When I heard that the New York train disaster was caused by speed, trying to take a 35mph curve at more than 80 mph, I cursed the obsession with speed which is so common, not just in the U.S. but around the world. Then I heard that the driver had been asleep, and I must confess that my initial reaction was “I hope the S.O.B. was one of the dead.” Then I read the article and I started to feel sorry for the guy. It wasn’t rank carelessness, or a lack of conscientiousness. He wasn’t drunk, or high, or suicidal, and didn’t have a false sense of infallibility.
The 35 mph curve comes after a long, straight stretch of track where they can chug along at 70 mph or so, no problem. That’s where he dozed off. A textbook case of highway hypnosis. It happens. I sympathize with the guy because I, too, have dozed at the wheel and come to with a jerk just before going off the road or getting hit by another vehicle as I drifted over into another lane. I’m sure this has happened to millions of us.
The driver of that train was just unlucky enough that he snapped awake a couple of seconds too late, and 4 people died, which he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. Glad I’m not him.
Someday, and I hope it will be someday soon, trains will be robotically controlled. In a sense, that will mean that the whole train is a robot, a long, steel, massively powerful, rolling robot with a flexible body. Robots don’t sleep. In fact, the tracks themselves will be part of the robot. One entire comprehensive system designed with the exclusive purpose of getting passengers from point a to point b.
I still think that rail is the way to go. The more passengers we can put into trains, the fewer drivers there will be on the roads. And the roads, of course, is still where the major danger lies. Although the New York train derailment grabbed the headlines, I’m sure that more than 4 people died on America’s highways on that day – like every other day.