Impacts -- Train Trestle

FG and HI had crossed a train trestle to reach their favorite fishing hole. The fish were not biting, so the two young men gathered their poles and tackle boxes and climbed back onto the trestle. At or near this time, they were detected by two crew members of an approaching train. The train was traveling at a speed of about 62 mph.. The engineer sounded the horn.

According to a witness, shortly before the horn was heard, either FG or HI yelled, "Train." They tossed their gear and began to run towards the far end of the bridge. To clear the trestle, they would have to cover more than 600 feet. The trestle was about 630 feet long. The train did not slow down. The two men were about 60 feet from the end of the bridge when HI tried to pass FG. It was too late. Both young men were killed.

HF Issues: When FG and HI first became aware of the approaching train, it was more than 4000 feet away and would not reach them for another 45 seconds. At that time, they were only about 30 feet from the end of the trestle. They could have covered that distance in 7 or 8 seconds if they walked, or in about 2 seconds if they ran. Instead, they ran towards the far end of the trestle, which was more than 600 feet away. Why?

Other issues pertained to the behavior of the crew. The engineer believed that the young men would clear the trestle and did not slow the train.

HF Investigation: Information obtained included, but was not limited to: the depositions of the crew; the depositions of witnesses who were fishing near the trestle; and train speed data (obtained through Train Trax Data Analysis).

HF Analysis: A scale computer drawing was created of the train and the trestle. This graphic was used in conjunction with all the available sources of information to reconstruct the likely sequence of events. The above thumbnail description of the accident was based on that reconstruction. With regard to FG’s and HI’s behavior, it was not necessary to postulate that they voluntarily assumed the risk of trying to outrun the train. Rather, in my opinion, their behavior was consistent with “return to the natural mode.” That is, it has been observed that when subjected to stressors, people may return to well established patterns of behavior even if those behaviors are not adaptive to the situation at hand. In my opinion, when either FG or HI yelled "Train," the two young men “panicked” and ran away from the danger.

A candidate warning was developed for use at train trestles.

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