tragedy on the tracks

As a photographer I have actually photographed the aftemath of an accident involving trains and humans. It was at Bryn Mawr station on a summer evening in June 2010. I even wrote about it for Main Line Media News as an op-ed piece.

That night, a reporter I knew phoned to say there was a fatality on the tracks. I met the reporter at the scene after they were certain the victim had been removed. I didn’t want to see that because I have seen similar scenes in the past. I used to commute to New York City years ago, and especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas there were always incidents on the tracks, as there is literally a suicide by train season. One time in particular, NJ Transit and Amtrak weren’t fast enough to clean up an accident scene. That image is forever in my mind.

After this in my editorial I wrote In addition, in spite of horrible tragedies like this, so many people go up onto or get too close to live train tracks every single day. Every summer as soon as school lets out, part of the sounds of summer nights are voices on the train tracks — usually kids. Even during the school year it happens. You see it every day when people don’t want to take the time to take the stairs at stations to get to the other side — they just cross right in the middle.

On that Friday evening in 2010 I also thought of the family who would receive this tragically horrible news, as well as a local family who did receive news like this in May 2007. That was when young Brian Breskman was electrocuted by the third rail of SEPTA’s Route 100 trolley line in Bryn Mawr. Since Brian’s death, his dad, Ben Breskman, has tried to raise awareness for the need of increased safety measures around train and trolley tracks.

While I lived along the Main Line I  asked about increasing fencing at train stations and the dangerously open in-between stretches of tracks. Every time I asked I was told it’s never going to happen; it costs too much money.

Now that I am out here, I still wonder about safety and fencing along the tracks – for passenger rail and freight.  It is not like I live with a major rail line cleaving my neighborhood in two any longer, but you still wonder.  After all when you spend the better part of 15 years shooing teenage boys from the Haverford School off the tracks during the school year, and kids in general during the summer as well as some stupid adults I saw who used the tracks as a walking path, you will always wonder every time you see a train pass.

Yesterday there was a crazy tragic accident outside Ellicott City Maryland.  I started to watch it because of the fact it was a train derailment, and also I used to have cousins who lived in Ellicott City in this crazy awesome Victorian house.

What I learned this morning is one of the two teenage girls who were messing around near the tracks on a rail bridge and killed when the CSX coal train derailed was  a granddaughter of one of my mother’s friends.  Two friends of mine told me this morning.  Not that it matters in the end, it is just mind-boggling and tragically sad to think of two young lives snuffed out like this.

These weren’t crazy kids – they were two young women who were high school pals who made a dumb and deadly choice on a summer evening before going back to college.

See that is the thing, even good kids can do dumb things.  And no you can’t wrap them in cotton wool until they reach an age certain (and what age would that be anyway?), but I have to ask again, are the railroads in this country doing their best to keep people safe?

And to *think* there was talk a couple short years ago of a walking trail alongside freight train lines in Gladwyne.

Two young girls made a dumb choice.  And now they are dead.  I think part of this conversation should be as they investigate this derailment is why ordinary people can still access train tracks and railroad bridges so easily?

I am thinking that this should be a national issue.  You can’t fence every square inch of train tracks, no, but apparently something needs to be done as people keep getting smushed by trains. And there needs to be more attention to rail safety in general.  How do we know that CSX say had the right weight to haul for those tracks?  Were the tracks in perfect condition? Will the railroad try to blame these kids for the derailment and deflect accountability?

I am sorry  but you *can’t* just fluff the issue off by saying people should have more sense.  Of course people should have more sense but sometimes human beings do dumb things. And I am sorry but human beings doing dumb things are only part of the equation in this tragedy.

Ellicott City Train Derailment Victims Tweeted From Tracks Before Death ; Two young women, 19, died in an Ellicott City train derailment.

By Brandie Jefferson, Elizabeth Janney, and Lisa Rossi August 21, 2012

In the hour before officials said parts of a CSX train crashed and overturned early Tuesday in downtown Ellicott City, two young women who died in the incident were tweeting about sitting on the train tracks.

