Hoey & Farina recently discussed in an article the Emotional Effects of Collisions on the Train Crew. Several readers responded by sharing their own collision experiences, one of which we share with you now (with his permission).
Mr. Van Bree,
I much enjoyed your article addressing accidents and the emotional effects of same on crew members. I retired in 2010 from the railroad after 45 years as a trainman. I have one thing to add to your discussion. The emotional impacts can affect job performance far beyond that which we all think about. Case in point: I was involved in an accident where a person had his foot cut off and also suffered a severe blow to the head--you could see the brain.
Managers were dispatched as well as claims agents and company police and EMT's. We (the crew) were asked if we needed to be relieved. Being a "macho bunch" we of course said no. BIG MISTAKE HERE!! We continued with the trip doing our "turn" and returning to our tie up point. On the trip back after the accident I and my crew members could not "focus" and committed several errors in judgment which could have lead to serious injury/loss of life.
What did I learn that day? NEVER, NEVER, NEVER keep performing service after a serious accident. Ken R.
Hoey & Farina knows from years of talking to railroaders who have been through collisions, afterwards your concentration is elsewhere. You lose focus on what you are doing. As our retired railroader accurately points out, this can be a recipe for disaster. -- Before the railroads cut crew size, there was an extra set of eyes in the cab. What one man may have missed, another one saw and was able to react to in time to prevent disaster. -- That safety net is no longer there.
Railroad engineers are now often alone in the cab. If the engineer is in a collision, continues to work afterwards and loses focus later in the trip, perhaps runs a red signal, the potential problem is obvious. Even if the engineer regained his focus in enough time to stop, he would still lose his engineer’s license. As for the conductor, even if he wasn’t in the cab, he’d usually face discipline as well.
There was once also a time when railroads after a collision would allow train crew members time off. Three days was common, but you had to take it on your own time. I haven’t heard of this practice at all recently, except for one railroad which allowed some time off only if the crew member went to a “company” psychologist. It is important after a collision to ASK FOR RELIEF!
If you have told the railroad that you are OK and can complete your trip that will be used against you if you later violate a rule. However, if you have asked for relief because you are afraid you cannot give the full concentration the job requires, and are therefore unsafe to continue, you will be able say that you warned the railroad of your impairment.
Hoey & Farina has also been told by train crew members after collisions that the loss of focus may not occur immediately. At first after the collision, you’re busy doing what’s necessary - checking the equipment, talking to the police, reporting to the managers, etc. When all the commotion is over and you are alone with your thoughts, however, that’s when the real problems with concentration begin. It doesn’t matter that there was nothing you could have done to avoid the collision. This is not about fault. This is about having been through an event which 1) doesn’t normally occur, 2) raises your level of anxiety and 3) continues to be a distraction.
It just takes a single moment of loss of concentration for an accident to occur. Consider the serious injuries from car accidents which have resulted because of people talking or texting on their cell phones. They didn’t have an emotionally disturbing event impair their concentration. But, they too lost their focus momentarily with tragic results.
Don’t take a chance on another tragedy occurring after a collision. Heed the advice of experienced railroaders like Ken – NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, keep performing service after a serious accident.
If you would like to comment on a Straight Track article, or share a work experience which could help a fellow railroader, please contact Hoey & Farina at 888-425-1212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.