Friday, February 09, 2007

Railroading Can Be Deadly

Anyone who hangs around trains knows that it can be a deadly sport. Although safety practices have greatly improved the life expectancy of today's railroad men and women, it remains a hazardous business.

There are people out there who do stupid things -- like jumping the coupler between two Sacramento Regional Transit light rail cars. Tuesday, while waiting for my bus at 8th and K streets, I watched two teenage girls who were running to catch the Blue Line to Meadowview.

In their haste to catch the train that was ready to depart, one girl jumped the coupler. The second hesitated and turned back. I think she had more sense than the first girl. In the end, the second girl missed the train and walked off.

Fortunately, these the lives of these girls were spared this time. And Regional Transit was saved from an embarrassing incident brought on by stupidity of its passengers.

Diamond & Caldor Accidents
One thing stood out last year when I was researching the archives of The Mountain Democrat newspaper of El Dorado County. A dozen or more railroad men died during the 49-year life of the Diamond & Caldor Railway.

Several major crashes took the lives of D&C trainmen. From brakeman Al W. Gill's death in 1912 to the 1929 wreck of Shay No. 3 near Caldor, accidents were a part of railroad life for the logging line.

Three died on Wednesday, July 3, 1929. Among the dead were section hands Ponteo Dundi, L. Barato and D. Carssini. Eight others, including the engineer George Nash and fireman George Grant, were injured.

The No. 3 consist was made of three cars loaded with rail and ties. The section gang were riding on the cars, a common practice of the day, as train and crew were returning to Caldor for lunch.

Nash told The Mountain Democrat that he realized the train was gaining too much speed as it descended a six percent grade. To avoid a turn at the bottom of the hill, Nash placed the locomotive in reverse and opened the throttle as the Grant sanded the rails.

Flying rails and ties and steam from the boiler caused most of the injuries and deaths as the engine, cars and crew plundged down a 50-foot embankment.

This serves as a reminder to trainmen, railfans and passengers -- railroad can be deadly.

So, in the words of the old grade crossing signs, "Stop, look and listen."

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