NEWS ITEM: Police have identified the 76-year-old man who was struck by an Amtrak train about 5:45 p.m. Monday near Gear Avenue and Mount Pleasant Street.
Sometimes it’s a suicide and sometimes it’s some idiot driving around the barriers trying to beat the train over the crossing. But make no mistake: when these incidents occur, the head end crews are also victims. Most can shake it off; for some it’s a matter of time and counseling; and a few are just not able to get back up into the cab. Ever.
Probably 20 years ago, I was on either the Silver Meteor or the Silver Star—I can’t remember which one—when we hit a car just outside of Savannah, Georgia. I was in the lounge car at the time when the train went into emergency braking and a few seconds later there was a mild jolt. As the train continued to a stop, the lounge car attendant said, to no one in particular, “Shit! Now I’m gonna be four hours late getting home.”
She knew—I guess we all knew—that the train had just hit something. Our eyes met and she shrugged. “If we killed the guy, by the time the cops and the medical examiner get done with whatever it is they do, we’ll be four hours late. Three if we’re lucky.”
The train had come to a stop and, as I looked out the window, the engineer was walking past, headed for the rear of the train. What I remember most about that entire incident is the look on his face.
I don’t know what policies were in effect at that time, but today Amtrak has a formal Employee Assistance Program and a 24-hour number for the engineer—or someone on the engineer’s behalf—to call when there’s an accident. There is almost no limit to the resources available.
Still, as they climb up into the locomotive cab to begin their work day, I’ll bet a tiny voice whispers in the ear of most Amtrak engineers: “Be careful. This could be the day.”