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Motorists making deadly bets

Business Short Takes

October 8, 2010
By WAYNE SHEETS Contributing Business Writer

This is the big weekend in Forest Festival City and space and time are at a premium for everyone so I'll keep it short this week.

I had the privilege of taking the Cheat Mountain Salamander train trip last Saturday for which I want to publicly thank the staff of the West Virginia Central Railroad and the train crew. I could not have been treated more like royalty had I been appointed "king" of the MSFF.

In addition to being one of the most scenic train trips I've every experienced, riding in the engine with engineer Bob Robinson gave me the opportunity to witness firsthand the deadly game that people are playing at railroad crossings.

This game is of such grave concern to Robinson, the other engineers and the railroad's management that Robinson asked me to write about it in this column. After seeing what's going on, I readily agreed knowing full well that it probably won't make one iota's difference. On the other hand, writing about it might save a life.

One might call this deadly game "I'll bet my life that I can beat the train through this intersection." Nearly everyone that approaches the crossings, even with the warning lights ablaze and the bells ringing are making their bets. So far all have won, although one elderly lady probably does not know just how close she came to having to pay off her bet with her life.

"About two weeks ago," Robinson said, "I was crossing one of the intersections here in town (he didn't want to be specific - it doesn't matter any way, they are all the same) and an elderly woman ran the lights and came so close to being hit that she disappeared from my sight as she crossed in front of the train. She, nor anyone else, will ever come any closer to being hit than this woman did," he said.

"The good thing is that we always approach the crossings at a very slow rate of speed knowing that people are going to run the lights. Had I been going just a mile or two an hour faster, that woman could have been seriously injured or killed. We see this happen every day at nearly every crossing - especially here in town."

I can verify what Robinson is talking about. Without exception on Saturday at the crossings in town, one, two and sometimes as many as three vehicles crossed in front of the train when we were no more than one or two rail car lengths from the crossing. Some did slow down to gage the speed of the train; others just came roaring across without hesitation.

Let me give you some idea of what you are challenging when you pull this stupid, yes stupid, trick. According to Robinson, each of the locomotives weigh around 130 tons each. Each car weighs around 150 tons empty and the power car, the car usually at the end that supplies all the electrical power, heat and air conditioning weighs about 130 tons.

Now you fill each passenger car with people, about 50 each, (there were four of them on Saturday's run) weighing 150 pounds each and you have a right sizeable collection of weight that can't be stopped on a dime. Add it up folks; that's over 1,000 tons of cold heartless metal mass coming at you. Do you really think you have a chance?

Seems to me the odds are pretty much in favor of the train. How can anyone in their right mind make such a bet? Is a few minutes wait (usually less than five minutes) worth living the remainder of your life in pain and suffering or a premature trip to eternity if you make the bet and lose?

The crossing at Cheat Bridge on U.S. 250/state Route 92 is also a notorious one where people place their bets. Being on an open highway with the speed of the automobile being at the discretion of the driver, driving conditions and a speed limit, people are even more prone to "make the bet."

On our way south Saturday morning, no one made the bet - there was no visible traffic in either direction as we crossed the highway.

The situation was much different coming home - three vehicles laid down their bet, one from left to right as we approached the crossing and two from right to left. The last one crossed in front of us as we were less than a rail-car length from the highway.

Sooner or later some idiot will make the bet and lose, and then the railroad will get blamed. It's always the other person's fault. We see examples of this lunacy every day.

Folks, take Robinson's advice. If the crossing's warning lights are active, stop. While you might keep making your bet and winning, sooner or later you are going to misjudge the speed of the train and lose.

Don't ruin your life, that of your family and those on board the train. When the crossing signals are active, stop. Please.


Just as a reminder, trick or treat in downtown Elkins will be Oct. 29 from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. The Christmas Parade will be on Dec. 3, kicking off at 6 p.m.



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