Trains 2


Last night as the train turned the corner at Kingston and started its final run up to Ottawa, we began to hear a series of gongs and twangs. It was unnerving at first but it was soon evident what was going on. Ice covered branches weighed down from the on-going freezing rain had fallen into the path of the train, only to be brushed aside by the passing vehicle. The train itself was oblivious to these minor impediments and none of the staff even seemed to take notice.

I was reminded of a more dramatic event nearly forty years ago. I was taking the jitney down from Amherst to Halifax in Nova Scotia. A jitney was what Maritimers called a self-propelled train car — in this case there were two strung together. The traffic in those days was light and that was plenty for local needs.

We were just leaving Truro when there was a slight shudder in the car and a few seconds later the brakes came on and the train ground to a halt. I went to the vestibule to see what had happened.

A car had tried to beat the train through a level crossing. One suspects the driver might have been drinking. The car had been thrown from the tracks. It had struck a metal power pole and its front end was vee-ed in, smashing the grill and radiator and dislodging the engine block. The back end was bent and twisted so that one wheel now hovered over the roof of the car. By some quirk of opposing forces (or effective engineering) the front seat was largely intact and the driver was trapped though uninjured. (More evidence of the drunk driver theory — loose bodies don’t seem to get hurt.)

The police and fire trucks quickly turned up. The gas tank had ruptured and the smell of gasoline filled the air. A fireman was hosing down the area with fire retardant foam before they brought in the Jaws of Life to free the driver.

He was clearly a little upset by the experience and, with shaking hands, extracted a cigarette and a lighter. Without a word, the firefighter turned the hose on him and doused him with foam. He was left sputtering and everyone else was left alive.

Later when we finally pulled into Halifax, I descended by the front door. There was an iron handrail near the front of the train. It was what had hit the car. You could tell, because it was dented and pushed in a couple of inches. There were no other marks.

Physics is cruel. ‘Mass times velocity‘ always wins. Trains don’t care about cars or buses and cars and buses don’t care about bikes or people. So as the streets get slippery — be careful out there.

And that’s ten minutes.


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