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An Open Letter to All Railfans


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#1 Spokker

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 03:55 AM

I post this here because it is the most active forum here. I am calling on all people who enjoy trains, whether you enjoy riding them, photographing them, or just looking at them, to join me in speaking out against the behavior displayed by the teenage railfans in connection with the Metrolink Chatsworth wreck.

In case you don't know, transcripts of text messages that the Metrolink engineer involved in the crash sent to teenage railfans have been released. They are abhorrent, and actually scare the pants off of me.

http://www.sfgate.co.../n143746S07.DTL

Sanchez: I'm REALLY looking forward to getting you in the cab and showing you how to run a locomotive

Teen: (Oh my god) dude me too. Running a locomotive. Having all of that in the palms of my hands. Its a great feeling. And ill do it so good from all my practice on the simulator.


I am a commuter first, a Metrolink passenger first, and a train enthusiast second. Myself and thousands of other commuters just want to get to work or other destinations as quickly as possible. The behavior displayed by Sanchez was grossly irresponsible, but anyone who loves trains should understand to NOT RIDE ALONG IN A LOCOMOTIVE CAB EVEN IF OFFERED THE OPPORTUNITY.

Real people working real jobs are just trying to get to work or go home. Southern California's rail network is not a giant toy train set. It's a real, working railroad that helps people be productive.

I really hope that this is an isolated incident, but I can't help but be afraid that this is happening in corners of the country here and there. You always wonder how deep the problem goes, but you never know.

I was astonished about the text messaging allegations, and now I'm just mortified. I really don't know what else to say.

#2 Everydaymatters

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 06:11 AM

That's very scarey. Many cities have laws against using cell phones while driving cars. That law should be universally applied to any moving vehicle.

I would assume there are company rules against allowing passengers in the cab of a locomotive?

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#3 amtrakwolverine

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 06:14 AM

That's very scarey. Many cities have laws against using cell phones while driving cars. That law should be universally applied to any moving vehicle.

I would assume there are company rules against allowing passengers in the cab of a locomotive?


alot of engineers let railfans ride in the cab but its mostly commuter rails. the reason this guy creates so much controversy is that hes gay. one time when i was little and don't think i remember it but it was on via rail canada and the engineer let me see inside the cab while the train was parked.

Edited by KISS_ALIVE, 04 March 2009 - 06:17 AM.


#4 Neil_M

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 06:19 AM

the reason this guy creates so much controversy is that hes gay.


Are gay people not allowed to drive trains in America then?

#5 amtrakwolverine

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 06:49 AM

it has nothing to do with drving the train. parents are upset that he was texting teens. one parent said the only 40 YO allowed to text my son is me.

#6 Steve4031

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 09:12 AM

I don't think the issue is being gay, but the fact that this engineer was texting while operating the train, and that his actions led to the derailment.

Now the fact that he was texting a male teenage railfan with the offer to operate the train . . . leads to the thought of why he is doing this. The quote of the phone texting conversation does not feel or look right.

I was the beneficiary of a visit to the cab of a locomotive a couple of times up and Canada, and once even got an illegal cab ride. I did not ask for the cab ride, would never even dream that it was a possibility. Once up there, I kept my mouth shut and observed. I talked with the crew some but I was very careful not to distract them, and I let them set the level of interaction.

I think as a community railans for the most part are responsible and respect the property and employees of the railroads. We should encourage others to do the same if we see something that is not right.

#7 Trogdor

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 09:16 AM

That's very scarey. Many cities have laws against using cell phones while driving cars. That law should be universally applied to any moving vehicle.

I would assume there are company rules against allowing passengers in the cab of a locomotive?


alot of engineers let railfans ride in the cab but its mostly commuter rails. the reason this guy creates so much controversy is that hes gay.


No, the reason this man is creating so much controversy is because he smashed into a freight train and killed a bunch of people.

one time when i was little and don't think i remember it but it was on via rail canada and the engineer let me see inside the cab while the train was parked.


There's a huge difference between going into a locomotive while it's parked, and being in one while it's moving. There are many events where people can look at the cab of a locomotive while it's stopped. Except for very special occasions, there really aren't any legitimate opportunities for a non-employee to get into one while it's moving.

Likewise, many pilots let visitors (usually kids) into the cockpit of a plane while it's parked at the gate. Just try getting into one while the plane is in the air. (On second thought, don't try it.)

All that said, it's human nature for people, especially younger folks, to be curious about how things work. People will always want some sort of behind-the-scenes look at stuff. And there will always be people out there willing to take the risks associated with bringing these folks "behind the scenes."

