January 23rd, 2006

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The Great Crush Collision

So I'm turning right on Tennant Ave after going to Safeway half an hour ago, and I stop behind a semi at the light just 50 yards or so from the railroad tracks. Up ahead, I hear the sound of a high-revving automobile engine that seems to be traveling laterally. Sounds kind of odd, but in my balaclava and helmet with earplugs in, and behind the semi, maybe it's just one of those people making a U-turn up ahead revving like mad and the sound is playing tricks on me.

Ah yes, they're making stupid and illegal U-turns; I guess a train must be coming.

The light turns green but no one moves. I peer to the side of the semi and see the crossing lights, but no movement. Yep, a train is coming, I figure. These freight trains can be a bit long out here, and people can't stand a four- or five-minute delay.

A minute later, lots of people are making U-turns up ahead and around me, just wherever they please like maniacs. Silly impatient people. Then I notice that one of those who just made a U-turn has a red light behind him barely visible. It's the gate light on the other side, shining through the slats of a boxcar that's stopped on the tracks. Oh, I see. The train has stopped -- no wonder I never heard a horn or felt or saw any motion to the sides. Well, I have seen parked train cars near here before, so maybe something is just being left behind, though I've never actually seen a train stopped on these tracks before. Usually they come flying through at 40 to 50 mph. There is a bit of an odd smell, like the smell at a race track after a big crash. Eh, probably the semi or the big train engine, I think.

Another couple of minutes later, sirens. A fire truck comes up the road the opposite way. The U-turning idiots pull out right in front of the fire truck heading straight for them head-on. At this point, I know what has happened, and know what the laterally moving revving engine was.

The fire truck turns down a side road. Moments later, a police car comes out that road (for the police station is right there), turns toward the tracks I'm facing, then turns back around the way it came, looking for the front of the train. If the train had hit a person, they wouldn't be headed right to the front of it necessarily. Lots of sirens now, and by the time I get able to make a legal and sane U-turn to head to the nearest clear intersection, I can see a whole bunch of emergency vehicles down a little side road, where the front of the train is.

Given the length and speed that these freight trains travel, I'm guessing the impact was in the next town (San Martin) at least, considering the train was stopped only a further block from where I was.

Perhaps youngvanwinkle will learn more about this...