I always thought that train travel was similar to air travel, and accidents were not very common. Unlike air travel, train derailments are really quite common, mostly because they are like flat tires on cars…they do happen, and depending on how fast you’re going and where you are, it can be a minor delay, or a major problem. Having a flat tire in your own driveway is no big deal, but when a tire explodes on the highway…that’s a major problem. Blowouts have been known to cause terrible accidents and deaths. Now, consider that there are over 170,000 miles of railroad track in the United States. The possibilities suddenly seem endless. The good news is that many of these “derailments” are very minor and bring no injury or death, but that is not always the case. Speed plays a huge role in the outcome of a derailment, and I don’t mean that the train was necessarily speeding, just that it was going faster than the slow, “in the yard” pace.
When high speed trains first came out, they seemed pretty risky, and maybe they were, but it was only because engineers weren’t used to those speeds, and possibly the equipment wasn’t ready for those speeds either. That would become all to obvious on September 6, 1943, when an apparent defect in an older car attached to the train, combined with the placement of a signal gantry resulted in a deadly accident. The train was called the Congressional Limited and was a newly designed train that carried its passengers through the Northeast corridor at the previously unheard-of speed of 65 miles per hour. The Congressional Limited was traveling between New York City and Washington DC, and had just left Philadelphia. It began to pick up speed as it moved northeast out of the city, The dining car, that had just been added, began to experience axle problems. That day, there were so many customers seeking to ride from Washington to New York that it was decided that another dining car should be added to the train…a car of an older design. Observers near the track reported that the axle of that older car was burning and throwing off sparks. Two miles further down the track, in Frankford Junction, Pennsylvania, the axle fell off, derailing the dining car.
The derailment happened just as the train was approaching a signal gantry…a steel structure built right next to the tracks. The gantry sliced right through the dining car, instantly killing many of the passengers on that car. Seven more cars were pulled off the tracks by the dining car. In addition to the 79 people who lost their lives, almost 100 more were seriously injured. The train was carrying 541 passengers that day, many of whom were World War II soldiers returning from leave…probably the reason that an additional dining car was needed. A subsequent inquiry placed more of the blame on the location of the signal gantry than the decision to add the old dining car to the speedy new Congressional Limited, which doesn’t make sense to me, because if the axel hadn’t fallen off, the derailment would not have happened at all, and the gantry had been there for a long time.
Lots of people follow the crowd…go along with their peers. If all their friends are being negative, rude, or disrespectful, then so do they. Everyone, it seems, is out for themselves. Doing things only if they will bring benefit to self. It seems like it is an “I, Me” world.
Still, there are people out there who specifically set out to be different than the rest. People who set aside their own needs and desires in order to do something nice or helpful for others. They are all around you, whether you know it or not. The man who stops to help someone change a flat tire, the the person who assists an elderly person with mobility problem to get up from a chair that is low, or helps a caregiver to transfer a loved one into the car from a wheelchair when they are not feeling well, and obviously to weak to stand easily.
These people usually remain nameless, because we either don’t know them, or we don’t see them do the nice things they do. Or maybe it is because they don’t do it for recognition, but rather because it is the right thing to do. They don’t do it for pay or for fame, but because they care about people. And they don’t even consider themselves to be heroes…but they are.
The funny thing is that each of us has the potential to be that person…to be different. It is a choice each of us can and must make when the opportunity presents itself. When we don’t look the other way when someone needs help, or when we can simply go out of our way to do something nice. And when we get the chance to step outside ourselves, to put others first, to ease someone’s pain, to give help where it is needed…when we get that chance and we take it…we learn what it is to be different.