Flashing the Train

Viewing the world from the cab of a locomotive is a unique experience. You experience the seasons in the tiny details – the subtle changing of the foliage into Fall… the howling winds and snow of winter… the delicate green buds of Spring. Summer is nearly upon us – and that brings a new feast for the eyes among many railroaders, and a new danger I reckon the vast majority of the population is unaware of – teenage girls flashing trains on a dare.

Now, I don’t mean to discourage the time-honored tradition. It brings great joy to many a crew on an otherwise tedious and mundane run. Is it a little awkward when I’m in the conductor’s seat with a lady engineer at the throttle? You bet! The ladies won’t be getting a toot from us, unfortunately, and that is the goal of the dare – flash your tits, get a toot.

There have already been two articles about smiling teenage girls who were killed on the train tracks this week. I can’t possibly know the details of their deaths, but I do know it happens. A lot. My hope is to figure out some sort of public safety campaign about how to flash trains safely. A quick google search tells me this isn’t something Operation Lifesaver is addressing in the schools. Sorry, parents. It’s all on you.

Shortly after I hired out, a beautiful young lady was hit by a train near a very popular beach. Why? She flashed a train with her friends. After it passed, her and her friends ran across the adjacent track to go back to the beach, unaware that another train was rounding the same corner from the opposite direction. Her friends made it. She did not. There used to be a memorial on the fence near the site… quite a few pictures of smiling, beautiful young women with their whole lives ahead of them. The stories of how it happened don’t make the news. As a parent, I can understand why, but unfortunately this means the statistics continue to climb.

Flashing trains is obviously not the only danger parents need to talk to their kids about, but I hope it got your attention. Every week brings a story of teens walking the tracks talking on their phones or texting or listening to ipods. The thing about trains and train safety which leaves every railroader scratching our heads when we hear these stories is this – YOU WILL NOT BE HIT BY A TRAIN UNLESS YOU ARE ON A TRACK. The only place you will be hit by a train is the roughly five foot area between the tracks an immediately outside of them. Out of this whole big world, we have to wonder why these victims chose to walk (or in many cases, sleep… really!) in that particular five foot area instead of everywhere outside of it where you are pretty much guaranteed to NOT get hit by a train.

We railroaders also have a special place in heart (the dark, angry spot) for kids who think it’d be cool to post a profile picture or make a cd cover for their band of them standing on a track. I work in the yard , and thought I was safe from the trauma of hitting these kids with my drag, but I was riding up in the crew van just last week to watch a shove, when I noticed a couple of guys standing near the tracks with stools and cameras, scoping out the yard. Once I got up to the spot where I could watch the shove, I looked down and saw that they had planted themselves on their stools on the one track out of 20 where we were about to shove. I actually had to say over the radio, “Start ‘em back, good for twenty cars to the idiots sitting on stools”. Don’t be those guys. Maybe you think you can do it safely, and maybe you can – but sending the message out that it’s cool to take pictures of yourselves on tracks might make a difference to the kid who got the same idea, then lost their life doing it.

A train does not sound like a train when it approaches. It is silent until it is upon you. The speed of sound is delayed when forces of the wind are in front of it. And there is no such thing as northbound/southbound tracks. If you see a train go by heading north (or east, or west) it does not mean that this is the only direction for that track. “Expect trains at any time from any direction”… and you probably won’t hear it until it is too late. That goes for you, too – the impatient fools (including grown-ups in cars) who cross the tracks after the rear of a train goes by not realizing another train is about to enter the crossing from the other direction. If the crossing arms are still down, wait until they go back up! I’ve had dozens of near-misses with that scenario.

The crews of these trains remember every detail of fatalities on the rails for the rest of their careers. It haunts them. Many have to quit because they can no longer stomach going by those crossings and reliving it hundreds of times.

Don’t let your child be a statistic! You might think your kids already know better, but they don’t. Have the talk. Now!

Jen Wallis is a railroad conductor/switchman and Steering Committee member of Railroad Workers United. She can be reached at wallisjeanette@gmail.com