On a bright, late-summer day, a local train was rolling down the tracks near Topeka, Kansas, in between two tall corn fields. This time of the year, the corn is very tall, perhaps 10 feet or more, so for a train crew it was like being in a tunnel where your vision is very limited.The train approached a farmer’s crossing – a private crossing that farmers use to get from one field to another. At private crossings, trains are not required to sound their whistles. The train was about 250 feet from the crossing, when suddenly a small pack of dogs runs across the track. This grabs the crew’s attention; something unusual is going on. Suddenly, a small girl on a tricycle appears pedaling across the tracks. Everyone in the cab gasps, but she is almost across the tracks when the rear wheel of the tricycle falls between the tracks and the planks and she is stuck.
Now, action in the cab explodes. The engineer places the train into emergency and blasts on his whistle. The brakeman runs out the front door of the cab onto the deck screaming at the girl to run. After a couple of seconds, she frees her tricycle and pedals off the tracks. The brakeman watches her pedal into the clear and then his head snaps to the left to see where she had come from. Now in slow motion, as his brain had sped up due to the adrenaline in his system, he sees a car sitting near the tracks with a woman at the wheel whose eyes were as big as saucers and she was obviously screaming. But, more profoundly, next to her in the front seat is a child carrier with an infant in it and the infant’s mouth seemed huge as it was screaming as well, terrified by its mothers cries.
The train finally slides to a stop, well past the crossing. There was no way they would have stopped in time. The brakeman sits down and is shaking so badly, he cannot light his cigarette. As a finale, the engineer walks out the back door of the engine onto the catwalk and vomits.
No one was physically injured in this incident, but the trauma for all involved would last for a lifetime. This is why crossing safety is so important. Saving lives is just part of it – preventing life-changing, horrible events is another.