Conductors Share The Weirdest Things They've Seen On The Track
Choo choo! Wait...what is THAT?
Apparently any job can be weird and creepy if you're living on planet earth, where truth is constantly stranger than fiction.
Here were some of the stories.
An Unexpected Guest
I'm an engineer now but as a conductor I was walking my train one midnight lacing air hoses getting the cars (freight) ready to pull. I noticed what I thought was a dog or coyote about 100 yards away. No big deal, I have a big aluminum and steel stick with a hook for cranking brakes without having to climb onto the cars.
Then I notice it kind of tracing along pacing me, I could see the glow of its eyes watching me. Later as we're ready to depart I'm out in front of the engine opening the track switch to get on to the main line. I'm in the engine's headlights and I hear my engineer say quietly over the radio "calmly walk up to the engine, if I blow the whistle, run". I'm thinking oh jeez it's just that coyote, no big deal and I keep working but he starts flashing the cab lights so I think maybe there's a manager stalking us so I go up there. He has me close the nose door and points out a giant mountain lion perched up on a berm 20 feet from where I was, casually sprawled out staring dead at us. This was northern Iowa so pretty uncommon.
That and a bunch of junkies and drunks around the yards.
I was a young Transporation supervisor trainee for a railroad. It was my first month in intercity Detroit. It was about 3:00am and I had to help inspect a train that was having trouble moving (it was winter and the brakes wouldn't release). The guy I was training with dropped me off at one end of the train and I started walking towards the locomotives. About 20 cars into the train I started hearing foot steps on the other side. I would turn my lantern off and wait a few seconds and they would stop. This repeated for about 10 minutes as I walked towards the locomotives. It eventually stopped when I met up part of the train crew.
I'm sure it was nothing. Probably a coyote or stray dog. But I was freaked out.
Saw a body wearing a thick coat in the middle of the tracks. We put the train in emergency but we didn't stop in time. The conductor got out to see if the person was still alive and it wasn't a person at all.
Someone put a coat on a deer carcass and put it between the rails.
Weirdest sh*t ever.
130 AM in Riverside California. A very clearly drunk man squares off against my train and then opens his arms like he is accepting what is about to happen. Fell over and got out of the way just, and I mean JUST before we hit him. Thankfully I have never hit someone... but that was the closest I have ever come.
Its not the hit or the recovery, it's the nightmares months later.
The Call Itself
Lived next to tracks. Big rig tried to rush across the tracks to avoid waiting. The trucker was fine as the train ran right through the middle of the trailer. It was filled with those 10¢ paper folders. Looked like a skittles commercial. Rainbow explosion!
Not an operator, but this totally counts: my best friend lives on a rural private road that crosses two of the most active rail lines in my part of the state. There have been at least 3 accidental deaths from auto-train collisions, but a year ago, two cars crossed the tracks right before a train. The first car had a middle aged mom in it. She speeds over the tracks. The second car had her son and his girlfriend (mid 20's) the second car darts in front of the train and is obliterated.
NTSB, sheriff and BNSF arrive to investigate. The mother is hysterical saying "he was right behind me the whole time" they originally thought it was just another unfortunate case of someone trying to outrun the train, until they discovered the mom and son are from a city over an hour away. No one locally knew them. They didn't have permission to be on that private road... And then they found that the girlfriend had been dead for hours. They suspected the mom was helping her murderer son try to find a dump spot to dispose of the body.
Not an engineer, but worked at a bowling alley that the tracks through town ran directly behind. One of my nightly jobs was emptying trash. (The dumpster was right across from the tracks. Started hearing the train coming, and the engineer was on the horn. Suddenly there was a very loud crunch, and brakes being hit. A few moments later, I see a destroyed car being pushed by the train, and I could very plainly see a woman in the car. Evidently the crossing arms failed, and the driver didn't stop. I had nightmares for a few years after that.
In 1985 my wife and I were traveling across Tanzania to lake Tanganika when the train struggled to a halt going up a grade in the night. We were the only non-Africans on the train. People started yelling to close the windows. Thieves had put palm oil on the tracks, stopping the train, and were on the roof trying to rob people through the windows. There were a lot of armed soldiers on the train and the thieves quickly disappeared into the night. People walked along and poured sand on the tracks so the train had enough traction to climb the grade paste the oil.
Most bizarre, a prize Weimaraner dog that was off leash ran in front of a train and was hit. EMS was called because we thought the dog walker was hit as well. Turns out he was just hysterical because he was convinced the dog (which wasn't even his) wanted to commit suicide because his sister from the same litter had just passed away a few days before.
Random, birds get hit and get stuck. Removed a giant turkey buzzard from the locomotive and walked away. When I returned about fifteen minutes later, the corpse was gone. I'd like to think someone made a very nice train kill soup.
Not a locomotive engineer but a train rider (I'm an electrician riding the train for quality control). Coming back from quebec city we are riding at approx 50 kph. On a winding curve around a hill we see a lady on a dog sled with her 4 dogs caught on the track. Before I even saw her the engineers were standing up, screaming obscenities and honking the horn and emergency horn. She managed to pry her sled free and drag the dogs out of the way within mere feet of us hitting her.
Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.