Riding the rails

Photo credit: http://www.ganzelgroup.com/

Photo credit: http://www.ganzelgroup.com.  Lincoln, Nebraska rail yard with Capitol in the background.

My family has been involved with railroads for a long time. Brother Kip was a locomotive driver all of his professional life. My nephew followed his dad and “steams” up and down the rails between Chicago and Pittsburgh as we speak.  The man I regarded as my grandfather (Gordo was his nickname) served as a brakeman.  (He was also adept at taking vacations on the railroad under the FELA, but that’s another story.) I worked in the rail yards walking among the moving cars helping the trainmen make up trains.

Rail yards are very dangerous places, particularly for transients. My brother remains troubled by the transient he ran over and killed as the sad drunk lay on the rails as Kip pulled a two-mile long coal train into the yards one dark night.  Even at very slow speeds you can’t stop a train quickly even when the huge high beam clearly framed the poor guy’s drunken body in the stark glare hundreds of yards ahead. A blaring, but ignored, horn simply punctuated the horror.

Yesterday, in the Lincoln Journal there was a story about a transient and the railroad.  The article was short, but poignant.  I reproduce it in toto here:

July 20, 2013 11:27 am • By the Lincoln Journal Star

A transient man lost his right hand and was likely to lose a foot after being dragged 400 feet by a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train in west Lincoln early Saturday.

The man, who is 23, was in critical condition but is expected to survive.

Police say he was with a woman and two dogs when one of the dogs, a puppy, ran under a stationary train west of the Hobson Yard shortly before 2 a.m. The man reached under the train, which then started moving.

The woman accompanying him was able to flag down a person on the train.

The train severed the man’s right hand, causing serious damage to his right arm and left leg and foot, Lincoln Police Capt. Michon Morrow said.

Morrow said she wasn’t sure where the man is from. The 24-year-old woman who was with him is from New York.

The puppy is OK, Morrow said.

There is good in the world. We sometimes find that good in very odd places. In our cynical business of the law, little stories like these are worth savoring. They are good for our poor depleted souls.


3 responses

  1. I enjoyed this post and it just made me think back of how many famous cases there are involving railroads (Palsgraf anyone?) – would love to read a book on the stories behind some of these cases… maybe there already is one? But it seems it would make for fascinating reading. Justice Thomas once said his favorite case ever to research and write was one on the railroad. It also demonstrates how dangerous RR work is even for RR employees (http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=15909594026810659954&q=norfolk+and+western+railway+company+v.+hiles&hl=en&as_sdt=2,33).

  2. Daniel,

    Thanks so much and particularly for the reference to Justice Thomas’ opinion that dealt with a misaligned Janney coupler. At night, when we were making up trains, I used to walk between cars (on curved track) that failed to couple and that were spaced only a few feet apart. The alternative was to walk all the way around a long string of cars and that would take forever. Taking the shortcut was frowned upon, but I did it anyway. Every time I did, however, I was absolutely terrified for the second that it took me to cross the gap. When its dark, rail cars seem to roll in malevolent silence. Anyway, Justice Thomas’ opinion is fascinating reading for train buffs. Moreover, because it is written so clearly, it is a great example of good legal writing.

    All the best.


  3. I recall as a young boy “visiting” with my father a large-ish rail yard on the outskirts of Chicago as we were traveling to Chicago on an unrelated purpose. We were accosted by yard security and ordered off the property.

    I was irritated at the officiousness of the rent-a-cop, but incidents like the one you’ve reprinted give good indication of the justification for the RAC’s attitude.

    Eric Hines

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