Your staff reporters gave accounts of the grief and shock felt by all of us following the death of a high school student when he was struck by an Amtrak passenger train. Left out of the two stories was any mention of the effect this tragedy will have on the train’s front-end crew.
Let’s imagine you’re the train’s engineer. It’s a warm July evening as you climb into the locomotive’s cab at Seattle’s King Street Station. You’ll be taking Amtrak 518 north to Canada. You stash your coffee and sink into the engineer’s well-cushioned seat. You glance over the controls, toggling through the video display to ensure the 4,400 horses are ready to haul your train north.
On the dot of 7, the conductor gives you the thumbs up, and you release the brakes. You ease the train through the tunnel, exiting into the sunshine bathing Elliott Bay. It’s a beautiful evening; sailboats dot the bay; folks sit on the balconies of their seaside homes or walk the beach promenades.
You pray it’ll be an uneventful trip, and it is –until late in the evening shortly after crossing the 49th parallel. You have slowed to negotiate the curves around the bluffs below Ocean Park.
It’s the dry season, so there shouldn’t be any landslides or fallen trees on the track. Still, you keep a sharp lookout as the powerful headlight and ditch lights illuminate the way ahead.
In the gloaming it’s difficult to see beyond the headlight’s reach, but what’s that ahead? You apply the brakes just in case, but this train can’t stop on a dime. It rolls onwards, brakes squealing, warning bell sounding as a group of young people spill across the tracks. Why are they there? Didn’t they see the signs warning of danger? Haven’t they been taught to stay away from the right-of-way?
You lay on the horn. They scurry to get off the track, some tripping as they scramble over the rails. They’re all going to make it. But no, straight ahead in the glaring eye of the headlight is a young man in the full bloom of youth. You swear a chain of oaths, wishing you could run the locomotive off the track, slam into the cliff, suffer injuries, even die yourself rather than snuff out this young man’s life.
But you can’t turn aside. You close your eyes, hoping to save yourself from the worst horror an engineer can imagine. Even so, the bloody terror of this tranquil summer evening will stick with you. Like a dark shadow, it will cloud your thoughts every time you climb into the cab, every time you approach a curve, every time darkness creeps over the land – that is, if you ever sit in the engineer’s seat again. Months of counselling may be insufficient to dilute that shadow enough for you to take the throttle again.
Everyone, obey the “danger” signs. Stay off the tracks – for your own sake, for the crew’s sake, for your loved ones’ sake.
Robert Ramsay, White Rock
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Once again it is the train’s fault – or everybody else’s fault – for the stupidity of some humans.
The answer, of course, is to get rid of all trains everywhere and especially the one going through White Rock where the level of human stupidity seems to be increasing daily.
If trains come through at 15 to 20 per day, this averages out at about, say, one per hour. I do not think that even if only one train came through per day, there would be a reduction in human stupid accidents with it.
And what do the lengths of the trains have to do with increasing risk? Fifty cars or 200 cars: it’s all the same.
Just stop being stupid around trains.
Ivan Michael Scott, Surrey