Saturday, December 27, 2008

Brace for Impact?

Since my husband hired on with the railroad, I have become fascinated with railroad operations-- possibly because one day the railroad will hopefully start paying for things like braces for my daughter, or emergency room visits for my son; possibly because the railroad is now in charge of our waking, sleeping, working and recreation schedules, and after my husband gets marked up we won't even be able to leave a two hour radius of our home as a family, lest my husband get called to go to work. Add to that the fact that even though we are facing a furlough because of the recession, we are so grateful that he will have a job to go back to when the economy picks up. After the recession we will be GLAD to live on call 24/7 365. So many people don't have hope for a better future.

So this new fascination for the railroad could be chalked up to Stockholm Syndrome-- that psychological state that describes people who fall in love with their captors. Or maybe I am fascinated because it's amazing that any large organization can move so many people, things, and machines around the country with such predictable efficiency and a remarkable degree of safety.

My husband has asked me to quiz him from time to time when he's preparing for railroad training tests, so I've read a good share of the GCOR. I've helped him practice radio verbiage for track warrants and Form B's. I've seen train orders and track bulletins. And somehow it's drawing me in, fascinating me.

Maybe it's because I can hardly get my kids from point a to point b without losing something or falling behind. Maybe it's because I wish I could run my family and my home as well as the railroad runs their operations.

What has really started to fascinate me lately is how media portrayal of railroad life compares to the real thing. I think it's really cool to find some video clips from feature films that portray railroad operations and then to show them to my husband and ask him, "Is that what it's really like?"

So yesterday I was checking out some train videos online and I found a link to a trailer for a Kevin Bacon movie, "Rails and Ties." It's about an engineer whose train strikes a suicidal mother who parked on the tracks, and how this event affects his life and his marriage.

The premise for the movie is so extremely contrived that I probably couldn't bear to watch the whole thing-- the child of the woman who killed herself hunts the engineer down and confronts him, screaming "You killed my mother!" -- far too contrived and melodramatic for my taste. Throw in the subplot about the engineer's failing marriage and his wife's cancer, and the movie seems greedy in its pursuit of control over the audience's emotions. I haven't seen the whole movie-- just a few clips-- so you make up your own mind.

Anyway, in the trailer, which shows the suicide scene, the engineer sees the woman on the tracks in front of him. The conductor yells, "Stop the train!" (They were way too close to stop and any conductor would have known that.) But it gets worse. The engineer looks at the conductor and, lamenting that he can't stop the train on time says, "Brace for impact!"

Brace for impact? Did the engineer forget he was in a train locomotive? Did he think he was in a 747 falling from the sky? Brace for impact? What impact? Didn't the screenwriter bother to interview engineers and conductors to find out what it's like for crews when their trains hit cars?

I told my husband about the scene, and he verified for me that his peer trainers have told him that people in the crew cab feel next to nothing when their trains hit cars. Locomotives are far too big, heavy and powerful to feel any kind of noteworthy impact.

Of course, what I really want to know is why the engineer didn't even bother to veer away from the car to avoid hitting her, but we'll take that up in another post. ;-)

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