Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

Trespasser Killed on Tracks at Fernley

I'm afraid this entry's icon applies directly, not ironically as it usually does.

Late this afternoon, the BNSF Local that switches the small yard in front of our house and other local industries finished up its work and headed west back to Sparks. Shortly after it passed through Fernley, I heard a series of short blasts of the horn and the radio scanner lit up with the characteristic sound of a train's rear-end device going into emergency braking mode. A short time later, the crew of the local radioed the dispatcher with the bad news: "We just hit a pedestrian at West Fernley." [Note: I originally wrote "trespasser" here, and have corrected it based on updated information.]

Lisa and I listened to the exchange on the scanner. The dispatcher asked how the crew were. "As well as could be expected under the circumstances," came the reply. Lisa and I drove by the area, staying well away from the officials.

Fernley Rail-Pedestrian Incident
A Union Pacific maintenance crew that had been working on Fernley siding (West Fernley is the west end of that siding) came down and rendered such assistance as they could. The train, of course, was stopped on the single-track main, with Amtrak #6, the California Zephyr approaching from the west. (The CZ would be held at Thisbe, the first siding west of Fernley.)

Fernley Rail-Pedestrian Incident
The signals here indicate West Fernley. Lyon County Sheriff's deputies are examining the scene. The white truck is from Union Pacific, and I think it must have been the maintenance crew foreman.

Fernley Rail-Pedestrian Incident
Driving around to the hotel on the south side of the tracks (this is where lisa_marli stayed on her family's trip to Westercon), we could see the paramedics, who did not appear to be needed; see the white sheet on the embankment near the center of the photo.

We speculate that the trespasser was attempting to cross directly between the hotel and the Pilot truck stop on the north side of the tracks rather than going via the underpass just to the east of here. Having walked through that underpass ourselves, I can testify that it's narrow and rather hair-raising by itself. The temptation to cross directly is undoubtedly great. That's a busy main line, and if you are going to walk on the tracks, you have to be very alert. Lisa and I have been around active railroad tracks ourselves, and we know it's dangerous.

We finished our errands and went home. On the way home, we checked back at the accident site again and saw the deputies engaged in what looked like an evidence-recovery process. We also saw that the BNSF train was gone. We assume that a relief crew was sent out to take the train back to Sparks and that the regular crew will probably have to be drug-tested and an investigation held. I hope they don't try to hold the crew to blame for this. Based on what I saw and heard I must put the trespasser's death as his/her own fault.

Around an hour or so later, after we got home, Amtrak #6, now running several hours late having been bottled up at Thisbe, came rolling through past our house, so the main was obviously open again. Rail traffic is flowing through town again as I write this at 9 PM local time. I feel very sorry for that BNSF crew, and no sympathy for the trespasser. Stay off the railroad tracks.

Major Update, 29 September: I've been contacted by the wife of one of the train crew members with additional details. Apparently there was a dog running on the tracks, which the crew was trying to shoo off the tracks by blowing the horn (they're not supposed to stop for dogs, wild horses, cows, etc.). As they approached the signal box (the silver building on the rail embankment in the photo), a man jumped out from behind the building and dove trying to save the dog; both he and the dog were killed when the train hit them. There was still nothing the crew could have done. There was a woman with the man, and they were standing out of sight of the crew, hidden by the signal box. They weren't apparently trying to cross the tracks, although it's unknown why they were there in the first place. Trying to save the dog cost the man his life.

Lisa and I passed on our best wishes to the woman's husband and the rest of the train crew (they know who we are because we wave at the trains), and repeated our reassurances that this was not their fault at all, just a tragic accident.
Tags: fernley, trains

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