"Trains are quieter than people think."
October 11, 2015 6:26 AM   Subscribe

A woman is arrested for trespassing after doing yoga poses for photos on the live tracks of the Washington DC metro, months after photographs surfaced. Barely a month before her arrest, in a nearby DC suburb, a train runs over a teenager who was posing for photographs with his girlfriend.

"When the train came, according to the friends and family, the girls went in one direction and DeReggi tried to go in the other, but he didn’t get out of the way in time ... [one expert] likened the deceptive speed of trains to those of planes as they’re landing. Even though planes are going 150 mph, 'it kind of looks like they’re just hanging there.'"
posted by nightrecordings (128 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 


How eponymous
posted by growabrain at 6:48 AM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


This seems like an ideal place for restorative justice. Put the yoga woman together with a train driver who has accidentally killed someone and make her understand why what she did is something horrifying and not just a nuisance or "technically illegal."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:50 AM on October 11, 2015 [84 favorites]


Wow, she's so close to the third rail on some of those poses. "Apparently getting into the tracks on the DC metro is a big no-no." Apparently!
posted by longdaysjourney at 6:52 AM on October 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


What an idiot. If you watch that video, you'll see that she staggers several times (when removing her boots, while doing her yoga positions) and comes very near frying herself multiple times with that third rail.

And while I have no objection to wackos like this woman and her photographer friend commiting suicide like that, I do object to their potential suicides inconveniencing thousands of commuters, as well as some poor innocent maintenance guys having to scrape them off the tracks.
posted by easily confused at 6:53 AM on October 11, 2015 [28 favorites]


Put a camera in someones hands and they are perfectly safe, NOT.
posted by sammyo at 6:53 AM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


It is a pretty good picture.
posted by Flashman at 6:54 AM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


I love the caption "Apparently getting into the DC Metro tracks is a big no-no," which neatly sums up all manner of stupid in one tidy sentence.
posted by sonascope at 6:55 AM on October 11, 2015 [37 favorites]


as well as some poor innocent maintenance guys having to scrape them off the tracks.

And the psychological problems the conductor has from hitting you, and the grief and pain you cause your family and friends who cannot comprehend why anyone who was not suicidal would do that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:55 AM on October 11, 2015 [20 favorites]


A very close friend of mine lost his brother two years ago. His brother was walking back from a party and was intoxicated and cut across some railroad tracks, he was wearing earbuds/headphones and it seems that he didn't notice or hear the train that was coming up behind him. He was instantly struck dead.

Trains are not to be fucked with.

.
posted by Fizz at 6:56 AM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Restorative justice part II: make her serve a month on a search-and-rescue or an ambulance team, you know, the people who have to pick up the body parts scattered around after her 'pretty good picture'.
posted by Dashy at 6:58 AM on October 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


I've been on the receiving end of suicide-by-car. I still have clear ptsd from it. This woman makes me very angry.
posted by Dashy at 7:02 AM on October 11, 2015 [37 favorites]


Put a camera in someones hands and they are perfectly safe, NOT.

Good god, that article is horrifying.
posted by rifflesby at 7:03 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm a fan of trains, and watching the freights roll by and waving at the Capitol Limited as it rumbles through the front yard of my broke-down shack in West Virginia is a particular delight for me, and it still boggles my mind that people get killed on the tracks because a train is literally the easiest thing in the world not to get hit by. It's not going to veer into you out of nowhere, it's not going to suddenly accelerate towards you, and the place it is going to be is literally drawn out on the ground for you.
posted by sonascope at 7:03 AM on October 11, 2015 [68 favorites]


Given that the arrest of the yoga poser occurred AFTER the fatality... no doubt they are cracking down.

The fatality article didn't mention at all whether the train driver sounded the horn. This makes them less quiet, usually.

As a moody teenager I really liked to walk along train tracks. Of course the trains in my hometown were noisy diesels, rarely moving faster than 40 mph, and they sounded their horns at all level crossings, so you knew one was approaching.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:04 AM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Mind you, I grew up in a town in Maryland with one of the highest train-pedestrian fatality rates in the region, so rail safety was drilled into us like boot camp.
posted by sonascope at 7:05 AM on October 11, 2015


Professional life tip: If you are working at a job site on or near train tracks in any capacity - any industrial setting, really, but train tracks specifically - take a look around. Do you see a couple of sober, late-middle-aged people wearing beat up hard hats, safety boots and bright reflective vests, carrying aluminum clipboards and walkie-talkies, puttering around and seemingly not doing much?

Those are the train company's field engineers; if you don't see them you need to start asking whoever's in charge hard questions about authorization and site safety immediately, and you need to be ready to walk away from that job if you don't get good answers.
posted by mhoye at 7:07 AM on October 11, 2015 [30 favorites]


Artful Codger, OP states that the boy died a month after this woman's arrest.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:07 AM on October 11, 2015


"Barely a month before her arrest, in a nearby DC suburb, a train runs over a teenager who was posing for photographs with his girlfriend."
posted by palomar at 7:10 AM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


People laying between rail tracks and letting the train roll over them for fun is something of an international fad: France, Italy, and others in Belgium, India, the US etc. (not providing links to the videos, it's on YouTube if you want to see them), all for social media views. The Italian one was actually fake, but still an inspiration to others.
posted by elgilito at 7:14 AM on October 11, 2015


Just to clarify the timeline:

The woman got down into the metro tracks and posed for photos in December 2014.

In April 2015, a surveillance photo (as well as the Instragram photo) surfaced online.

In mid-September 2015, the boy died on the train tracks.

It was only earlier this week, October 7th, that the woman was finally tracked down and arrested.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:14 AM on October 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I don't love the musical track on the surveillance video, which makes it seem like was this a whimsical, silly thing to do that just happened to be wrong. Like, would you use that background music on a video of a kid playing with a loaded gun and pointing it at their face? Even if you know that kid was okay in the end, it seems like it warrants taking a little more seriously than that.
posted by Sequence at 7:15 AM on October 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


This makes me so mad. I was working on a train where we had a "trespasser strike." It started with the engineer more or less laying on the horn, in an area where they've never done it before, followed very quickly by the sound of the flushing of the e-brakes. This is more or less all an engineer can do when someone is on the tracks. They can pull the e-brake and look away, and hope for the best.

When this happens, when the train hits someone, the conductors have to get out and investigate. This trespasser strike happened a year ago and I haven't seen this conductor since. He got back on the train, white as a ghost, and he looked like he wanted to throw up.

I've been told we have very good mental health coverage.

This lady makes me mad because she's doing something so dangerous and is putting not just herself in danger, but also everyone on that metro train, who are not prepared for an emergency stop, and for the person driving that metro, who would have had to deal with the mental scars forever should they have hit her.

I hope she felt her pics were worth it.
posted by gc at 7:16 AM on October 11, 2015 [56 favorites]


Put a camera in someones hands and they are perfectly safe, NOT.

Good god, that article is horrifying.


Well following up on my first comment by following some links, it's good that genXers are immortal...
posted by sammyo at 7:16 AM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hope she felt her pics were worth it.
I hope for the opposite. It's not like she deserved a reward.
posted by Too-Ticky at 7:25 AM on October 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


He never touched the tracks!

I've seen people do some really dumb things at my local commuter rail station: stepping out on the tracks to take a picture of the fog, hopping a fence and running across the tracks in front of an oncoming train. The pedestrian approach to this station requires walking down an active track used for siding by Guilford. Fortunately, the engineers have a very low speed limit.
posted by mkb at 7:30 AM on October 11, 2015


Just pondering this a bit more... if the DC Metro stations are anything like the Toronto subway, you can easily see approaching trains because of their lights. And there would be alot of noise, unlike the outdoor situation. So the likelihood of Ms Yoga-Pose being hit, and a conductor's career marred, was actually pretty low.

I'm not trying to excuse the trespass. Being so close to the 3rd rail is enough risk, thanks, though at least in Toronto subway stations, there are usually guard boards over the hot rail offering some protection.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:37 AM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sequence: I agree that the music added to the surveillance video is highly insensitive, and it's exactly why - after I saw the video for the first time this morning - I wanted to make this post. The individuals responsible for pairing that music with the video, in my opinion, are not taking this any more seriously than the woman doing the yoga - even if they're mocking her stupidity. My mind went immediately to the article about the boy's death a month earlier. I doubt his family would appreciate the media having such an irreverent attitude to the risky actions that lead to his and many others' deaths.

