at men aged 30 to 55 launched on 20 September.
  • Samaritans’ vision is that fewer people die by suicide. People contact Samaritans when they are struggling to cope and need someone to talk to. More than 20,000 Samaritans’ volunteers are available round the clock, every day of the year. The helpline provides a safe place to talk and all conversations are private.
  • To contact Samaritans call 116 123, email, or visit to find your nearest branch.