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Train Engineers Often Deal With Crippling Trauma In Wake Of Tragedies

Brett Blume
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ST. LOUIS (KMOX) –  It was one week ago when a 14-year-old Kirkwood boy was struck and killed by a train as he walked down the tracks wearing music earbuds.

Then early Tuesday near Poplar Bluff, two girls were killed and another critically injured when a train slammed into their Jeep after they had parked on the tracks to take part in an Internet-fueled game called called “Ghost Train”.

In both instances Amtrak trains were involved, and spokesman Mark Magliari says what often goes overlooked in the outpouring of grief and concern for the victims’ families is what the crews of those trains are having to deal with.

“I know of cases where engineers have stopped being engineers,” Magliari related to KMOX News. “They’ve quit or they’ve gone out on disability because of the trauma of something like this. Because this often happens in ways that the engineers and the conductors simply can’t prevent.”

Incredibly, according to statistics, a collision between a train and a vehicle or pedestrian happens an average of every two-and-a-half hours on railroad tracks across the nation.

“If it’s true that these teenage girls had intentionally parked their vehicle down on the tracks in Poplar Bluff, if it’s indeed true that this young man near Kirkwood was walking down the tracks with headphones on, there’s nothing our engineers can do to stop that from happening,” Magliari pointed out, “but they have to face it when it happens.”

Crews on trains that have been involved in fatal “incidents” — Magliari refuses to call them “accidents” — are immediately placed on leave and sent back home to let the healing process begin as quickly as possible.

In addition they’re given access to free counseling through employee assistance programs offered both by Amtrak and by the train engineers’ union.

Magliari said the fact that the rural crossing where the fatal crash near Poplar Bluff occurred had no lights or crossing-arms, just a simple “crossbucks” sign, didn’t necessarily play a role in the tragic outcome.

“What we’ve found is that these incidents occur even when there are warning systems,” he said. “Where drivers simply try to beat the train even though the warning devices are triggered. Drivers just go around the gates.”

One good sign…despite Tuesday’s tragedy, the number of collisions at train crossings nationwide has been declining in recent years.

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