In perhaps more reassuring news, here is an example from May 2015 of two men jumping into the DC metro tracks with good intentions, ultimately saving another man's life.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:40 AM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Artful Codger - I'm not sure if you're only referring to underground subway/metro stations, but the DC metro station where this occurred is above ground and the events happened in full daylight. Likewise, the boy who died after being hit by an Amtrak train was outside at 5pm in full September evening daylight. In either of these two particular situations, I don't know how much lights are going to help. Also, the points that were being made by transportation safety and accident reconstruction experts is that trains and planes moving at high speeds often appear to be traveling not nearly as fast as they are. Whether there are visible lights or not, people are not really able to conceive just how fast something is approaching them. Or by the time they can react, it's too late.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:44 AM on October 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


OK thanks. I was going by the yoga pose photo, which at first glance looked underground.

In the teenager fatality, do you know what the track visibility was like (straight? curve?) and whether the engineer was able to sound the horn?
posted by Artful Codger at 7:48 AM on October 11, 2015


Why don't they look think?
posted by Spatch at 7:48 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The track by Boyds is fairly straight. Which, of course, makes it harder to judge the speed of trains.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:58 AM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also wanted to point out that this woman was doing this on the Orange Line, which per this 2009 study, has the fastest moving trains on average at high volume commuter time of the five DC metro lines (doesn't include Silver Line trains, which share some stations with the Orange Line, since the Silver Line has only been around since the summer of 2014). Furthermore, if you look at that second chart, the DC metro runs a heck of a lot faster (31.5mph on average) than the NY subway (17.4mph on average) and most US subway systems, with the Orange Line among the Top 10 fastest lines over all.

The primary reason for the higher speeds on the DC metro, particularly the Orange Line, is the amount of distance in between stations. The yoga woman did this at the West Falls Church station in Virginia, where it's suburban, as opposed to a station within the DC city limits.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:07 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here in the Netherlands the odds are more or less 100 percent that a train driver will be involved in at least one suicide by train, more likely more if they stay working. It's hard to blame people so desparate they want to kill themselves for not thinking about the consequences of their actions on others, but somebody like this who just does it for kicks should really have the book thrown at her.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:12 AM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm not excusing it at all, because it's inexcusable, but she's at the station, and the lights on the side blink when there's a train approaching. They probably thought they'd notice the lights blinking and have time to get out. I wouldn't bet my life on either noticing or having time to get out, but that's probably what they thought.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:13 AM on October 11, 2015


About 20 years ago ago, I read an article on a railfan site that explained why it was so much harder to hear a train that was coming straight at you than one that was on a track 50 feet away from you. I can't find it now, but here's a similar article from a British rail safety site.
posted by pernoctalian at 8:16 AM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, apparently you don't have to be able to climb out of the track area in order to be ok. There's space under the platform where you can go:
Flashing lights on the platform edge warn of approaching trains. A recessed area directly beneath the platform edge provides emergency shelter for anyone who falls from the platform when a train is approaching. Anyone forced to use this area should use extreme care not to touch any part of the train while awaiting rescue. Exposed components beneath the car carry high voltage electricity.
That's actually super smart, and I wish I had known about the recessed area when I was a kid, because I spent a lot of time angsting about what would happen if I fell on the tracks right as a train was approaching and was too short and/or weak to climb out.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:18 AM on October 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


My mother grew up near train yards in Montreal. She said you learned you really quick about the dangers of the trains because every cohort at her school had a kid that was missing at least a leg. Of course it didn't stop them from playing in the rail yards. They were just serious about it.
posted by srboisvert at 8:19 AM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The teenage couple... the young man was struck and killed at 5:04pm, and the young woman was tweeting remembrances at 9am the next morning?

Must be a generational thing. I think I'd be stunned a bit longer. :/
posted by rokusan at 8:20 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


There are also the terminal notification things telling you when the next train is coming, even empty trains passing through. On weekends there is at least 15 minutes between trains.

Death by third rail fricassee seems not in line with the #beagoddess lifestyle, though.
posted by skrozidile at 8:22 AM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I assume that the photo wasn't taken on a whim. They do appear to have chosen a time when the the station is deserted and, corresponding to the paucity of passengers, trains probably not being too frequent.
posted by Flashman at 8:22 AM on October 11, 2015


MartinWisse, I agree. I live in an apartment building next to an Amtrak train station in a Virginia DC suburb, and since moving into the building about five years ago, there have been a handful of suicides on the tracks within the immediate vicinity of the station. A handful is already too many; the fact that they are suicides (or determined by the coroner as suicides, as opposed to accidents) is heartbreaking enough. My partner was working as a firefighter and EMT at the time of some of these suicides and was on scene for the medical and cleanup responses. Like If only I had a penguin... and Dashy said above, I think this woman - and others who think it's cute to play chicken on the train tracks for the sake of a show-offy yoga photo shoot - should be ordered to do some kind of community service that demands she come face to face with at least those who have suffered the psychological damage that may arise from her negligence, if not face to face with the aftermath of its fatal consequences. I'm not promoting that she be put in a position just so that she can now be at risk of suffering PTSD - that's cruel. But she needs to know that it's more than a "big no-no." A five year old knows that it's a big no-no.

And sure, the photo maybe wasn't taken on a whim - it was like 11am after rush hour - but she is setting a very poor and negligent example for the sake of 'art'. Yes, every person is responsible for their actions, but there are thousands of other, safer, equally artsy or stunning locations where she could have gone to be photographed doing a hand stand.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:32 AM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


ArtfulCodger, I know (hope) you're just curious about the situation and not trying to excuse the actions of the people in these cases, but this whole line of questioning -- was it underground? was it a straight line or a curve? would the driver get to sound the horn? -- makes me feel very uncomfortable.

I disagree with you very strongly when you say, "So the likelihood of Ms Yoga-Pose being hit, and a conductor's career marred, was actually pretty low," because I don't think there's any way we can make that judgment, not unless you and I were actually trained field engineers with the local train company itself. When Ms Yoga-Pose stepped out towards the tracks, I feel like she put herself entirely outside of the realm where she could judge her odds and safety. Perhaps, like you thought at first, she would have easily spotted an approaching train and been able to get out of its way, but then there's that third rail she kept tottering close to...

In short, I feel strongly that the risk of harm when a person puts themself on traintracks should be reckoned as 100%, because it cannot be accurately guessed and the outcome of a bad decision is so very negative. Trying to winkle out details to convince ourselves, even after the fact, that we would have been able to calculate the odds, strikes me as a very dangerous path to take.

I hope this isn't too harsh a response -- because my dad worked on the railways for years, and had to scrape people off the lines more than once, he made sure I was "train trained" from an early age, and I found myself having an intense emotional reaction to this thread.
posted by daisyk at 8:35 AM on October 11, 2015 [29 favorites]


I'm not promoting that she be put in a position just so that she can now be at risk of suffering PTSD - that's cruel.

She's done the same to others, so it seems appropriate.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:36 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Young people are stupid about mortality, is what it is. One time in New Orleans I got tired of waiting for a train to pass so I got a running start and rolled across the tracks between the wheels of a moving flatcar. Yes, alcohol was involved, but still...
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:40 AM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


They do appear to have chosen a time when the the station is deserted and, corresponding to the paucity of passengers, trains probably not being too frequent.

That may be a worse time to be fooling around on the tracks, because the tracks could still be in use by the transit authority moving trains to different locations or having maintenance units on the tracks. (NYC transit has a vacuum train, or VakTrak, built specifically to clean the tracks of debris, including the tons of steel dust eroded from the tracks themselves.) The drivers of these trains wouldn't be expecting anyone around the tracks at those times.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:40 AM on October 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


Whenever I hear these stories about people miscalculating trains, it chills my very soul to learn how apparently easy it is.

Maybe 10 years ago while travelling by Amtrak in Massachusetts, I got on the wrong train. Once I realize what had happened, I had to get off the train and get another train to go back part way to get the right train. So I get off the train in some middle-of-nowhere station, I think it was andover. The Amtrak employee who gave me directions told me to wait right their -- in the area between two sets of tracks -- and the right train would come along on those tracks in X minutes. This wasn't a train station really. It was just a place on the tracks. I think there was a little bus-shelter like thing, but it wasn't near the tracks I needed to be near.

At one point, a train goes by, not stopping. And because I am between two tracks, I'm pretty damn close. I mean not dangerously close, but close enough to feel scared at a full speed train going past. And WHILE it's going past another train starts approaching on the other track from the other direction. And worse, that track isn't actually parallel to the tracks the train is already on. It comes at an angle that approaches the tracks with the already-on train, and then turns to be parallel. So I'm standing here with a full speed train running behind me and a train that is facing me (i.e. appearing to be headed directly toward me, though I know it's going to turn) coming at me.

