When Trains Are *Not* Toys

How many of you have had senior pictures – or any other kind of pictures – taken on train tracks? Or know someone who has? Go ahead, raise your hand…I won’t see it. But I do want to get you thinking about something that is an absolutely preventable cause of death.

Let me tell you a little story, shall I? My husband came home yesterday from work, and said, “Train almost killed a girl today.”. I mean, that’s a way to start a conversation, isn’t it? He continued to tell me about 3 kids – in their very early teens – on a bridge in the area. Two boys, and one girl, walking across, not aware of how close they will come to dying in a few short minutes. As the train gets closer, the engineer sees the kids and starts laying on the horn. The two boys take off in one direction, completely leaving the girl, who runs in the other direction. The engineer continues blowing the horn as the girl runs faster than she’s probably ever run in her life. The boys make it off the track – the girl is still running, the horn is blowing, until the engineer makes the decision that he has no choice but the put the train in emergency to stop it as quickly as possible and hope that would be enough. Mind you, doing this means the train can derail because it stops SO FAST. So he does…and the train stops just as the girl gets to a place she can slightly step off the tracks. She came about 5 seconds from dying on the front of a train, away from her family, and with two boys looking on in horror.

The train, because it’s been put in penalty, now has to be completely walked around to make sure *it’s still on the tracks*. It delays other trains, including freight trains, who have to wait. It holds up passengers who may have other trains to catch. And worst of all – that young girl? She was spotted during the train walk down at the river washing her arms – over, and over, and over, and OVER again. Same area, just again and again and again. Probably in shock, lucky to be alive.

How do I know this? My husband was the engineer. The one who, had the train not been able to stop, would have had to watch that train PLOW DOWN that girl. And there are *COUNTLESS* near misses on a daily and weekly basis. The public only hears about the actual *hits* (and only a few of those), so they continue blithely along not realizing how close so many people come to either serious injuries or death.

Here’s the deal, folks. Train tracks are not places to hang out. In fact, if you are anywhere within a certain radius? You’re trespassing. When someone gets hit by a train? It’s called a “trespasser strike” – because that person was illegally trespassing on private property. So yes, there’s a legality involved here as well. I’m going to discuss a few of the things I hear most often about trains, and why they’re wrong.

But you can hear the train coming!” – WRONG. Using the story just above, wouldn’t you think if that were the case, those kids would have gotten off the tracks? Or, for that matter, any of those people hit and killed? However, for a little perspective on the noise – a train passing by runs at about 85 dBA. That is about the same amount of noise as an electric lawn mower about 3 feet away. And I promise you, the train is moving MUCH faster than that lawn mower could ever dream of – making the combination of lower noise and speed particularly deadly. (https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/railway_noise_measurement)

It’s Darwinism at work!” – *sigh*…Really? No. It’s people who are either unaware because they weren’t taught any better, or who – like we all do – figure it won’t happen to them. It’s an engineer who has to watch someone splat against the front of the train. It’s the conductor who has to actually go see if there’s a survivor and render aid. It’s the family who has to hear the news. It’s the passengers who are stuck on a train for potentially hours under horrible circumstances. It’s the frightened last thought of some poor soul. THAT is what is at work. (And yes. I’ve seen this comment far too often.)

But the schedule!” – Wrong again, and here’s why. Now mind you – I live on the west coast, where things are done a little bit differently in terms of train tracks. Amtrak doesn’t own their tracks here – they lease them from the freight train companies, which adds a complication to the equation. However, regardless of where in the U.S. you are – schedules are uncertain. Passenger trains get delayed at stops all the time – police are there for an unruly passenger, ambulances for a sick one, stop takes too long because of other passengers…the list goes on. And here at least, once you get roughly 20 minutes or so behind? All bets are off with regards to whether passenger or freight will take priority. So that 11:25am time that you’re counting on? Could be 11:35am, 12:25pm, 2:15pm…or even later. Schedules are just a guesstimate when it comes to hanging out on train tracks, and that guesstimate often costs people their lives.

It’s just a few pictures!” – Ummm, ok? But are they worth your life? Because again – passenger trains in particular are fast, and they’re not as loud as people assume they are. This isn’t the old west, where the train vibrations could be felt on the tracks from miles away, nor is it a cartoon where the train can magically not hit the beautiful kidnapped girl that’s hogtied on the tracks. Real life is, sadly, often far more messy and tragic – and those pictures are not worth it.

And, last but not least, my favorite non-good-reason EVER: “But we’ve done it FOREVER!“. K, cool. It only takes once. One misjudgement, one wrong spot, one few second delay – and you’re dead. Or seriously wounded. Losing legs is a very common injury, so if “doing it forever” is worth that to you? Rock on with your bad self. But remember – you’re not just jacking around with your own life. You’re jacking around with that of the engineer and his family, the conductor and her family, all the passengers (including little kids) who may see something they don’t want to see, your family and friends and whoever else happens to be around when you get hit. But go on, and tell me how doing it forever is a good reason?

Long story short – DON’T. GO. ON. TRAIN. TRACKS. For pictures, for hikes, for the hell of it. Unless you KNOW for CERTAIN that those tracks are no longer in use, it’s not worth the possible aftermath to far too many people.

Little ending piece to that story that started this whole thing? That girl on the tracks is about the same age as our daughter. And that’s all my husband could see in his head when that train was barrelling down on her. A girl, just like his little girl, who may not make it home that day.

Author: stillmorewords

Small-town girl, living in a big city. Former Coastie, married with 2 kids. Inveterate reader of all genres, though non-fiction and YA currently rule. Former indie bookstore employee, small business owner, tea drinker.

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