Elizabeth Conway Nass and Rose Mayr, both 19, of Ellicott City, died in the incident, which occurred at 12:02 a.m. Tuesday, train officials said.

“Levitating,” wrote a Twitter user named Rose Mayr at 10:51 p.m. under the name @r0se_petals, accompanied by a picture of two pairs of women’s feet dangling over the street in Ellicott City.

A Twitter user named Elizabeth Nass (@LizNassty) tweeted at 10:40 p.m. that she was “drinking on top of the Ellicott City sign,” which sits under the train tracks that cross Main Street, with @r0se_petals.

Safety officials have not yet confirmed the tweets came from the victims.

The train derailment occurred at 12:02 a.m. Tuesday, according to officials.

By ALEX DOMINGUEZ, Associated Press

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — They were seemingly ordinary tweets from two friends hanging out on a railroad bridge in their hometown, enjoying one last summer night together before heading back to college.

“Drinking on top of the Ellicott City sign,” read one. “Looking down on old ec,” read another. Accompanying photos showed their view from the bridge and their bare feet, one with painted blue toenails, dangling over the edge. “Levitating,” read another tweet.

Minutes after the messages were shared on the social media site Twitter, a Baltimore-bound CSX freight train loaded with coal barreled down the tracks and derailed, killing the 19-year-old women and toppling railcars and coal onto the streets below of this historic Maryland community.

Investigators were still trying to figure out what caused the derailment. Witnesses heard squealing brakes and a thunderous crash around midnight Monday.

It wasn’t clear whether the women’s presence on the tracks had anything to do with the derailment. They were sitting on the edge of the bridge over Ellicott City’s main street as the train passed a few feet behind them, Howard County police said, and their bodies were found buried under coal. Authorities said they needed to do autopsies before their cause of death could be determined.

The victims were identified as Elizabeth Conway Nass, a student at James Madison University in central Virginia and Rose Louese Mayr, a nursing student at the University of Delaware.

The railroad is easily accessible from the picturesque downtown of Ellicott City, about 15 miles west of Baltimore, and generations of young people have played and partied along the tracks. The railroad was completed in 1830 and crosses over Main Street in the city’s historic district, following the route of the nation’s first commercial railroad, according to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum.

“We grew up running on those tracks,” said Ellicott City native Bridgette Hammond, 25. “It’s actually really beautiful up there.”

Nass and Mayr were on the dance team at Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City, from which they graduated, and they planned to finish college in 2014, according to friends and their Facebook pages….

A person who answered the telephone at Nass’ home declined to comment, as did a family member who answered at a number listed for the Mayr family.

The pictures and tweets from Mayr were no longer publicly available Tuesday afternoon, but friends confirmed they were hers and police said they were aware of the posts and looking into them.

Jill Farrell, who lives across the street from the tracks, said she heard what sounded liked squealing brakes and then a crash, followed by silence.

Benjamin Noppenberger was getting ready for bed when he and his wife heard what sounded like gunshots. They waited about 10 minutes before going outside.

“We could see all the cars that fell over. I just saw catastrophe,” he said.

Jim Southworth, investigator in charge for the NTSB, declined to speculate on a possible cause. He said the brakes were applied automatically when an air line used to pressurize the braking system was disconnected. He did not say what role, if any, the brakes may have played in the derailment…

The derailment also damaged some of Verizon’s equipment, disrupting land-line telecommunications services to clients.

The problems reached all the way to the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where pretrial hearings were delayed for a day for five men charged with orchestrating and aiding the Sept. 11 attacks because files on government servers were temporarily unavailable.

Gresko reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Matthew Barakat in Ellicott City, David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., and Karen Mahabir in Washington contributed to this report.

Two Young Women Dead in Ellicott City Train Derailment; Officials say more than 20 cars derailed.

ByBrandie Jefferson August 21, 2012

Police: Teens Who Died in Trail Derailment Were Buried Under Coal;Howard County police are revealing more details in a fatal Ellicott City train derailment.   ByLisa Rossi  August 21, 2012