Cynical Synapse

Fri, 10 Jul 2009

Haste Costs 5 Young Lives

Filed under: Behavior, Cars, Driving, Life, People, Railroads, Safety — cynicalsynapse @ 11:36 am

Detroit Free Press by Regina H. Boone

Yesterday 5 metro Detroit kids lost their lives in a gamble they could beat the train through the crossing. The Amtrak train was going about 70 mph. It took about a mile for it to stop, leaving a trail of debris all the way back to the crossing. No word on whether the kids had their seatbelts on, but that probably didn’t much matter in this case. It’s also not clear if they were on their way to the beach or to one of their homes. However, the 19 year old driver had numerous traffic violations, including speeding and running a stop sign. And a judge had just suspended his license for a month for failing show his license.

The youngest in the Ford Fusion was a 14 year old girl; the boys were 18, 19, 20, and 21. Their deaths are certainly a tragedy for their families and friends. It’s also terrible for the locomotive’s crew. After throwing the train into emergency braking, there’s nothing they can do but ride it out, certain of what the outcome will be. It’s simple physics: a 530-ton train, with steel wheels on steel rails, going 70 mph takes a long time to stop. And a 2-ton car is no match for the train.

Some of the comments blame the parents, questioning why a 14 year old girl was in a car with 4 older boys, of which the 18 year old was her boyfriend. The girl’s mother had told her she had to come home rather than go to the beach, but didn’t expect the girl to comply. While I wondered the same, none of us who don’t know the actual details and circumstances should pre-judge. In any case, I’m sure that doesn’t matter in the least as far as the mother’s grief is concerned.

Another commenter noted the kids all probably learned how to drive from their parents. The post remarked on people driving 80 mph on metro Interstates, weaving in and out of traffic, citing the “me first” syndrome. People tend to become anonymous and invulnerable in their cars. Maybe that’s why the driver went around another car stopped for the gates and lights and tried to make it through the crossing. That poor decision to try and save a minute or two resulted in 5 young lives being cut far too short.

Unfortunately, grade crossing incidents happen way more than they should. All railroads are involved with Operation Lifesaver which works to educate the public on rail safety. The address both grade crossing accidents and the dangers of walking on tracks or in rail yards. Incidentally, tracks and yards are private property, so trespassers could also be ticketed or arrested. Traffic safety folks are also working to protect people from themselves. At Denton Road in Wayne County, a test set of barricades rise up when a train approaches to prevent drivers from crossing the tracks. Sadly, this test site is on the same rail line about 5 miles west of yesterdays crash site.

Update: The Free Press has the surveillance camera footage.

Update 2: Canton Police reduced the train cam footage which clearly indicates the Amtrak engineer was sounding the horn and bell. It’s also obvious the engineer had practically no warning of what was going to happen.


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