Friday, December 05, 2008

Witz DOESN'T Pick: Train Fatalities (Going out on a Limb With This One, I Know...)

Every now and then I'm willing to take a stand on something and this is one of those times. CalTrain, Northern California's answer to the question, "How can we force people to know the name 'San Bruno,'" has had more and more fatalities in recent months, including another one this morning. While I'm sympathetic to the deceased and those who cared about them, I continue to be baffled at how you end up as The Meat on a Train N' Tracks Sandwich (I wanted to say how you end up on "The business end of a FREAKIN' TRAIN!" but it occurred to me that the business end of a train is actually just a seat on the train because it is literally a business and you would have paid for a ticket. And I completely DO understand how that could happen). I assume there are only two ways for this to happen:

The obvious explanation for how someone could get hit by a train is that they placed themselves in its path specfically for that purpose. I don't know about you, but that annoys the hell out of me. In fact, I would be willing to believe in Hell just so I can think these people went there. It has nothing to do with religion and suicide, but simply the fact that these people didn't just want to kill themselves, they wanted to kill themselves and make everybody else late. Every time the train hits someone, the train has to stop, they clean up the body (which has to be emotionally damaging to both the people cleaning it up and the conductor and passengers who just found out they HIT A PERSON), and all the trains are delayed by *FUN FACT ALERT* about half an hour (approximately the same amount of time it takes to watch an episode of Weeds). Killing yourself is your own business, but getting in the way of a COMMUTER train just isn't necessary. Find some cargo trains and hop in front of that. You know what doesn't feel emotional stress? Coal.

Sometimes, it's not just people. Cars and trucks also get hit by the train, sometimes killing the drivers. If any of these are suicides then I'm completely baffled. Why would you possibly feel the need to destroy your vehicle and put the train and its passengers at risk? I guess if you're not fully committed, you might end up living through the accident, but I can't imagine post-Not Dying From Purposefully Placing Your Vehicle In Front of a Train life would really be stellar. The only other explanation I can think of is that they want to be sitting comfortably in a controlled atmosphere when they go. Get the heat or AC just right. And more likely, have the music that you want playing-- to which I say, "BUY AN IPOD! They're not that expensive and it's not like it's gonna matter anyway! Don't worry about breaking a perfectly good iPod either, because it was probably going to die soon anyway!"

Also, orchestrating a soundtrack to your death is risky business. Whether you're in your car or listening to an iPod, there's a big problem with timing. SURE, trains usually run on time-- maybe that's why people keep jumpin' in front of them, it's reliable. BUT, occasionally they don't. Even when they are on time, there's some wiggle room of a few minutes. One minute you're listening to "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," ready to go, and the next minute, the train's bearing down on you a little after it was supposed to and you're listening to that The Darkness song that you thought you deleted a long time ago. That's definitely what would happen to me with my luck. I can just imagine people talking afterwards:

"I heard he was listening to "Umbrella" when he died."
"Me too! I heard he had the whole album!"
"Not just the one song?"
"Nope, the whole thing!"

Meanwhile I'm struggling from the grave to tell them it isn't true just to keep my music cred. That's no kind of legacy. So please, stop stepping in front of comes off as needy, and reaks of desperation. Nobody like desperate.

Total Disregard:
The only other way you end up getting hit by a train is complete and utter disregard and obliviousness towards your surroundings. Trains run on tracks, make lots of noise as they approach, and have warning lights and sounds that go off as they approach a stop. One article about this morning's fatality states, "Caltrain categorized the victim as a trespasser." I kind of assume they mean "homeless person," but yeah, I'd say they were trespassing. Anyone standing ON THE TRACKS is clearly trespassing. It also says that he wasn't at a crossing. Even if you're not at a crossing, how do you possibly not see or sense that a train is about to hit you? When you feel the tracks shaking, do you stop and check to see if you just got a text? And even if that's the case, wouldn't you check to make sure it's a good time to pause on train tracks and check your phone??

As mentioned earlier, it's not just people. Cars, trucks, semis, all sorts of vehicles have been hit by the train. This is even weirder to me. If they ain't commiting suicide, they have to just be saying, "Welp, I recognize that my vehicle is physically blocking train tracks...and I understand the light is red and those other warning lights are flashing...and I see a train coming towards me...but fuck it, I was here first." My only explanation that I'm willing to partially, mildly, understand is that these people are victims of craving adventure too much. Here's why:

A few years back, I was exiting the highway on a long exit ramp, minding my own business. All of a sudden, the car in front of me inexplicably swerved to the right and slammed into a light post. The light post started falling across the path of the road and I had a quick decision to make. Having seen way too many movies and played out this scenario in numerous video games, my immediate thought was "SPEED UP!" How many chances do you get to zoom underneath a falling light tower?? I started to push down the accelerator when I suddenly remembered that instead of riding in an ATV or a plane or a motorcycle, or a sports car, I was riding in my Subaru Station wagon, and even if I didn't die from getting hit by the light, it was my only mode of wheeled transportation-- uh, also, I'm a good samaritan. So I swung my car to the side of the road, parked it, and ran over to the guy in the other car (aka my Adventure Catalyst). I still regret my decision.

