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Another Death by Train

Filed in Miscellaneous by on August 4, 2010 • views: 4197

It was not long ago that a man in a rush to get home at night got off of his west bound train and crossed the tracks on Ramsey’s Main Street while the crossing gates were down. He looked to see whether any trains were coming from the other direction, never thinking that a train not stopping at Ramsey might pass on the second track going west bound, after all that track usually only had east bound trains. But tonight another train heading west was passing the one he just got off of, and he paid for ignoring the crossing gates, warning lights, warning sounds, and train horn with his life.

The Ramsey crossing gates with guard fences at right.


That accident prompted black gates to be put up pushing pedestrian traffic directly to the crossing gates, large warning signs, and a grim safety awareness poster with a body bag on the platform hanging from the train station warning of the dangers of ignoring the crossing guards.

Yet people, albeit less of them, still ignore the gates, hurrying to catch a train, get to their car, or do wherever they are off to do. Most times a person will get away with it, and the fact that they get away with it breeds contempt or blasé about the risks posed by a forty thousand pound locomotive moving at 40 mph. But every few years someone doesn’t get away with it. This morning Christiana Lee, a 21 year old from Glen Rock didn’t get away with it. Maybe she was going to be late to get somewhere. But she crossed directly in front of a train heading to Hoboken at 7:41am this morning, and now she will never get to where she was going.

People will argue that this crossing is not safe, that any crossing requiring pedestrians to cross over tracks is no longer safe. Why isn’t the track crossing like that of Ridgewood, NJ, an underground tunnel, why did Ramsey abandon its plans over two generations ago to build a similar tunnel? Why not have a pedestrian bridge go over the tracks like in Waldwick, NJ, or even the Route 17 station. Such questions are valid to discuss, but at some point people are responsible for their own well being. You may be able to cross while the gates are down and have nothing happen 999 out of 1000 times, but once in a while what happened today, and a few years ago, and countless times all over New Jersey and the nation will happen again.

And it will continue to happen, as long as people think they are gaining an extra minute by ignoring the train crossing gates. Locomotives weigh in excess of forty thousand pounds, and will never be able to stop on a dime. In a collision with a train, the train will usually win.

Condition Your Mind to the Risk

Years ago an article in Time Magazine cited an expert who was attempting to explain why only one elderly man, against flight crew instructions, made his way out of a grounded airplane. As a result he and his wife were the only survivors of a subsequent fire on the plane. The theory put forth was that as a young man, this man had been at a movie theatre which caught fire, and that having that early experience allowed him to reason out the proper way to deal with similar situations ahead of time. When the situation, fire, repeated itself he instinctively knew how to react.

Back in the 1990’s I came across the story of Mary Wojtyla of Chicago. Mary, on August 26th, 1991 was also struck and killed by a train. She was killed in very much the same manner as that man in Ramsey years ago, two trains heading in the same westbound direction on two different tracks, with one passing another. She relied on other people who were crossing and didn’t look herself, ignoring the warning bells. The difference between this and hundreds of other accidents is that a train enthusiast had set up a camera to capture the arrival of a specific locomotive, and captured the accident on video.

Don’t watch this video if you don’t want to, it does show a person losing their life and is disturbing. That said, much as the theory from that Time Magazine article goes, you can use this to equip yourself and your mind to fully comprehend the risk of crossing train tracks against the train whistle, crossing guards, and warning bells. Before I saw this video I didn’t think much of jogging to beat the train while the gates were down in Ramsey, like hundreds of others. After seeing the video I never did it again. This Chicago woman’s tragic mistake at least has a legacy of teaching others.


Finally

The fact that this young woman from Glen Rock was looking at her phone, or wearing headphones, and crossed the gates hardly matters against the fact that this was a tragedy. Her life being cut short is no more or less a tragedy because of a mistake, and normal people (despite some of the comments seen on Facebook) are upset by this event.

It was obviously a mistake, a mistake she has paid a tremendously tragic price for over a momentary lapse of judgment. And that is not fair, because we all have lapses in judgment now and then; however life rarely strikes a perfect balance between mistakes and their consequences. Some get off the hook with nothing, some pay far too much like Christiana Lee did. Train personnel are left to cope, her family left to grieve, and the rest of us are left to witness, wonder, be upset, and lament the tragedy of a young adult life just starting out now cut short unnecessarily.

So forgive me if I’ve diverted briefly from the history topic that is this web site’s raison d’etre. But we’re starting to form another kind of history in Ramsey, a pattern of events at the train station, that is nothing but tragic. It is bothering me. Let’s draw some meaning from this sad event.

Please, when the gates are down, when the whistle blows, do not cross the tracks.

About the Author ()

Daniel Kennedy is a local history buff and a board member of the Ramsey Historical Association.

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