I had the impulse to cross the tracks of the approaching train so that I could not be between two trains and instead move far away from both trains, cause, you know, this is shit your pants terrifying. I didn't, because I was afraid I could trip or my foot could get caught on the tracks (does that happen? it seems like a thing one hears about as a kid) and then I could get hit. I didn't know about this train speed optical illusion thing at the time. So thanks to my fear of tripping, I stayed put as two trains passed on either side of me, with maybe a couple of metres clearance on each side of me. It was horrifying, though actually better once one train was not longer coming at me head on.

But now when I hear about how easy it is to misjudge train speed and think of how close I came to running in front of that train that day I kind of feel like throwing up.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:46 AM on October 11, 2015 [25 favorites]


I'll just leave this here.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Several years back I was reading this post about old county coroner's reports and marveled at the sheer number of train-related deaths. I've got no idea how the conductors of that era coped with it. Probably with the alcohol that killed a lot of the rest of them that weren't killed by the flu.

Many of those deaths likely involved people who were trying to hop freight trains for rides at a sharp curve that slowed them down. Still not a good reason or way to die, but it's more comprehensible to me than just fucking around on the tracks taking pictures.
posted by asperity at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


ChurchHatesTucker - I'm just not big on an eye for an eye (which is not to say that you are, either). However, I do think the punishment should fit the crime, to some extent, at least for this. Sending her out to the clean-up scene of a train track death, or even having her complete community service at a morgue, would be more appropriate and influential than, say, a fine or prison time. IANAL, but in Virginia, this type of trespassing is a Class 1 Misdemeanor that apparently carries a sentence of up to a year in jail as well as up to thousands of dollars in fines.
posted by nightrecordings at 8:50 AM on October 11, 2015


Having family that works for SEPTA, they say you must come to peace with the idea that if you're an engineer, you will eventually be at the helm when the train strikes someone. Taking the purely pragmatic view, there is great comfort in knowing that there is nothing the engineer could have done to avoid the incident. It's not like blowing a stoplight, speeding, or other operator error; trains come from one place only: the tracks. If you're on them, you're begging for trouble.
posted by dr_dank at 8:52 AM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Every now and then our train lines get shut down because someone got run over, a relatively common error is made by people impatiently ducking under the barrier and crossing the train lines just after a train has gone past, but not realising that train's passing has obscured the sound and sight of another train coming from the other direction on the next track...
posted by xdvesper at 8:56 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


There's a pretty big difference between jumping off of an elevated platform on the DC Metro, and crossing some freight tracks.

The former is always reckless and borderline-suicidal. The latter is occasionally a necessity due to the lack of grade crossings in many rural areas. But you should use the same precautions that you'd use when crossing a state highway.

Among other things, the DC Metro tracks have a 750V 3rd rail, and are in a deep pit without an easy escape path (and are *very* clearly marked as being unsafe to cross). As far as speed goes, the trains are going to pull into every station at roughly the same speed. Being on the orange line (which is one of the fastest rapid transit lines in the world) wasn't really a factor.

That said, if a person is on the tracks in the DC metro, there's a chance that the train can stop in time. If somebody falls on the tracks, send somebody to run to the end of the platform to try to warn the next train (and also send somebody else to call the station manager).
posted by schmod at 9:09 AM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Young people are stupid about mortality, is what it is. One time in New Orleans I got tired of waiting for a train to pass so I got a running start and rolled across the tracks between the wheels of a moving flatcar. Yes, alcohol was involved, but still...

And also, there'd be no AFR agitating for secession from ONAN.

There are several high trestle bridges in and around Redding, Ca. The most impressive is right in town, curving over the Sacramento River. Those bridges have (or had) a number of little platforms jutting out from the edges just big enough for two dumb teens to stand (or cower) as the train lumbers past. Near the western side of the Redding Trestle, there is one very large platform, big enough for half a dozen dumb teens to relax and drink beer and toss empties over.

None of us had cameras then, but I imagine that platform is a popular selfie spot these days.
posted by notyou at 9:23 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


More generally its a shock to see how fast fast is. I remember standing by the tracks looking a RR bridge in Washington State admiring the view. There were big signs saying "STAY OFF BRIDGE." And I remember thinking, "pft! you could cross that bridge in no time." Just then I heard that faint whispery sound of a train approaching, I turned and there was Amtrak going a hundred miles an hour coming around a bend. If I had been standing on the tracks I would have had heart failure, as it was it was pretty clear that it would be a thin margin to make it to safety if you stumbled and if you had been on the bridge you had better decide toute suite to jump.

I once had to cross an interstate on foot, that is an eye opener as well. We are so blase about speed from driving 70 mph in a steel glass box that we don't really understand speed.
posted by Pembquist at 9:25 AM on October 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


The trains are going to pull into the stations at the same speed, yes, but the Orange Line will need more time to decelerate to that speed. So even if the conductor sees someone on the tracks and tries to stop early, it's those seconds or even milliseconds in difference that can make or break a death happening.

I realize I may be splitting hairs.

And I absolutely agree that there is a substantial difference in the dangers surrounding the DC metro, versus those of freight tracks. Ultimately, the only real overlap I'm pointing to is that both transit systems involve live tracks, where electrocution is as much of a risk as is being struck by a train, and people using these tracks for portrait photography. A car can swerve to avoid hitting a person; a car weighs less than a train and can decelerate much more quickly when applying its brakes to avoid an impending collision. One is arguably at less risk of death when taking these photos in the middle of an empty highway than they are taking these photos on a metro, subway or freight train track. And no, I'm not promoting middle-of-the-highway yoga pose photography.
posted by nightrecordings at 9:25 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Ever see a freight train with an open cargo car carrying bundles of plywood or lumber, usually wrapped up in tyvek? The bundles are secured with a metal banding strap.

Sometimes the strapping can break. And when that happens, it flails about as the train races down the tracks. It's a knife's edge and it can guillotine a stop sign clean off its post.

So don't stand too close as the freight train passes by.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:32 AM on October 11, 2015 [8 favorites]




I've known (but not well) two people who lost legs to trains and was recently on an Amtrak when it killed someone. The injury prevention coordinator at the hospital where I work told me that two teens died by train/earbud last year in our area. I love nighttime trespassing and urban explorations but I am on board with sharply ramping up safety and enforcement around trains.
posted by latkes at 9:48 AM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


" I didn't, because I was afraid I could trip or my foot could get caught on the tracks (does that happen? it seems like a thing one hears about as a kid) and then I could get hit. "

Yes; it happened to me when I was six and I still remember the gut-wrenching terror. You'd have to have a pretty narrow foot as an adult to get stuck, but it totally happens to kids at crossings.

My grandpa grabbed a pocket knife and sliced my shoelaces while my dad bodily wrenched me up out of the shoe. I sobbed in terror. Then we went to the nearest shop front, got ice for my foot (badly bruised from the yanking), and called the train company to tell them about the shoe (probably would not cause derailment but you're supposed to call about debris in the tracks). They said there was a good half an hour before the next train so not to worry and a train employee delivered my gashed-up shoe a bit later and I got ice cream for all the terror.

I carried my children across tracks until they got too large for me to manage it. Now I make them take huuuuuuge steps over the tracks on the rare occasions I cannot avoid it completely. I still hate crossing tracks on foot.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:50 AM on October 11, 2015 [38 favorites]


Young people are stupid about mortality, is what it is. One time in New Orleans I got tired of waiting for a train to pass so I got a running start and rolled across the tracks between the wheels of a moving flatcar. Yes, alcohol was involved, but still...

This is partly the reason why old people make laws about things like drinking and driving or purposefully entering the track zone on a metro line. It's never going to cure youth and stupidity, but I think the hope is that enforcing (and publicizing such enforcement) will at least cut down on the potentially fatal stupidity and its collateral damage a bit.
posted by drlith at 10:20 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The teenage couple... the young man was struck and killed at 5:04pm, and the young woman was tweeting remembrances at 9am the next morning?

