"Be safe near the rails!" the public service message babbled over railroad sound effects.
Thanks for the warning, I thought. Who'd have guessed that crossing in front of a speeding freight train was, in fact, bad?
"Every two hours someone in the United States is struck by a train..." the add continued.
Every two hours? That's nuts!
A train isn't something that sneaks up on you. They're big and loud. They shake the ground. Their horn is an ear splitting bleat. Trains trigger bells and lights when they approach roads. If you still can't figure out a train is on the way, bowing crossbars are often proved.
Train don't go on chaotic rampages, like rogue elephants. Their path is predictable. They stay on the rails.
Why were people getting creamed by something so obvious? Every two hours?
I Googled some safety sites to find out.
Here's the scoop:
- Humans are terrible at judging the speed of approaching objects. It's a dangerous illusion. One second the choo choo seems to be gliding along in the distance, a second later, Wham!
A a camera's eye view of a approaching train demonstrates this:
- Trains are not always noisy. Newer tracks lack the clickity clikity sound effect. Stealth trains.
- They're much wider than the tracks. My source says they can stick out as much as three feet beyond the rails.
- People aren't paying attention. I can see this. I'm walking (or driving) with my brain moored in the future*- what needs to be done, the lunch I'm looking forward to, should swing by the store to pick up a loaf of [insert sound of me being smacked by a train].
- More than one set of tracks. People focus on getting around train A and get blindsided by train B.
- People forget that something that weighs 5000+ tons and going 60 miles per hour can't stop the way a car does.
And, of course:
- People can be reckless. This includes anyone who:
- Tries to race the train.
- Crosses or fishes from(!) railroad bridges.
- Walks on the tracks (At one crossing I saw a guy wearing Walkman headphones as he strolled down the tracks. The lights were blinking, the bells were dinging, and the horn was blasting and he was oblivious! He noticed and got out of the way seconds before it roared by. )
- People who drive around lowered gates. What are they thinking? I can't wait for a train now! If I'm late they'll kill me!