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LETTERS: Retired railroad worker sounds off

To the editor:

This letter is regarding the editorial, “A Long Honkin’ Time,” by Susan Marshall, in last week’s edition.

 There are items in the editorial that concern me. Being retired from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad with 38 years of service (the final 36 years as a train dispatcher) I feel qualified to address those concerns.

 I agree that most road crossings, in and near towns, are protected by flashing lights and crossing arms extended as a barrier to warn people of approaching trains. I understand that a lot of people think it unnecessary for the engineer to do more than a short “toot” on the whistle. But have they ever stopped to think what could happen if there was a sudden power failure just before the lead engine of the train hit the circuit that controls the crossing signals and the signals failed to activate?

Or, perhaps, a driver of a car was engrossed with a telephone conversation or with texting as so many drivers are inclined to do these days. By the time the engineer realizes the automobile is not aware of his train it could well be too late for the whistle to do much good.

Now for the portion of your column that really disturbs me:  You say that you certainly don’t mean to be flippant about this issue. Then exactly what are you being when you say, “Those boys are beyond safety-conscious. They are just plain obnoxious.”

I don’t believe it is necessary for me to repeat the juvenile words you used to describe the engineers. The men and women who are at the controls of the engines are among the most safety-conscious I have ever known — and I have known a lot of them.

In the last paragraph of your column, you say the engineer’s current behavior is “not one we appreciate — please figure out a compromise.”

May I make a suggestion to you? Why don’t you contact the BNSF office in Ft. Worth, Texas, and arrange to make a few trips in the engine with these “unsafe” engineers? You might even be unlucky enough to be on an engine when some idiot disregards the warning signals.

You might get even more unlucky and experience the results that cause an engineer to constantly think for the rest of his or her life; “It was not my fault, but if only I had blown the whistle a few seconds sooner — if only, if only, if only.”

Perhaps then you might understand what every engineer fears will happen every trip they make.

I have personally been in the engine when the only thing that saved the life of the gasoline truck driver, the engineer, a fireman, and myself was the fact the engineer “laid on the horn” the second he spotted the truck approaching the crossing. When that truck was stopped, there was roughly a 12-inch clearance between his front bumper and our engine.

We all thanked God for the horn.

Ms. Marshall, I realize this is a long letter but I cannot stress how important this subject is in a shorter one. I read all your columns and this is, by far, the only bad column you have ever written. Please try to arrange to take a few trips and I believe it may widen your point of view on this subject.

L. Gary Rowland
Norwood, Mo.

Last modified April 28, 2010

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