Must be a generational thing. I think I'd be stunned a bit longer. :/


A friend of mine died unexpectedly a few weeks ago—went in for tests one day, entered hospice two days later, and died the day after that. Her devastated teenage daughter was Facebooking through the whole thing, a strange mix of ordinary things like, "man hospital food is the worst," "look at this funny video," and comments about her mom's death complete with sad-face emoticons. It was very strange to me and part of me had a "wow, this is really in bad taste" reaction, and then I thought, you know, she's used to Facebooking with her friends about everything as it happens. It's like a reflex, I suppose.
posted by not that girl at 10:53 AM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Social media is where you get emotional support in a lot of cases. I don't think it needs to be explained away as a reflex. It is a logical place to share how you feel.
posted by dame at 11:00 AM on October 11, 2015 [39 favorites]


Every now and then our train lines get shut down because someone got run over, a relatively common error is made by people impatiently ducking under the barrier and crossing the train lines just after a train has gone past, but not realising that train's passing has obscured the sound and sight of another train coming from the other direction on the next track...

"One Train May Hide Another" by Kenneth Koch

(sign at a railroad crossing in Kenya)

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line--
Then it is safe to go on reading.
In a family one sister may conceal another,
So, when you are courting, it’s best to have them all in view
Otherwise in coming to find one you may love another.
One father or one brother may hide the man,
If you are a woman, whom you have been waiting to love.
So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas.
One wish may hide another. And one person’s reputation may hide
The reputation of another. One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
One lilac may hide another and then a lot of lilacs and on the Appia
Antica one tomb
May hide a number of other tombs. In love, one reproach may hide another,
One small complaint may hide a great one.
One injustice may hide another--one colonial may hide another,
One blaring red uniform another, and another, a whole column. One bath
may hide another bath
As when, after bathing, one walks out into the rain.
One idea may hide another: Life is Simple
Hide Life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well. And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
One evening may hide another, one shadow, a nest of shadows.
One dark red, or one blue, or one purple--this is a painting
By someone after Matisse. One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! The obstetrician
Gazes at the Valley of the Var. We used to live there, my wife and I, but
One life hid another life. And now she is gone and I am here.
A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own vivacious daughter in turn. They are in
A railway station and the daughter is holding a bag
Bigger than her mother’s bag and successfully hides it.
In offering to pick up the daughter’s bag one finds oneself confronted by
the mother’s
And has to carry that one, too. So one hitchhiker
May deliberately hide another and one cup of coffee
Another, too, until one is over-excited. One love may hide another love
or the same love
As when “I love you” suddenly rings false and one discovers
The better love lingering behind, as when “I’m full of doubts”
Hides “I’m certain about something and it is that”
And one dream may hide another as is well known, always, too. In the
Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. Reading
A Sentimental Journey look around
When you have finished, for Tristram Shandy, to see
If it is standing there, it should be, stronger
And more profound and theretofore hidden as Santa Maria Maggiore
May be hidden by similar churches inside Rome. One sidewalk
May hide another, as when you’re asleep there, and
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums. One friend may hide another, you sit at the
foot of a tree
With one and when you get up to leave there is another
Whom you’d have preferred to talk to all along. One teacher,
One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It
can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there.
posted by not that girl at 11:03 AM on October 11, 2015 [36 favorites]


dame: yeah, I think more accurately I might have said it's a totally normal part of her life to communicate there & in that way, and not to be judged by the likes of me.
posted by not that girl at 11:08 AM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Recently a person took a selfie while laying between the rails in an unidentified location on the system I work for and sent it to a family member. Since the person had a history of mental illness, the family member contacted us and we had massive delays because every train had to slow to road manual (25mph) while we checked 144 miles of track.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:13 AM on October 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also people often dis our Train Operators for their salaries saying they are too high for someone who, "Just sits there and pushes a button." But they don't get extensive training and a good salary for all the times when everything goes right...you want someone with that level of training and professionalism when things go really wrong.
posted by agatha_magatha at 11:22 AM on October 11, 2015 [20 favorites]


notyou: there'd be no AFR agitating for secession from ONAN

Could someone parse that for me? I've misplaced my decoder ring.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:29 AM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


IN places where train travel is more common, are there better systems for ensuring safety?
posted by latkes at 11:30 AM on October 11, 2015


five fresh fish:
Sometimes the strapping can break. And when that happens, it flails about as the train races down the tracks. It's a knife's edge and it can guillotine a stop sign clean off its post.


Toot toot! Make way for the wacky decapitation train!
posted by dr_dank at 11:42 AM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just skimming the comments in this thread has my guts clenching. I love trains, and I certainly respect them.
posted by theora55 at 11:42 AM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Johnny Wallflower, they're references to the David Foster Wallace novel Infinite Jest. ONAN is the Organization of North American Nations (the novel takes place in the near future), and AFR is a Québécois separatist group called Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents, whose initiation consists of being the last person to jump across the path of a moving train, with most of them losing their legs as a result.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:43 AM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Could someone parse that for me? I've misplaced my decoder ring.

In David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest, the AFR are a group of wheelchair bound Québécois separatists. They've lost their legs as a result of a game played by teens, in which they leap across the tracks in front of an oncoming train. The winner is the kid who leaps last, nearest the locomotive. Many, of course, leap too late.
posted by notyou at 11:52 AM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


That said, if a person is on the tracks in the DC metro, there's a chance that the train can stop in time. If somebody falls on the tracks, send somebody to run to the end of the platform to try to warn the next train (and also send somebody else to call the station manager).

IN places where train travel is more common, are there better systems for ensuring safety?

I was thinking the same thing, especially after reading the story about the man in the wheelchair. Why aren't there track emergency alarms scattered throughout stations? Surely there are fire alarms. I can't think of any subway/metro/light rail station where I've seen anything like that.
posted by bonje at 12:05 PM on October 11, 2015


There's been so many train fatalities around here lately. One of the negative side effects of living near a massive rail yard.
posted by Ferreous at 12:21 PM on October 11, 2015


MartinWisse: Here in the Netherlands the odds are more or less 100 percent that a train driver will be involved in at least one suicide by train

I don't know what the percentage is here, but it's pretty high in drivers I deal with at work. Plus they have to deal with non-suicide pedestrian deaths. Some drivers have this happen to them several times, and many are off work for months or years trying to get themselves back together. The costs to the driver and to society are very high, not forgetting about the person who was driven to kill themselves this way.
posted by sneebler at 12:32 PM on October 11, 2015


I just did a cursory google image search for "train track yoga" and it is immediately obvious that doing yoga poses on train tracks is definitely a Thing, not just on abandoned tracks.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:36 PM on October 11, 2015


I always get amazed when I see MTA workers in the subway just doing their thing on the tracks in between train arrivals. Obviously they are in communication with the drivers so it's safe but I'd still be freaked out to work like that. Some of the stations have these cubby holes in the walls they can stand in, and they get up in there and stand while the train passes inches in front of their face, locking them inside while it's in the station. I guess you'd get used to it.
posted by pravit at 12:48 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


For underground trains, the way forward is doors on the platform as well as the train. The Jubilee line in London has them and travellers cannot get on the track.
posted by Segundus at 1:12 PM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


By the way, I believe generally the live rail is only live when a train is actually coming - sections are switched on and off in sequence. Is that true for the Washington system?
posted by Segundus at 1:16 PM on October 11, 2015


There’s very little clicketyclack.

Again, not speaking with knowledge of US systems, but there's no clicketyclack now. Old rails were joined with fishplates and a gap allowing for expansion in hot conditions. The gap caused that typical noise as wheels crossed in sequence.

Modern rail technology stretches the rails as they're laid which allows for expansion and no gap is required, so no clicking.

I doubt whether this is actually relevant.
posted by Segundus at 1:25 PM on October 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


> I always get amazed when I see MTA workers in the subway just doing their thing on the tracks in between train arrivals.

They go out of their way to prevent accidents. The dispatcher knows, but more, there's always a light on the tracks pointing at the oncoming train - which cannot proceed until signaled by the workers.

Oh, the comments on that Yoga site make me mad: "If she wants to risk her life doing a yoga picture, that is on here. Says more about her than it does yoga or selfies."

Part of yoga is mindfulness ffs and these people come off as completely oblivious. It's nauseating.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:11 PM on October 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Platform screen doors were first introduced in 1961 in Russia, but they're quite expensive (both station and rolling stock must be fully upgraded), so deployment is limited, but some systems such as the Singapore's MRT or Copenhagen's Metro have some sort of doors at all stations.
posted by fragmede at 2:14 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really enjoy meditation, I like yoga, and I pretty much have no problem with selfies. I don't generally buy into the hate-on for lizard people instragram use. But I'm increasingly put off by the trend of taking glam shots of yourself doing yoga poses or meditating. Especially with the emphasis on thinness, brand-name workout clothing, and faux-humblebrag hashtags. They make striking photos but it seems so contrary to the entire spirit of the practice. Like, HEY EVERYONE. I'M BEING MINDFUL. COME SEE HOW HOT I LOOK.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:26 PM on October 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


daisyk: ArtfulCodger, I know (hope) you're just curious about the situation and not trying to excuse the actions of the people in these cases, but this whole line of questioning -- was it underground? was it a straight line or a curve? would the driver get to sound the horn? -- makes me feel very uncomfortable.

