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Monday, May 30, 2011

Trains - Love, Respect and Terror

I grew up loving trains. From my bedroom as I was falling asleep at night I could hear them running and sounding their horn. We lived near active tracks and anytime we saw a train we stopped what we were doing. Our eyes would be glued on the moving cars and when the caboose was finally in sight we would wave to the conductor and often be rewarded with a smile and wave from him in return.

My father build amusement park rides and he did all the sheet metal work on the train at a local amusement park. How proud I was when I rode that train every summer knowing that my father built it. That train is still there. My children ride it today and know that grandpa built it. They tell their friends and like me are full of pride when they ride it. Trains and children go together like peanut butter and jelly.

I had a friend when I was in elementary school who literally had trains running behind her house. The fence that separated her backyard from the tracks had a gate that allowed us access to those tracks. All spring and summer long we would roam those tracks and search for tadpoles and frogs. We would find chunks of coal that fell from overloaded cars and we would dodge trains as they came rolling by. We knew that trains were dangerous but still we were drawn to those tracks.

Once I think we narrowly avoided tragedy. My friend and I ventured further down the tracks than we normally did. There was a trestle not far down the tracks. We had to cross a busy street to get there which brought us into the city. It was off limits to us, so of course we had to go there. Once we were there two teenagers approached us. At least I thought they were teenagers. They told us that they were police officers and we were trespassing (which of course we were). They insisted that we go with them.

We were young but we knew this was fishy, we asked to see ID and they refused. But they were bigger than us and we ended up going with them. Not into a car, but we walked. We left the tracks and started towards another road. My friend and I were scared and didn't know what to do. Finally we saw our chance and made a break for it. We ran and they chased us. We saw a gas station nearby and ran into it and hid. I don't know who long it was until we felt safe enough to leave. To this day I don't know what would have happened if we didn't get away.

Since then that stretch of tracks has been retired. Many of the local tracks no longer are active. Still some tracks do have trains rolling along them and now that I am a parent I see those tracks very different from when I was a child. Since I have become a parent we have also lived in close proximity to active train tracks. I remember how I was drawn to train tracks as a child and I remember my close call. It terrifies me.

Last week a teenager in a neighboring town ran under barriers, a train was coming and the barriers were down. He was hit by two trains and died. Just a few days later a ten year old was seen crawling away from the tracks. His friend was running ahead screaming for help. The little boy had been run over by a train and both his legs were severed. Just thinking about it brings tears to my eyes.

When we moved into this a=city I knew we lived near train tracks, but they were not within sight of our house. To get there you had to go down our street and over to a main road, then cross that busy road and go a bit further down. When they children go to the middle school and high school they would have to cross those tracks. But I still had time to instill a respect of trains and the danger of playing on the train tracks.

Then last year we moved. We moved down the street and closer to the tracks. They are louder and If we walk to the corner are visible. Since then I have taken every opportunity to talk to both my children about why they need to stay away from the tracks.

I still enjoy watching them. We do pull over and watch the trains if we are stopped at the tracks. Times have changed though. There are no longer cabooses with a happy conductor waving at us as the train goes by. I hear the loud horn at night and no longer does it lull me to sleep. We are so close that the horn is loud and now fills me with dread. I worry about my children and the tracks. All I can think about now is tragedy so I talk to my children and hope and pray that they will make better decisions than I did and stay away from the irresistible draw of the tracks.

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