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November 26, 2014
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A derailment by any other name is still….

Tom Caska

Reality quickly turned to the realization that we had to get off the train, since it might continue to fall. My seat mate grabbed his gear and was the first out of the car; I quickly followed the others. We moved to the first car since the jump to the ground was not as bad. As people do, most upon hitting the ground helped other passengers off the train. We would move from exit to exit helping people till everyone was off the train; by that time the police and emergency services were on the scene.

There was one woman on the ground with only one shoe, who was attempting to climb back into the train. The Jersey State Trooper told her to stop and asked her where she was going, she replied, “These are VERY expensive shoes, and if I don’t come home with both, my husband will kill me.” The trooper told her to stay put and asked where she was sitting, soon emerging from her car with the missing shoe. She seemed more excited to see the shoe than to be on the ground (a woman and her shoes will not be easily separated).

The rescue train arrived within an hour or two, and once all were aboard, the young conductor came on the PA with an announcement; his first words, “Sorry about that folks.” Before long we were on our way, this derailment behind us, none the worse for the wear and tear. Eventually, it would be determined that a dump truck moving a container had backed into the rail and knocked it out of alignment. Our engineer saw this as he entered Garfield and was able to slow the train, unfortunately not enough.

It may be months before we have a final determination regarding the cause of the Poughkeepsie 5:54 derailment. Friends who ride the train daily tell me it’s a bad turn, and they always slow down. Passengers this day say the train was traveling too fast. Maybe a new conductor, filling in for a regular on vacation, was unfamiliar of the turn; maybe equipment failure of the brakes; maybe the cement track foundation crumbled, as there are issues with shoddy replacement of this foundation; time will tell the cause. My own experience in June 2001 barely prepared me for what would come a few short months later as I was across the streets from the World Trade towers on 9/11. Let’s pause for a moment for the passengers killed and injured on the 5:54 and hope the survivors never have to experience this again, and that all their homecomings are safe.