I disagree with you very strongly when you say, "So the likelihood of Ms Yoga-Pose being hit, and a conductor's career marred, was actually pretty low," because I don't think there's any way we can make that judgment.


Re the teen fatality, yes I am quite interested in whether the horn was sounded. If the track was indeed relatively straight, and the engineer could theoretically have seen the teens on the track, then whether or not the horn was sounded, or emergency braking activated, could be very significant factors in the fatality. Something for the inquest.

Regarding the yoga-lady, yes I still feel that she and the photographer took what they thought was a calculated risk. I think it's likely they knew the interval between trains at time, and had some confidence that the train-warning system would give them enough heads-up. Assuming the Metro trains decelerate as they approach a station, even if they don't stop there, I also suspect there would be enough time for the conductor to safely stop the train if they see anything on the track.

So I think some of the comments here about how they could have been hit and traumatized some poor train conductor are a bit overwrought. But yes, they trespassed and took an inappropriate risk that could have gone pear-shaped.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:47 PM on October 11, 2015


Eyebrows McGee: "Yes; it happened to me when I was six and I still remember the gut-wrenching terror. "

I would like to note that I was in no actual danger when this happened as the next train didn't come along for a good 45 minutes after I got stuck, but you just don't know how much time you have before the next train, and once you can see or hear the train coming, or the warning signals start, you have almost no time to get your foot unstuck. My laces were double-knotted so it was better to slice the shoe off and yank me out, risking breaking my foot, than to dawdle and perform a slow extraction. I was scared because I was stuck, and because all the adults around me started freaking out, not because there was a train nearby. It was still plenty terrifying with no immediate train in the offing.

Every road/rail crossing has a sign with an emergency phone number to call to get railroad dispatch directly, in case someone or something is stuck on the tracks, and on the sign is the information you need to give the dispatcher. When I got stuck it was the days before cell phones so we got me loose and then went to the nearest store to use their phone, but same thing, and then they sent out an employee with a walkie-talkie to pry the shoe out.

I was able to find the exact crossing where my foot got stuck on google streetview, that's how burned into my mind that memory is. I even remember the buildings on either side. ugggggggh. Weirdly I do not recall whether the shoe was salvageable or I had to get new ones. I should ask my parents.

posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:47 PM on October 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


You know, I was going to sort of defend this woman, thinking that just maybe she was aware of train traffic and knew when the next train was coming, and she and her bf jumped down there for about 20 seconds to snap the pic, then hopped back up. Stupid, yes, but at least that would show some awareness.

Then I watched the video. Jeezum crow, those two spent at least five minutes down there, snapping every yoga pose that she knew of. I can't defend her at all.

I live in Tokyo and death by train--both suicide and accidents--happens every day. One thing stations are gradually installing are these platform gates. The gates' doors open with the trains' doors, sort of like an elevator.
posted by zardoz at 2:49 PM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I've taken a lot of Amtrak long distance trains and you get chatting to the conductors who are generally very nice people. It makes me so angry and sad for them that they have to deal with the aftermath of people's stupidity.

That said, reminding people that trains are really, really quiet is important, I think people assume they are much louder. I catch the train every day and I know it's coming and still if I'm looking the other way it often takes me by surprise when it suddenly swooshes past me. Even being safely on the platform you can see how you could trip and fall if you were startled. They say wait behind the yellow line for good reason!

It's good to see the safety precautions taken when stuff gets dropped on the line. I managed to tip my wallet onto the track and when the station manager came with the giant tongs he didn't just look at the indicator board to see the next train due; he radioed the control room to annouce what he was doing, used the tongs and then radioed again. There wasn't a train close-by but just in case, they knew the track was obstructed.
posted by kitten magic at 4:20 PM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


WMATA (DC Metro) has emergency intercom boxes along all platforms, usually mounted on one of the pylons.

Many other systems have similar devices, although WMATA probably has more of them than any other US system that I've seen.

A few locatons in the Paris Metro have emergency switches to disconnect power from the third rail. I've never seen anything similar to that in other cities.
posted by schmod at 4:41 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Segundus: By the way, I believe generally the live rail is only live when a train is actually coming - sections are switched on and off in sequence. Is that true for the Washington system?

This is not true for the vast majority of transit systems including the Washington Metro.

Selectively energizing the third rail is a very new technology that is only used in a handful of places, and even then one should always assume that it's energized.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:42 PM on October 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


Artful Codger Re the teen fatality, yes I am quite interested in whether the horn was sounded. If the track was indeed relatively straight, and the engineer could theoretically have seen the teens on the track, then whether or not the horn was sounded, or emergency braking activated, could be very significant factors in the fatality. Something for the inquest.

The most significant factor in that fatality is that they were trespassing on the tracks. It doesn't matter if the horn was sounded or if the engineer could theoretically have seen them in time to stop the train; they absolutely should not have been there in the first place.

So I think some of the comments here about how they could have been hit and traumatized some poor train conductor are a bit overwrought. But yes, they trespassed and took an inappropriate risk that could have gone pear-shaped.

But that's just it, if their little stunt had gone pear shaped, other people would have suffered. It doesn't matter how sure they might have been that no trains were coming, they have no right to make "calculated risks" on behalf of the engineer, the conductor, and the passengers. This is exactly why trespassing on the tracks is so absolutely illegal.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:26 PM on October 11, 2015 [25 favorites]


I know a woman who started posting photos of herself doing yoga poses on Facebook all the time, wearing leggings and ensuring her butt is prominently featured. She gets lots of likes, and while I guess it's great that she loves and enjoys her body, her narcissism is also fairly grating. Anyway, right now selfies doing yoga on mountaintops and in forests are her thing, but I could totally see her doing something like this.
posted by limeonaire at 6:09 PM on October 11, 2015


> I always get amazed when I see MTA workers in the subway just doing their thing on the tracks in between train arrivals.

They go out of their way to prevent accidents. The dispatcher knows, but more, there's always a light on the tracks pointing at the oncoming train - which cannot proceed until signaled by the workers.


Yeah, on my train line if there are workers in the area the trains also slow down in those areas and to hit the horn repeatedly as an extra reminder to look out.

Most of the train lines in suburban areas are fenced off, still doesn't stop tragedies like this
posted by kitten magic at 6:21 PM on October 11, 2015


The trains are going to pull into the stations at the same speed

Not if they're not stopping at the station, which is true in more cases than you'd think.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:40 PM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


People laying between rail tracks and letting the train roll over them for fun is something of an international fad

Also see this Roald Dahl story: The Swan.
posted by bendy at 8:02 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm one of those people who like to dangerous things from time to time. As an example of that is walking on frozen bodies of water. Exploring rail lines and features in semirural and rural areas are one of those things that I do. I've done it for years but never had a situation in which I had a train sneak up on me to the extent that I feared for my life. Sue thee were a few times where I'd be walking on the tracks and I'd turn around and see a train bearing down on me but I made it a point to check often so when I did see it coming I had plenty of time to get out of the way.

Of course being such an idiot meant that I would get detained or arrested from time to time. Once I was caught late at night along some tracks in a suburban location. Because the cops didn't want strain themselves too much so they escorted me, in cuffs, down the middle of a track in a suburban area. They freaked out when I stopped and looked behind me to make sure a train wasn't coming and weren't accepting of my explanation of why I did that to the extent that it led me to extra attention in the police station. I didn't care. You walk on the tracks you watch behind you.

That movie shoot sammyo linked to amazes me. I can't imagine doing a video or picture shoot on live tracks like that, especially on a trestle near a blind curve. In this age of information it would not be very hard to get a rough schedule of trains on that line. Nor would it have been very extensive to hire a couple of extra people to stand a hundred or so meters down the tracks armed with bullhorns. I'm also guessing that it wouldn't be that expensive to get the railroad involved.