What's needed is common sense. Given that there are already rules/laws in place forbidding stuff like this, it obviously doesn't deter everybody from doing it. Just like the teen that got a Metra engineer fired in Chicago because he either blogged or posted photos of his cab ride (and named the engineer who let him in) said, he wasn't the first, and he won't be the last. Incidents like this make others much more vigilant, but it doesn't eliminate the possibility of an engineer inviting someone into the cab.

So, to close out my note here, while I understand everyone's concern about safety, I don't see what good it would do to beg all railfans to turn down cab rides. Ultimately, it is the engineer who decides whether or not to offer such a ride, and the engineer who has to operate the train, with or without someone up there next to him. Heck, if it becomes a matter of either having an extra person (and an extra set of eyes) in the cab or the engineer looking at his phone sending text messages, maybe having someone else in the cab with their eyes out the window is better. Not that one should be forced to choose between an unauthorized visitor or an inattentive engineer, but here on Earth, in this life, we don't always get an ideal set of choices. If we did, then two trains probably wouldn't have collided in Southern California last year.
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#8 mercedeslove

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 11:00 AM

the reason this guy creates so much controversy is that hes gay.


Are gay people not allowed to drive trains in America then?



No, but conservative America hates gays. Hello Proposition 8 #8. The single, most disgusting and vile issue on Nov 5th of 2008.

It's just a way of saying 'hey this is why Gays are bad they crash trains' because you know a straight person has never, ever done that before.

and no I am not a lesbian or gay. Just believe in the word equal rights.
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#9 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 11:40 AM

Is there some reason why having a non-railroad-employee in the cab of a locomotive is more dangerous than a passenger on a city bus talking with the driver?

#10 Neil_M

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 12:05 PM

Is there some reason why having a non-railroad-employee in the cab of a locomotive is more dangerous than a passenger on a city bus talking with the driver?


Not especially. It helps if you are aware of when the driver needs to concentrate but I think its just part of the risk adverse society we live in. Even having 2 railroad employees could be deemed dangerous, as in my 29 years of working on the railway if you put 2 drivers or other traincrew together they spent most of the time moaning about the job.
Certain railways in Germany and Switzerland actually offer cab rides for cash. Can't be that unsafe although I do think you are accompanied by someone. How much would you pay to ride upfront on an Acela or across the Rockies on the CZ?
Thing is, if the rule book says no "normals" in the cab , then right or wrong, thats what you have to go by.

#11 ourlouisiana

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 01:57 PM

Wethinks:

It is against the operating rules, maybe even FRA regulations, to use a cellphone in the cab unless authorized to do so by the dispatcher. and even worse to text.


While a lifelong (66 years) railfan and photographer, we would give our eyeball teeth to get inside of a locomotive again, Happened once as a kid, with the locomotive parked, if we thought for ome moment that it would distract the crew from doing their jobs, we would forego the thought.

Crews realize that allowing a non-employee into the cab is against company rules and reprimands or termination are possible - we're sure the same holds true for commuter service.


The 40-to-teen and gay thing is another issue which wethinks does not belong on this group.

We looked it up on the generic GCOR see: http://www.trainweb.com/gcor/toc.html
which all railroads adhere to.
Section 1.3 -1.10 relates to use of electronic devices - employees on duty must not use unless related to their duty.
Section 1.3 - 1.22 relates to unauthorized persons - Unauthorized persons must not be permitted on equipment.

Edited by ourlouisiana, 04 March 2009 - 02:17 PM.

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#12 RRrich

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 02:04 PM

If it was not against the rules, I would not see the problem with having pax in the cab - if the engineer was right there, I would even let them operate the controls (subject to the engineer's discretion). HOWEVER, it is against the rules so it SHOULD NOT HAPPEN!!

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#13 George Harris

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 02:49 PM

the reason this guy creates so much controversy is that hes gay.


Are gay people not allowed to drive trains in America then?


No, but conservative America hates gays. Hello Proposition 8 #8. The single, most disgusting and vile issue on Nov 5th of 2008.

It's just a way of saying 'hey this is why Gays are bad they crash trains' because you know a straight person has never, ever done that before.

and no I am not a lesbian or gay. Just believe in the word equal rights.

Mercedeslove, you are introducing something totally extraneous to the subject.

#14 Spokker

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 03:25 PM

it has nothing to do with drving the train. parents are upset that he was texting teens. one parent said the only 40 YO allowed to text my son is me.

It has nothing to do with homosexuality. If a 40-year-old man was texting my teenage daughter, that would be cause for alarm as well.

But that's another issue entirely. No engineer should be sending hundreds of text messages while operating a train, to anyone. Use the cell phone in an emergency when normal lines of communication have broken down. Otherwise, wait until break time. This is what I do and I don't even operate heavy machinery.