So it is pseudo-vaguely plausible that these people were driving quickly, making green lights, and all of a sudden saw the train tracks beam coming down to block their way and thought, "Speed up or slow down?" Their adventure instincts kicked in, and with nobody in a car accident on the side of the road (ironically), they chose to speed up and succeeded in dodging under the giant wooden beam....and then they got hit by a train. We'll call it a half-victory.

Either way, suicide or obliviousness, please please please keep your bodies and vehicles off the tracks when the train is coming. It's not that we're all dying to get to work, but delays can get boring, and I would have put an episode of Weeds on my iPod to watch...right after I listen to Umbrella.

Unnecessary Simile Usage: The Train Hit Him Like A Ton of Bricks*,

* (No, it hit him like a FUCKING TRAIN)


Unknown said...

Hehehe:)it's so ridiculous for being suicide I don't bear that in my mine it's a immoral sinned and all must know it for what reason they made it,it is just because of problem,heartbroken they cannot take it!? with there selves oh:( common wake-up if you feel nothing just call him he didn't answer you personally but he heard and he know what you need don't do such thing that can bring you nothing,dying with out moral com'on that so ridiculous:) very funny.....Suicide Please don't do it.


Dan said...

As a Caltrain engineer who has unfortunately hit 5 people, I can tell you that the majority are suicides. Oftentimes, the coroner will not rule some of these fatalities suicides because there was no "suicide note" or other obvious evidence (besides witness statements), so the whole thing is ruled an "accident". If and when Caltrain ever installs cameras on its locomotives and cab-cars, it will become a lot easier to zero in on the real cause. Maybe capture that moment where the person who's about to be hit makes eye contact with the locomotive engineer, and you can clearly see the pain in that person's face.

As for the rest of the people who manage to get hit by trains, well... Here's a scenario that happens an awful lot. Pedestrian walks toward train tracks. Lights start flashing, gates go down, pedestrian stops. Train goes by. Pedestrian immediately starts walking out behind the train (around the still-lowered crossing gates and still-flashing lights) and gets whacked by a train going the opposite direction on the other track. I don't know what it is about train tracks (as opposed to streets), but people tend to think that the gates could only have been down for the one train, forgetting that there are 2 (or more) tracks. I have close calls like this all the time. The look on their faces when they realize just how close they came to death is scary. Really scary.

Here's another scenario. Seen this several times: A big rig approaches a railroad crossing. The lights start to flash. Rather than wait, the driver decides to "go for it", and realizes (too late) that there isn't enough room on the other side of the tracks for his trailer to clear the crossing. CRASH! I had a guy do this in front of my train a few months ago. Fortunately he had the good sense (at the last possible second) to clear the crossing by turning and pulling ahead into several parked cars, smashing them up but at least not getting himself hit by my train. Then there was the lumber truck driver who actually PARKED his truck with the trailer still sitting on the tracks. One of my fellow engineers was fortunate to avoid injury when he ran into that full load of lumber, which tore up the nose of the locomotive.

Then we have also had people die not by getting HIT by the train, but by jumping onto the outside of it as it was leaving a station, because they missed it. Eventually they fall. Not good.

Finally, there are just some inexplicable ones: I once hit a woman (who, it turned out, was strung out on heroin) who was walking on the tracks, with her back to me. At 79 miles per hour. While blowing the hell out of the whistle. She never looked, never flinched, just kept trundling along.

She lived.

I also ran over a man who was lying down in the gauge (between the rails). We stopped with part of the train still sitting above him. He crawled out from underneath under his own power, but with head injuries after a couple of minutes. He later told the paramedics that he hadn't been on the tracks, and the train hadn't rolled over the top of him.

What the hell are these people doing on the tracks? I don't know, but there are hundreds more stories like that. Trust me, you wouldn't believe it unless you sat up front like I do every day. People do the weirdest, dumbest, most foolish things in front of trains.

Anonymous said...

Dan, you should totally write a blog about your Cal Train experiences.