Keep your nerves in Mexico - Friday March 11 2011
In 1999 I had the privilege of spending many miles on ‘the point’ (in the cab) of a Wisconsin Central train as it headed north from Chicago, heading for the Canadian border via places with names like Stephens Point, Neneh and Oshkosh. Marvellous.
The driver – or engineer, to give him his American name – was a real character named Gene Fendley. He was a former Class 1 driver who’d moved to WC to be part of the Burkhardt operation and his locomotive that day was a classic and historic ‘F’ unit – one of the famous covered wagons. Gene chatted easily and professionally as he wheeled our train north and he was very good company indeed.
Just about the only time we didn’t chat was as we approached grade crossings – level crossings as we know them. As in most parts of the USA, the tracksides were largely unfenced, which is of interest because I’m writing this a day or two after a press release popped onto my iPhone from the ORR, proclaiming that Network Rail has been prosecuted and fined £15,000 and £47,000 costs for not maintaining a lineside fence, thereby making it possible for people to ‘stray onto the track.’
The crossings were protected by standard US ‘wig-wags’ and bells – but absolutely no-one took any notice. Traffic continued to stream across the track in front of Gene who knocked the power off – but his hand strayed nowhere near the air brake.
Instead, he reached up to pull and hold the horn, which blared continuously as we approached the crossing….across which cars, vans, pick-ups and trucks continued to move in an unbroken stream.
Closer and closer we got…and still they came…..300 yards….200 yards…..100 yards….and still they crossed. I was holding my breath now….50 yards and still they crossed…..not until the red snout of the ‘F’ unit closed the last 10 yards to the crossing did they stop and we swept by.
“Happens every time,” said Gene. “They know with a freight a mile long they have a long wait so they take the chance. Sometimes they drive in a daze. I’ve had cars and trucks T-bone my train after my locomotive has gone by – more than once!”
This piece of film, sent to me by UK Driver Ian Farnfield, reminds me very much of what I saw from that ‘covered wagon’ cab that day north of Chicago. This shows a similar view from a train approaching a grade crossing in Mexico. Drivers need nerves of steel. And they say level crossings are dangerous here!
Thanks to Driver Ian Farnfield for tipping me off to this jaw-dropping piece of video.