#15 JAChooChoo

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Posted 04 March 2009 - 08:14 PM

Two things:
1) Rules prohibiting personal cellphone use while on duty - pretty much standard now - to put all employees on notice.
2) AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY on all cab doors - puts the responsibility on all non-employees to know they could be prosecuted for trespassing..
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#16 jackal

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 05:05 AM

I've been the beneficiary of two "illegal" cab rides--once on the Alaska Railroad (during a wintertime passenger run before I worked for them) and once for about (and I know most of you would give your right arm for this chance :P) an hour on Acela coming into NYC from the north (see here for pictures)--and neither one was at all anywhere near dangerous or distracting to the engineer.

I've also been the beneficiary of countless legal cab rides as a brakeman on the Alaska Railroad. (Never got old. ;)) On one of these runs on a 30-odd-car loaded coal train (short and heavy--one of the hardest kinds to run through undulating territory), an engineer let me run the train (operate the controls) for about 45 minutes coming into Fairbanks. I did a dang good job, if I may say so myself, though I was very closely guided by the engineer. (He justified it by saying that eventually I would become a hostler and then student engineer, so there was no sense in not starting me nice and early with proper training!)

All of these opportunities were very closely guided by people with the utmost care and concern for everyone's safety. Therefore, I am not willing to make a blanket statement that people who enjoy trains should never be allowed to see the inside of the cab or otherwise indulge in their hobby in a safe manner.

However, the alleged behavior exhibited by the engineer involved in this Metrolink incident does seem to indicate a lack of responsibility, and while as a young railfan, I would have very much wanted to know someone like the engineer (assuming nothing inappropriate ever happened between the kids and him) who would have let me into the cab and touch the controls, there may be a need to put procedures into place to ensure such irresponsible behavior is not tolerated on the railroad.

Let me reiterate: it is possible to responsibly allow train enthusiasts to enjoy their hobby while at the same time being completely irresponsible while being alone (or having a second railroad worker) in the cab. The action of having a railfan in the cab in and of itself is not irresponsible: the root is deeper, and an effort must be made to not allow people who would perpetuate irresponsible actions (like texting while running a train) into such sensitive positions.

Interesting comparison: being an aircraft pilot is viewed as a respectable, professional position. Such people are actually referred to as "professional pilots." Professional behavior includes remaining focused on the job and not allowing distractions to compromise safety. On the other hand, working on the railroad is typically viewed as blue-collar work without an accompanying code of professionalism. Pilots have a culture of promoting operating as safely as they can, whereas railroad workers have a culture of skirting the edge of the rules to get the work done as quickly as possible without compromising too much safety. I'm not sure what can be done to change this perception and culture, but that may be one way to consider going about it.

On that note, it actually isn't impossible to visit the cockpit of an aircraft while in flight. In 1999, I visited the flight deck of a British Airways 747-400 midway over the Atlantic for a good 15 minutes with a cadre of children (I was the oldest). 9/11 mostly put the kibosh on that for "security"--not safety--reasons, but when properly supervised and with responsible people in control, there has never been any problem with allowing visitors up front (and indeed it can still be done in places where rules are more lax than in the U.S. and Western Europe).
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#17 AAARGH!

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 09:10 AM

Very well said Jackal. My sentiments exactly.
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#18 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 11:22 AM

Interesting comparison: being an aircraft pilot is viewed as a respectable, professional position. Such people are actually referred to as "professional pilots." Professional behavior includes remaining focused on the job and not allowing distractions to compromise safety. On the other hand, working on the railroad is typically viewed as blue-collar work without an accompanying code of professionalism. Pilots have a culture of promoting operating as safely as they can, whereas railroad workers have a culture of skirting the edge of the rules to get the work done as quickly as possible without compromising too much safety. I'm not sure what can be done to change this perception and culture, but that may be one way to consider going about it.


I'd somehow been under the impression that pilots sometimes do push the limits of marginal weather a bit. We probably could reduce the number of icing-related deaths a bit if we were willing to cancel or significantly delay a lot of flights.

I think the air ambulance safety track record has also been a subject of some conccern recently.

#19 Joel N. Weber II

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 11:25 AM

1) Rules prohibiting personal cellphone use while on duty - pretty much standard now - to put all employees on notice.


I'd love to have such rules apply for bustituted Amtrak service, too. They clearly didn't on the #448 bus I rode in May 2008, and there was an Amtrak conductor sitting in the front row on the right hand side of the bus who could have carried out any cell phone communication that might have been necessary to conduct business.

#20 GG-1

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Posted 05 March 2009 - 04:24 PM

Aloha

Jackal Mahalo for saying that correctly you make very good on the responsibility part that seems so forgotten today.

Eric aka GG-1, Aloha, Mahalo = Thanks

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