As for the yoga lady: she's an example. Some observation time would easily increase the safety margin of her actions. I'm guessing she was pretty safe except for some of the voltage issues. Whatever liability the rail owners have is mitigated by the video--it shows people willfully breaking the law. She touches an electrified rail then it's her problem.
posted by lester at 8:23 PM on October 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Regarding the yoga-lady, yes I still feel that she and the photographer took what they thought was a calculated risk. I think it's likely they knew the interval between trains at time, and had some confidence that the train-warning system would give them enough heads-up

I'm guessing you don't live in the district because this would be a reasonable assumption for most places where the metro operates on some kind of regularity or logic. DC is not that place. I was at a major station on Friday and the sign said a train was coming in ~20 mins. A minute or two later it changed to say next trains were coming in 5 and 12 mins. Then it went blank and showed nothing for a while. A few minutes later the train came. This is a super normal occurrence.

Also, there is no vocal station announcement or warning when a train is coming.

I mean, being DC, it's probably a reliable guess that a train will never come. But it's also a fair possibility that a random unexpected train will come through. Common denominator is you shouldn't bet your life on the metro schedule being predictable.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 8:42 PM on October 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


The most significant factor in [the teenager] fatality is that they were trespassing on the tracks. It doesn't matter if the horn was sounded or if the engineer could theoretically have seen them in time to stop the train; they absolutely should not have been there in the first place.

They should not have been on the tracks. Agreed.

I find it curious that the train's horns/brakes weren't mentioned in any of the articles I've found. But maybe the train's speed (which we don't know either) made this moot.

(And I don't know the DC Metro either. So my thanks to those who have provided more details)
posted by Artful Codger at 9:04 PM on October 11, 2015


I'm not condoning it by any means, but it would've far safer to do this at midnight (or 3 am on weekend nights) after you get off of the last train for the night (assuming you can duck the station managers rounding people up for the exit). But yes, still idiotic, considering the third rail, and that vacuum trains do come out after the last train (they go pretty slow, like 5 mph), but you're still at the very least illegally inconveniencing people from the doing their job for a goddamn photo. I'm not a yogi, but the one free month of yoga from LivingSocial taught me that it's about finding peace within yourself through strength and flexibility of body and mind, and definitely not about getting likes on Instagram.

Sometimes the strapping can break. And when that happens, it flails about as the train races down the tracks. It's a knife's edge and it can guillotine a stop sign clean off its post.

Toot toot! Make way for the wacky decapitation train!


you guys just totally reminded me of that scene from Final Destination
posted by numaner at 9:12 PM on October 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I find it curious that the train's horns/brakes weren't mentioned in any of the articles I've found. But maybe the train's speed (which we don't know either) made this moot.

Probably because it happens so fast. The horn is useful to warn at crossings because the engineer knows from signals that the crossing is coming and so they use the horn well in advance. At the point they see someone on the track and given the speed they are going, it's going to be too late to warn the person on the track except to give them a heads up a split second before they get hit. Likewise with the brakes - someone above said at that point all you can do is apply the brakes and look away - you aren't going to stop in time. Trains need a lot of space to stop. The article about DeReggi said the train was estimated as going over 70 miles per hour.
posted by kitten magic at 9:59 PM on October 11, 2015


This page from the Minnesota safety council is interesting. Says a passenger train doing 80 miles per hour can require a mile to stop. A freight train needs more than a mile. The engineer isn't going to be able to easily see someone a mile away even if the track is straight and the day clear. If they see them at less than a mile, it's already too late. These are not odds I would want to mess with.
posted by kitten magic at 10:05 PM on October 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I grew up across from a steam train. Average speed about 15 mph, sounded like a dragon puffing along, often with cars front and back to make sure the tracks were okay.

People still got hit. One poor postal worker took it in the tuchus and went through the mail boxes she was stuffing.

Incidentally, there's train accident information available from the Federal Railroad Administration.
posted by underflow at 10:50 PM on October 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


The most significant factor in that fatality is that they were trespassing on the tracks. It doesn't matter if the horn was sounded or if the engineer could theoretically have seen them in time to stop the train; they absolutely should not have been there in the first place.

Depending on where the accident happened, walking across a set of railroad tracks may have been unavoidable. America is not built for pedestrians.

Blaming the victims for "trespassing" is akin to blaming a person for getting hit by a car because they weren't using a crosswalk (even if there isn't a crosswalk around for miles).

This might not necessarily have been the case in this instance, but some of the victim-blaming in this thread is kind of icky.
posted by schmod at 6:42 AM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


It doesn't matter if it was a calculated risk. It doesn't matter that she didn't get splattered. The fact is she was on the train tracks taking photos and posting them as if it was something cool to do. It's not cool, ever. I was very close friends with a train driver many years ago who ran into someone (maybe they weren't doing yoga poses at the time but that's completely beside the point). He was devastated and traumatised and no doubt still bears the scars.

Don't get on the train tracks. Don't get on the train tracks EVER. Don't make excuses for people getting on the train tracks (unless they're rescuing someone from the train tracks). This is such a no-brainer I can't believe anyone could think otherwise.

On preview, schmod, I'm talking about people at train stations where there's no reason to be crossing anywhere but in a safe zone ie. nowhere near the train tracks.
posted by h00py at 7:09 AM on October 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


h00py, we all agree it was dumb. I still disagree that the yoga pair's punishment should be wiping up body parts.

At the point they see someone on the track and given the speed they are going, it's going to be too late to warn the person on the track except to give them a heads up a split second before they get hit.

70 mph = 1.17 miles/minute = 6160 ft/min

Assuming that an engineer could identify something on the tracks at 1000 ft, that's 9.75 sec. Subtract 2 sec, oh heck make it 5 sec for engineer's reaction time - that's 4.75 sec.

Not much you say... but it's a bit more than a split second. Ask yourself whether you could run/jump off the tracks given 4 sec of warning. I expect this to be brought up at the inquest.

Anyway... stay off the tracks, everyone. If it's necessary to cross (where safe crossing hasn't been provided), look both ways carefully, then go quickly across. That is still the right takeaway from these incidents.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:31 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah. That's a fair point, but there's no reason to get on a high horse about this particular issue.

In the case of the DC Metro, there's absolutely no conceivable reason to get on the tracks. It's a ~6 foot drop to the tracks, and it's pretty obvious that standing on the tracks = instant death.

Nobody in their right mind would do what this woman did, and this situation is so much of an outlier that I don't think it's even worth discussing as a part of any general trend.
posted by schmod at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2015


Anyone got that surveillance video available on YouTube? Eh? Benny Hill This
posted by NedKoppel at 8:50 AM on October 12, 2015


I understand the inclination to avoid victim-blaming but, assuming we're talking about people getting hurt when taking pictures on train tracks, I feel like that's not the right application of the term "victim-blaming." This isn't a fully formed thought but when I think of victim-blaming, I think of the stereotypical rape apologist yammering about short skirts. Rape is a thing that should never happen so blaming people who survived rape for any reason feels wrong.

On the other hand, train tracks exist for trains. Trains passing on train tracks is a thing that is supposed to happen. It's still a tragedy when someone gets hurt by a train. But it feels weird to me to say that someone is victim-blaming when they suggest that a person who got hurt by a train while taking pictures on train tracks should not have been doing that.
posted by kat518 at 9:00 AM on October 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


On the other hand, train tracks exist for trains. Trains passing on train tracks is a thing that is supposed to happen. It's still a tragedy when someone gets hurt by a train. But it feels weird to me to say that someone is victim-blaming when they suggest that a person who got hurt by a train while taking pictures on train tracks should not have been doing that.

I was going to say about this exact thing. Train tracks are not a public thoroughfare, they are not a place anyone except the people paid to work on them should ever, ever be. There's an incredibly degree of entitlement in saying otherwise. It's totally fair and right that the people who manage a system of incredibly dangerous, fast moving and difficult to stop machines should get to decide where you can and cannot be in their system.
posted by neonrev at 9:20 AM on October 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yes, what neonrev says.

If the state of American rail is as terrible as the state of American roads for pedestrian safety, I feel like that's another, tangential topic. We are not talking about people who are so underserved by the utilities around them that they have to risk their lives to make a journey; we're talking about this kind of activity, which does seem to be at least a minor trend considering the number of related Pinterest boards. :(
posted by daisyk at 10:06 AM on October 12, 2015


I don't know if you saw it*, schmod, but the article about the teenage boy who was killed actually included one of the pictures of him and his girlfriend on the train tracks, from right before the accident happened. They look like lovely kids, and by all accounts his loss is a great one, but there really isn't any doubt about what they were doing on the tracks.

*This is not a sarcastic comment. Probably there would be a way to make this clear in the comment itself, but I am tired and relying on a footnote because I can't figure it out.
posted by daisyk at 10:16 AM on October 12, 2015


some of the victim-blaming in this thread is kind of icky

Listen: keep your body out of my windshield, and I won't blame you.

