Old 10-03-2007, 12:39 AM   #1
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Post Seattle Times: Train Accident @ Safeco Field

http://www.warail.com/2007/10/train-...eco-field.html

On Sunday October 1st at 9:30am my sons and I were near the BNSF crossing at South Holgate St, eating our McMuffins and waiting for trains to pass. It was an icky morning, described in our house as the type of "Splatty Rain" that seems to come at you from all directions and in all sizes. Fast food steams up the windows, especially when there are three hungry boys eating hot hashbrowns. We sat long enough for me to finish my food, electing to move the truck up closer to the crossing. When we got closer we saw lights, a bright trio on the tracks. Earlier, on our way into the area, we saw an Amtrak train sitting at King Street Station. This surely was the Coast Starlight or Cascades heading south. But the bright trio of lights didn't move. They just sat there.

"Daddy, can we go see what they're doing?" David asked me.

No, I said, because there's nowhere for us to park around there. So we headed off to find trains in another venue.

It's a good thing we didn't go there.

Turns out that a woman headed to work at Safeco Field was hit by a train while crossing the tracks, in her wheelchair. Thankfully no-one was killed, and as I write this the woman is in satisfactory condition at Harborview Medical Center. The initial reports said that her chair got stuck on the tracks. Therefore the headlines look like:

"Train accident was fourth near ballpark since 2000"
"Woman in wheelchair hit by train in Seattle"

The headlines are true in the grammatical sense, but can mislead readers into thinking the whole thing happened a certain way. Headlines often use terminology that will tug at a person to read it. "Woman" and "wheelchair" are words high on the list. Actual blame cannot be found in a headline, but from the way it's written the blame can be assumed. In this case, the assumption from the headlines can be that the "big bad railroad" is at fault for hitting a disabled woman in a crossing. Ignore due diligence, choosing rather to skim over an article or merely read the headline, and the nuances of the issue can be lost. This article is a perfect case in point.

As the story unfolds an age-old issue comes out. Reports indicate that the woman went around the pedestrian crossing gate that had just dropped down. A witness said she had just cleared the crossing when the gate closed, and that the woman was heading into the crossing. A southbound train was doing 18mph and blew a warning (it's really loud there, because of all the tall buildings to bounce sound). Whether or not the chair got stuck on the track is unclear, as the police report indicates that the locomotive clipped the back of her chair rather than it actually being stuck; that would indicate the chair was moving and not stuck. The timing of her crossing still perplexes me; it seems that there was plenty of warning, both visible and audible, to keep this person away from the tracks. The Seattle Times article on this issue points out that railroad crossings are clearly dangerous places, chair or no chair, and that the utmost safety must be considered when crossing tracks - especially on a mainline that sees "100 movements" per day on average.

The most important thing to remember in all of this is to "always assume a train is coming." Pointing blame in this accident is not as important as simply learning to be safe around trains. "Stop, Look, and Listen" still runs through my head from a song I learned in Kindergarten. Back then the Northern Pacific ran through my town, so it was an important lesson that made me fear the dirt crossing when heading up the hill to a friend's house on the other side of the tracks. Even though we have no rails around our home now, I teach the boys about the importance of looking both ways and crossing tracks safely.

I'll tell them both, later in life, how close we were to seeing a visible example of that.
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