Fourteen years ago I saw an Amtrak train run down a woman. The train didn’t follow her or chase her; it merely stayed on the tracks. It couldn’t stop in time to save her life and it certainly couldn’t swerve out of the way to protect her. The train was already moving slowly as it approached the Amtrak station in Centralia. I was a hundred feet away . . . the warning bells were ringing. People saw her and froze. No one could do anything to protect her. She didn’t look before stepping in front of the engine. She and her groceries disappeared in an instant as the train rolled over her.
The tracks between Steilacoom and Chambers Bay made the news. The morning of October 15th, 2018, while checking the news from Tacoma I saw the short news clip from The Morning News Tribune. A man jumped out of the way of one train and was struck by another going in the opposite direction.
I know the city of Lakewood is afraid that people will be killed when the new high speed trains start running passenger service through the town. The fear is not without reason. Precautions can be taken, but people will die, anyway. People see the tracks, but don’t see the danger.
I discussed the problem of casual walkers and their deaths with a Burlington Northern engineer several years ago. Although people probably mourned the deaths in Centralia and Steilacoom, I feel saddest for the engineers who drive the trains. The engineer told me of his vision from the driver’s seat. He was approaching a bridge where a man was walking on the track with his back to the train. The engineer did what he could, but the man never heard him and was finally hit by the train and the body cart-wheeled clear of the tracks. We were talking years after the man had been killed, but like my vision of the lady in Centralia, the death scene repeats itself in the mind of the engineer.