Sunday, April 27, 2008

In a New York Minute

WARNING: This post contains subject matter that some might find disturbing. Reader discretion is advised.

In a New York Minute

By Don Henley

Harry got up

Dressed all in black

Went down to the station

And he never came back

They found his clothing

Scattered somewhere down the track

And he won't be down on

Wall Street

in the morning

Henry, my engineer, was in particularly good spirits that afternoon. His beloved Baltimore Orioles had just swept The New York Yankees in the latest home stand series and he was crowing, saying his birdies were going to go all the way to win the American League pennant.

"Notch it out to P-2," yelled a technician from the middle of the head car.

Henry cranked the throttle clockwise and we began to accelerate.

The test train we were running had just been refurbished, meaning that the railroad had to put a 1ooo or so miles on the equipment before they would accept delivery from the re-manufacturer.

We had no passengers on board, just me,Henry and maybe five or six electrical technicians. Each of them had a laptop computer, which in turn was connected to circuit boards hidden deep behind the train's cabinet doors. They asked us to make simulated station stops so they can make sure the train's computers were working as intended.

"B-Max!" Another tech shouted and Henry turned the throttle counter clockwise and the brakes slowed the train to a stop and we all lurched forward.

"Henry...How long until you retire?" I asked.

"P-4" interrupted a technician, and we began to rapidly accelerate through Westchester County.

"I've only got about another year... year and a half tops. My wife and I plan to...."

Whoosh, the emergency brakes suddenly came on and Henry jumped to his feet; "EMERGENCY-EMERGENCY-EMERGENCY," he shouted in the radio. His skin went pale white.

Ping! Scrape! Pang! Scrape! Ping!

A gut wrenching sound came up under the train.

"EMERGENCY!-EMERGENCY!-EMERGENCY!" Henry shouted again, "Some guy just dove off the platform in front of me.

He had a home

The love of a girl

But men get lost sometimes

As the years unfurl

One day he crossed some line

And he was too much in this world

But I guess it doesn't matter anymore

I dreaded this day since I hired on the railroad. I'd heard other conductor's fatality stories and I knew my day would come eventually, but it's something you can never really prepare for.

As is railroad protocol, it's the conductor's responsibility to go outside and find the victim. First, I called the rail traffic controller and got a hold on all four tracks. I then climbed down the train ladder and went outside. I walked slowly back along the ballast, looking beneath the train to see if we possibly dragged the guy. The only thing I found was some blood and pieces of flesh clinging to the third rail shoes.

After inspecting the equipment, I began to walk back towards the passenger station which was about 1/8 of a mile behind us (it takes long distances for trains to stop.) It was a bright sunny day and I remember thinking that the weather was in contrast to the horror that lay before me. In the distance I could see the figure of a man slumped in the gauge of the rail. The body was folded backwards on top of itself, almost as if he were going to be neatly placed in a drawer somewhere. My stomach began to knot.

In a New York Minute

Everything can change

In a New York Minute

Things can get a little strange

I had just about reached the station when I saw a police car and a fire engine pull into the parking lot. They were immediately followed by a railroad trainmaster (supervisor.) After a brief interview, the trainmaster told me to go back to the train and await further instructions.

I had forgotten about Henry, and how upset he looked. When I got back to the train I discovered him having heart palpitations. I called the trainmaster and soon an ambulance was carting him off to the emergency room for observation. He was later released. Engineers are the silent victims of these fatalities/suicides and though now retired, I'm sure he still relives this incident in his sleep.

And in these days

When darkness falls early

And people rush home

To the ones they love

You better take a fool's advice

And take care of your own

One day they're here;

Next day they're gone


Steve said...

As far as I'm concerned, the engineers are the real victims in these situations. No matter how bad the walk back is for the conductor--I've made the walk a number of times--the engineer sees the person/people before he or she hits them. Worse, there is little that he or she can do to prevent the inevitable.

Tony Alva said...

I recall talking to a freight rail conductor on an airplane years ago. He was coming off a sabatical after running into a car at a railroad crossing. The car had a family fo four in it. He told me that in his profession it's a matter of when, not if, a collision with a auto at a crossing occurs.

God bless all of you who work the tracks and have to deal with this kind of thing. Thanks for telling the story Bobby.

Anonymous said...

I have two under my belt in my very young railroad career. One more disturbing than the other. I don't think its something you get used to.


Bobby said...

This fatality was my first experience. I've had another one since then.
I'll save that story for another day.