A Couple of weekends ago I was reading the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s online service, StlToday. I saw a little line on the home page that caught me eye. It was called, Death On The Rails. I watched the video clip that was attached and I could not believe my eyes. Having a broadcasting background, I was amazed and stunned at what I saw. The video was promoting a new newspaper series on pedestrian deaths and blaming the railroads for not doing enough to stop the actions of people trespassing on private, railroad property. I even had Mrs. Shuttletrain, watch. I called my Kansas City friend and fellow host of the Let’s Talk Trains. He watched the video and was to surprised to see how slanted the video was. This was even before seeing the articles. During that Saturday’s Let’s Talk Trains show, we spent part of the second hour talking about the series. The first installment, was posted and immediately posters started posting how slanted the article was. Most were from the St. Louis area, I posted the link on the LTT’s facebook page as a point of interest to our listeners. As the following articles came out, more and more poster’s saw what the so-called enterprise reporter were doing. They published pictures of young people, walking along the tracks or just starting to cross the tracks. Poster’s asked whether or not they called police, or staged the pictures, encouraging the trespassing to make there point.
The articles had the follow titles; In Maplewood, ‘How many people does it take to get killed before they take action?’: Hundreds die walking the tracks each year; A mother killed, her son injured, yet the railroad refuses to whistle.; Railroads have fought efforts to identify problem spots for pedestrians; Rail safety group shrinks as danger grows; Towns, train fight over fences — and responsibility for safety; Light rail sees fences differently; Criticism of fencing disappears from railroad regulator’s memo. They even had the editorial board write an editorial after the series was done, praising the reporter for doing such great job of reporting. After the postings complaining of the hatchet job the reporter was making, They starting posting all the awards that the reporter and the photographer had previously received for their stories. They also tried to say that they had “conducted more than 90 interviews for these articles, talking with victims’ families, railroad officials and workers, regulators, public officials and police, and reviewed thousands of pages of court documents, regulatory filings and industry publications.
As a child, growing up right next to the tracks. my birth house was two houses away, I was always made aware by my parents of the dangers of railroads and to have a very healthy fear of being hurt by them. I will admit that I would walk across the tracks from now and then, but, and a its a big but, I never did it with earbuds, or earphones. I never think of walking in the middle of the tracks as children do now. I would always cross straight across. This was in the days when rail traffic was higher than it is now. I did ride bicycles down the right of way as I see kids doing these days. I always made sure that I when I crossed, I had a clear line of sight both ways before I crossed. These were the days before quiet zones, back then you could here the train several grade crossings away blowing the horns. I think that quiet zones are wrong and give the NIMBY’s too much power. After all, in most cases the railroad was there before the homes or most the current families moved in. I watched each article comments, very closely. The mother of a Kirkwood student that was wearing earbuds, and walking on the tracks as short cut as he had many times before, was run over by an AMTRAK train headed to it’s station stop in Kirkwood. Since I have ridden that line many times. I knew the crew that was on-board that day. I know that they had a bad time dealing with the fact that the student was killed. The mother sent my a personal facebook message that my now departed mother, knew and loved the student a lot and that my postings were not honoring my mother or the student. I stepped back a moment and thought about what she said. As a railfan and train show host, I knew that, I was sorry that her son was killed, but to be part of a story that blamed the railroads for contributing to his death, that was just plain wrong. The series had another parent blame the railroads for not putting up fences in areas that had high number of trespassers near Chicago and they even tried to say that an east coast railroad was covering up because a in cab camera was not working. The in cab cameras are not required and are not part of a locomotives operation.
The series did have a comment from the Union Pacific Media Relations Director, but the only line used made him and his railroad look bad. I know the person directly and he would have have lots more to say besides what was printed. Can you say, “taken out of context”. The series then focused on Light Rail operations, basically having their PR person say that they are going to fence the entire line. Of course, the Light Rail is a public funded organization and the use electric wires to power the trains.
The comments kept pouring in, on the website. I decided that I would devote another hour on the topic, I invited a Webster Groves Police Captain, two AMTRAK station managers on the show. The police captain said that have a great working relationship with the two railroads that travel through the town. He was open to the idea of anything that would help keep people off any private property, but that it fences were not always the right solution. Personal responsibility is the number one solution. The AMTRAK station managers pointed out that they have on more than one occasion people taking prom or wedding pictures. They both agreed that if fences were built people would cut through them or just walk around. The mentioned that building bridges would be just an annoyance and people would not use them. When I brought up the comments made by a former VP of American Association of Railroads that railroads needed to do more. I was told by guest that they did not believe that the man said that and that his words were again taken out of context.
Are railroads to blame? I still say no. I do not think that the Post Dispatch did anyone a favor by running this story except lawyers. I think that the story was driven by the ambulance chasing lawyers. Just saying. Please read the articles and leave your impressions on the newspapers website and here. Please just remember, I do not want anyone to die around railroads, I just want people to be act responsible around them.
Thanks for wandering.