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Train operators talk about accidents

June 30, 2010 7:14:16 PM PDT
In the East Bay two of the nation's largest railroad entities are teaming up. They are trying to deliver a message about train tracks, train crossings, and overall train safety. On Wednesday, some engineers shared some bad memories, but talked about them for a larger purpose.

Even with all the bells, traffic gates, and flashing red lights, they are little consolation to the people who control more than 4,000 horsepower in every locomotive and you might be surprised by what they worry about.

"I had three [close calls] yesterday," said train engineer Kevin Gniadek.

Among railroad engineers, it's not a matter of if, but when, a person or a car gets stuck on the tracks in front of them and the train they are controlling, makes impact.

"We've all been through it," said Gniadek.

"I don't know the person's name, but it was down in San Jose about two or three years ago. It was a fatality," said train engineer Robert Ward.

Normally, such frankness wouldn't be mentioned by the train engineers, if not for a push by Amtrak and Union Pacific to encourage railroad safety. They took ABC7 for a ride along on the Capitol Corridor between Emeryville and San Pablo.

"In 2009, there were 60 deaths in the state of California and that led all states across the United States," said Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt.

According to science, there is a reason many human beings get into these kinds of accidents. Human beings have an inability to judge large objects, moving towards them at fast speeds. It's the Leibowitz effect.

"We're just not very good at it because when you think of something coming directly at you, the only way you have to judge its speed, is how quickly it grows in your field of vision. And at first it's very slow, and its only at the very end, that it seems to bloom," said UC Berkeley researcher Doug Cooper.

That accounts for misjudgment.

However, trespassers are another issue. The tracks today are loaded with them.

"People shouldn't feel safe. First of all, they're trespassing and they should never feel safe around the tracks, at all," said Ward.

Not when a train, moving 79 mph, tries to stop in a hurry. It's impossible in less than 1,500 feet. That's a little factoid you might want to consider before misjudging the behemoth bearing down on you.


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