Fair enough?
posted by Dashy at 11:46 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Blaming the victims for "trespassing" is akin to blaming a person for getting hit by a car because they weren't using a crosswalk (even if there isn't a crosswalk around for miles).

No, it's not. These aren't public roads. Railroad track is private property to be used exclusively by the railroads. Walking along the tracks or crossing it where pedestrians aren't allowed to cross is quite literally trespassing.

I pass a section of track on my way to work and whenever I see kids walking along it I call the local police. They take this stuff very seriously.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 11:57 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]



I don't know if you saw it*, schmod, but the article about the teenage boy who was killed actually included one of the pictures of him and his girlfriend on the train tracks, from right before the accident happened. They look like lovely kids, and by all accounts his loss is a great one, but there really isn't any doubt about what they were doing on the tracks.

They are children though. By definition they do not always make the best choices and do not understand the consequences. When I was a kid a classmate died while playing in a construction area. Of course she should not have played there, but I'm glad that nobody continued to make that point (because it's obvious that it was a bad idea), and in general the discussion about how to prevent these terrible deaths was not about "shame those children into never doing that again" but more about "make construction sites safer/fence them off if they're really dangerous/don't leave dangerous tools around" etc.

I live in a country with lots of train tracks. Suicide by train is, as MartinWisse mentioned, very common, sadly. But children do not go to a place near train tracks to hang out/take pictures, because they tend to be fenced off. It's not that it's completely impossible to get on a train track, but it's a more deliberate action, like the yoga lady. You don't just stumble upon a train track when you're walking through a field. That story by If only I had a penguin... above (about standing somewhere in the middle of two passing trains) sounds incredible to me, it's just hard to believe that that still happens. And I am a bit surprised that nobody even mentioned "safer train tracks" as something that might help prevent these deaths in this thread. In a recent discussion about car crashes the whole thread was about how to make "the system" safer, and here it seems like people just think "children should not do stupid things".
posted by blub at 12:31 PM on October 12, 2015


Hundreds die walking the tracks each year mentions railroad responsibility. Some quotes:

Based on the miles driven each year, pedestrians are killed by freight and passenger trains at many times the rate they are killed by motor vehicles.
---
railroads have objected to efforts by regulators to learn more about the collisions. They have admitted to ignoring obvious signs of people walking on their rails. They have at times failed to brake or even slow down significantly when they do spot people in a train’s path.
---
“I think if an engineer slowed down or stopped every time he thought something might happen,” Kurt Laird said, “we wouldn’t get the train from point A to point B.”
---
A Union Pacific engineer testified he never touched the locomotive’s brakes before colliding with a mother and daughter walking on the tracks in El Paso, Texas, in 2002. He down-shifted the throttle. He blew the horn. He said he always expected Flora Torres, 40, and her daughter Haide, 8, to get out of the way.
[...]
The engineer was asked in court if he was disciplined by Union Pacific for failing to use the brakes. No, the engineer replied.
Did he violate any railroad rules? No.

posted by blub at 1:07 PM on October 12, 2015


Assuming that an engineer could identify something on the tracks at 1000 ft, that's 9.75 sec. Subtract 2 sec, oh heck make it 5 sec for engineer's reaction time - that's 4.75 sec.

Not much you say... but it's a bit more than a split second. Ask yourself whether you could run/jump off the tracks given 4 sec of warning. I expect this to be brought up at the inquest.


We also need to account for the reaction time of the person on the track. Speaking for myself I know I'd be startled by the horn and would lose time there, then there is tripping risk on the gravel or over the track (it's not as neat as darting out of the way on a smooth road) . From what I've read, most people hit by accident (rather than suicide by train) were trying to get out of the way; they just didn't make it in time. The engineer likely wouldn't have known if he had seen the train and was playing chicken or had no idea at all. There were also the two girls who did get out of the way.

Yes, all things to be brought up at the inquest. I have no desire to blame the victim, especially a teenager - those pictures before his death are really sweet and it does seem like a foolish, tragic accident. But I don't think an engineer should be blamed for failing to stop in time or even failing to warn in time. The engineer is also responsible for hundreds of people onboard and they can be injured by a very sudden stop.

I agree with blub that making the tracks safer is important (e.g. fencing them off) but I think too it's important to be clear that one cannot win against a train and that it is not cool to play around them. We are soft and squishy and much smaller than a heavy, fast moving metal train. And given the size of the US I don't see fencing being an option everywhere. In urban areas, yes but rural kids will have unfenced tracks near them.
posted by kitten magic at 2:24 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


blub: I am a bit surprised that nobody even mentioned "safer train tracks" as something that might help prevent these deaths.

I started a comment on this earlier today, but decided not to post it, since I've annoyed people enough in this thread. But your posts make the point clearly enough: North American railroads are loath to do any more than the minimum to the trackage they own to keep the trains rolling. In the past 30 or so years they've eliminated the caboose and cut the number of crew in the cab down to 1 in many cases.

From the same article:
"Is it true," an attorney for the two girls’ families asked during a deposition, "that an Amtrak engineer is not required to prevent a fatality with respect to a pedestrian or trespasser even though it’s possible for them to do so?"

"The way the book is written there is not a requirement," replied Timothy Branson, an Amtrak regional superintendent.
Railroads have fought efforts to identify problem spots for pedestrians.
posted by Artful Codger at 3:11 PM on October 12, 2015


Trains have always terrified me. I remember being a little kid in Union Station in Chicago, and thinking how small I was next to those giant trains. I'm an adult now and still feel that way. I'm extra careful when I cross tracks in my car--maybe the signal is broken! Anyway, the cavalier-around-trains attitude is totally foreign to me.
posted by persona au gratin at 3:12 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


To be clear: I don't think an engineer should be blamed for failing to prevent a death. I think the issue of blame is not really interesting. I do think crashes should be investigated and railroads (as opposed to individual engineers) should take some responsibility in preventing these deaths, instead of defaulting to saying "well they shouldn't have been trespassing" and leave it at that.

And given the size of the US I don't see fencing being an option everywhere.
If they just fenced off the tracks where Amtrak operates, that would be a very good start, and that seems totally doable. According to Wikipedia that's only 22,000 miles, which is about 5 times as much track as we have for national trains in the Netherlands. It's more, but not a huge order of magnitude more. And in the US there are probably relatively safe areas far away from where people live that can be skipped. But railroads with trains that travel with 50mph through a residential neighbourhood should immediately be fenced, it scares me just to think about that. I found it shocking that railroads take absolutely no responsibility there and that they apparently even fight efforts to study the problem. Fencing the most dangerous places would not just prevent people from being killed, it would also help prevent engineers not get into the awful situation where they inadvertently kill someone.
posted by blub at 3:37 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


blub I think the problem is also that Amtrak don't own most of the tracks - the freight train companies do. Amtrak don't have many rights even using them, if you travel on the long distance routes delays of hours are quite common because freight trains get priority.

However, they do own the tracks in the Northeast corridor I believe and that is a highly built up area and I agree - they should be fenced there.
posted by kitten magic at 3:47 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


blub: "If they just fenced off the tracks where Amtrak operates, that would be a very good start, and that seems totally doable."

We probably should not be encouraging the US in fencing off transcontinental linear properties what with its current obsession with fences across the Mexican (and Canadian) borders.

Also, most of Amtrak. The diagonal line top right to bottom left is Amtrak. That line runs from Chicago to St. Louis and has 8 commuter trains per day, plus many more freight. I tried to find you a street view but most of Amtrak's tracks are so far in the back of beyond that EVEN GOOGLE STREETVIEW HASN'T GONE THERE.

Okay, here's a streetview from a little farther up the line.

I don't disagree that we should be making rail crossings safer -- in fact, my state was #2 in rail/car and rail/pedestrian fatalities 20 years ago and we have vastly improved by upgrading crossings and signals and increasing safety in populated areas -- but we're talking about very, very different tools to be used in urban and suburban areas on commuter lines(where most of these stupid "moron on the tracks" photo things happen), in suburban areas with freight lines, and in rural areas. There are also safety options other than fencing, and fencing can't keep pedestrians off the rail lines at stations or at pedestrian crossings -- which is quite often where pedestrians enter the rail line.

I also have concerns, with large-scale fencing, about environmental impacts to mammal populations who range across large territories of farmland (deer, cougar, armadillo); typically we're trying to improve their ability to move across human infrastructure, not reduce it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:14 PM on October 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


but most of Amtrak's tracks are so far in the back of beyond that EVEN GOOGLE STREETVIEW HASN'T GONE THERE.

