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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Friday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail: director@nnry.com

 


Must a Teenager Die on the Tracks?
21 April 2006

This Saturday, the 2006 excursion schedule starts and continues through December 30. Last year almost 700 trains departed from East Ely. This year we should be running the same number of trains.

As our operation increases, we are having an increase in the number of incidents where we are coming upon trespassers on our line. Most of the trespassers are riding either ATV's or dirt bikes. The favorite shortcuts of 4-wheelers and dirt bikes are the high fills that the track is on. This is also the place with no room for maneuver. There is not enough clearance for a 4-wheeler and the train on the fill.

The worst visibility on the railroad is through the tunnels. The original tunnel is a curved tunnel with minimal clearance. The curve limits visibility and the other major problem is that the engineer is blind for about three seconds upon entering the tunnel because he went from bright sunlight into gloom. We have permanent speed restriction of eight miles an hour for all trains going through the tunnel because of poor visibility. If you take the eight miles an hour and the three seconds from the time an engineer enters the tunnel, the train travels almost thirty-six feet blind. If there is a 4-wheeler in the way, the engineer will never see it and there is no room for the 4-wheeler to get out of the way. Result, a smashed 4-wheeler and if we're very lucky, just a much shaken rider. If we're not lucky, we'll have a rider who is either seriously injured or killed.

The railroad has put up "No Trespassing" signs at the worst places along our route. We ask that you respect these signs for your own safety. (These signs are not really working well, because they keep being torn down.)

You should not walk along the track or ride your bicycle, motorbike, or 4-wheeler along the track. It is very dangerous. If you should find yourself in a situation where you are facing the train, get out of the way. Leave the bicycle, 4-wheeler, or dirt bike behind; climb out of the way, save yourself. Don't take a chance; you won't win, you're facing 500,000 pounds of railroad train coming down the track.

Last August I wrote Letter to the Editor that went like this:

But for the grace of God, the front page of the Ely Times for August 12, 2005, was almost completely different.

The lead headline would have been, "Ely Boy Killed by Steam Train." The front-page picture would have shown a blue and white 4-wheeler smashed under the driving wheels of a 100-ton steam locomotive. There would have been fire trucks, police cars, and an ambulance in the photo. The photo would have also shown the fireman trying to remove the mangle remains of 15-year-old Ely boy who was dead.

The opening paragraph would have been this:

"Today a 15 year old Ely boy on a blue and white 4-wheeler was run over and killed by steam locomotive 93. According to eyewitness accounts, the boy was showing off and pacing the train by the cell phone towers on a steep hill. The boy took the 4-wheeler too close to the edge of the hill and lost control of the 4-wheeler and slid down hill. The boy and the 4-wheeler hit the rails and they tipped over directly in front of the train. The engineer put the train in emergency but could not stop in time and ran over the teenager killing him."

The letter went on describing how the scene could play out:

"The railroad museum is providing grief counseling to the train crew and passengers. The engine crew could hear the teenager's cries of agony as the train was brought to a stop."

"According to a passenger on the flat car, 'There was blood everywhere under the steam locomotive, it was horrifying. I'll have nightmares about this for the rest of my life.'"

The full letter appeared in the Ely Times on August 19th. I thought it was a pretty good letter and maybe it would help with the problem that we are facing with trespassers along the railroad right-of-way. I was wrong.

The Sunday following the printing of the letter, we had a motorcycle rider come up and grab on to the flatcar while the train was moving! We also have had two ATVs drive down the right-of-way on either side of the track as a train was approaching. Incredibly, there was an adult on each ATV holding an infant in their arms. Motorcycles and ATV's have also used the tunnels as shortcuts.

The seriousness of the situation is such that it is not if we will kill a trespasser but when we will kill a trespasser.

The short version is that our trains weighs in at over a half million pounds. That's right, over five hundred thousand pounds. Even just the locomotive weighs almost two hundred thousand pounds. That is a lot of weight and it is a lot of weight to stop! The trains or locomotives cannot stop on a dime. They need hundreds of feet to come to a complete stop. And with railroading just slowing down to one or two miles an hour isn't good enough. If the train hits a four-wheeler at two miles an hour, it will still be like hitting a brick wall.

In addition to the incredible danger of using the track as a shortcut, the constant traffic is eroding the track base. To make repairs to this damage the museum will need to spend tens of thousands of dollars.

It is a no win situation for the museum. Even if we don't kill one of the trespassers, we are still left with a huge repair bill from their trespass. So please stay off the railroad right-of-way.

 

 

 

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