Yep. I have taken most of Amtrak's long distances trips and they go through some really remote areas. You can't see the tracks from this image but they are close by. It's gorgeous.


Eyebrows, your link is making me nostalgic!
posted by kitten magic at 7:51 PM on October 12, 2015


I don't disagree that we should be making rail crossings safer
And that's exactly what I don't understand: that apparently people CAN disagree about this. One of those articles talks about, for example, a track in a residential area where multiple people were killed and the railroad refuses to even talk about options to make that specific area safer.

I agree that fencing everywhere is probably not necessary or even preferable. Remote areas where trains are so infrequent that they rarely hit those animals are probably safe to stay as they are. We also have wildlife crossings and railway tunnels for exactly this purpose. If it is dangerous for an American train to stop when they see a person on a track, I assume that you would not want them to hit a cougar either.

I don't want to give the impression that in the Netherlands it's perfect and we have this all sorted out. Of course (rail)road safety is never perfect, and neither is infrastructure. We also still have unprotected crossings, and people do walk across train tracks here too. You cannot prevent every accident and people do have a responsibility themselves. I was mainly shocked that some US railroad companies apparently do not want to take any responsibility whatsoever.
posted by blub at 2:17 AM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Amtrak really doesn't count when you're talking about rail in the US. It's here, it does a bit of business in the Northeast corridor, but when it comes to percentage of rail traffic, they're not even a statistical blip. We tend to think that we're bad at rail here in the US, but that's actually just one of those urban myths—we may suck at passenger rail compared to much smaller countries with a taxpayer base, but we ship a larger percentage of freight by rail than virtually any country.

In urban areas, train tracks are usually fenced off or down in trenches (the DC Metro, for example, literally does not have a single inch of track that you can get to without climbing over a tall fence or jumping into a deep hole), and you don't really just accidentally bumble onto the tracks in the most densely populated areas.

In my area, at least, the biggest pedestrian fatality clusters come in two categories.

In one, distracted people at the MARC commuter rail stops (one of the most famously lady-running-in-front-of-a-train grue videos on the internet was actually from the station I used regularly for years while I was working in Baltimore) arrive at the station late, have a hard time parking, are all flustered and distracted, and try to dart across the tracks. You might make it, if your shitty little business shoes are binding monkey suit don't trip you up, but really? Is that miserable cubicle job that important that, of the many life-or-death choices we're making in every single day, you're going to roll the dice on that one?

At my station, there's a convoluted solution to that getting-to-the-other-side thing, which is, if you hear the call of the train when you're still just halfway across the west lot, you put your fat ass into hyperdrive, and, instead of running for the platform, you dodge north through the cars, run down the stupid steps that are a hair shorter than normal steps, which make you on the verge of tripping, charge through the underpass where Main Street goes under the station, and huff and puff your way up the stairs on the east side to get to the very end of the boarding line, sweating through your clothes, if you're lucky, or you miss your train, and either one is a useful lesson about having your morning shit together.

On the flatland stations, you just have to shrug and learn that lesson as you're calling work to tell them you'll be an hour late. Your risk of dying that way, though, is far far smaller than being butchered on the tracks while Carl and Carrie Commuter get a scenic view of the medical reality of limb avulsion and a very, very late and traumatized arrival at the office.

The other variety of train death around here, and around my shack in West Virginia, is the track walker. It's a sad reality that the quickest way back to the poorest neighborhoods in my town after a long night at the podunk B&E Tavern, for instance, is to stagger down to the tracks, take the trestle across the Patuxent, and walk on the ties to avoid the shifting, kid-fist-size rocks used as ballast along the tracks until you get past the race track and exit into either the nameless trailer park there or Pfister's a quarter mile up the road.

It's dicey, but doable, when you're in full senses, and my high school girlfriend Lurleen used to walk the tracks all the way from the movie theater where we'd gone to see Purple Rain for the twenty-somethingth time, alert like squirrels with moussed-up hair and eighties fashion tragedies, preemptively shrieking "TRAIN!" at every little noise or change of the light, but if you're drunk, or tired, or deep in thought, or plugged into a pair of earphones, in the most moronic of all of the recent abrogations of human responsibility, you're rolling the wrong damn dice at the wrong damn time.

We used to do it because we were young and dumb, and because the police would yell at us for riding our bikes on the sidewalk along the ultrabusy Route 1, telling us that we were meant to follow the rules of the road, and even as well drilled in the grim rules of train safety, we'd occasionally get caught out, like one key time when we were walking our bikes along the tracks after our thirty-somethingth viewing of Purple Rain, when we were halfway across the trestle over the river when Lurleen yelled "TRAIN!"

I turned, and saw that there were, in fact, two trains, and we thought we were smart because we knew that there were two safety platforms along the dark creosote-scented ties on the trestle. Lurleen, as a resident of the nameless trailer park that borders the tracks, was savvy to the drill, and grabbed my Varsity and her Wards Young Miss Funster and hurled them off the bridge and darted across the tracks to one safety platform and I leapt onto mine and the iron thunder rolled in over the sound of my surprisingly girlish shrieking—and then the trains were gone, receding to the north and south.

I looked over and Lurleen was gone, and I turned all shaky and icy and started to cry, looking for her parts up the track, still standing there on the little three-foot-square platform off the trestle, until I heard a powerful torrent of cussing from below. I crossed to the other side and looked down to see Lurleen splashing around in the muddy river twenty-five feet below, angrily dragging our bikes out of the water…and saw the other safety platform dangling from bent metal straps on the trestle.

"I don't want to cross the trestle anymore!" I shouted down, in that sort weird diversion you make from overwhelming joy that you don't want to show, and my wet, muddy, and distinctly unhappy girlfriend looked up in disbelief, letting a long beat pass before she answered.

"Umm, would you be a dear and come down here to help me find my fucking shoe?"

We became sidewalk terrorists after that, and rode our bikes in clear violation of the law, leaving the tracks to the drunks from the B&E.

Thing is, it wouldn't have been the railroad's fault at all had we ended up diced along the tracks and dripping through the trestle—we climbed through a hole cut into the fence to get onto the tracks, chose to walk the tracks, and climbed through another hole in the fence at her trailer park.

Where's the limit of what the railroads are supposed to do? Higher fences? Electric fences? Do you force the railroads to compensate for people being stupid until their safety systems are expensive enough to where they lose business from a mode of transit that's one of the greenest and most efficient in the world to one that just puts more and more massive trucks on the road, mixed with our itty bitty cars? It's sad when people do dumb things and get killed, but the solution is to work on the people, too, not just the system, because people will always find a way to be dumb on whatever system exists if they're not trained to be smart. It would be nice if there wasn't a death penalty for seemingly small mistakes, but that's life, and you either have to pay attention or hope to luck out.
posted by sonascope at 6:56 AM on October 13, 2015 [8 favorites]


I was mainly shocked that some US railroad companies apparently do not want to take any responsibility whatsoever.

As soon as they admit the problem they become liable. This kills the company.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:28 AM on October 13, 2015


Sonascope, I have the shaky sick feeling reading your account. Jeez, the relief of Lurleen's cussing!

Your account raises an important point - the lack of infrastructure to support cycling and walking in a community. If the police won't let you ride on the footpath what the heck can you do? Ok, so riding down the crowded footpath of a busy city street can be dangerous to pedestrians but it makes me mad that people can't ride on them when there's no alternative. From what it sounds of your town's size I can't imagine the footpath being crowded with people and if there are other people then it's a matter of being considerate and alerting them with a bell, not flat out being told off by the police. Yoga lady is ridiculously self-entitled and stupid but I've spent enough time on long distance trains to appreciate the perspective of people living in towns like you describe. In my mum's town there's a pedestrian pathway that runs alongside the train line (fenced!) and it's an awesome way to get around because the train line is direct and flat. Much faster than walking by road between the same two points.
posted by kitten magic at 6:38 PM on October 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


so riding down the crowded footpath of a busy city street can be dangerous to pedestrians

Watch out for driveways and intersections. It's dangerous for people riding, too, even if there aren't any pedestrians around, and is a very common way for people on bicycles to be injured and killed by people in automobiles.
posted by asperity at 6:45 PM on October 13, 2015


The sad part is that the sidewalks along Route 1 in Laurel, Maryland have literally never had any pedestrian traffic in my lifetime. The cops just liked reinforcing order at whatever cost. The sidewalks we ended up riding were weedy nowheresville and remain so, alas.
posted by sonascope at 8:32 PM on October 13, 2015


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