After a few síps at the downtown Dunkín’ Donuts on an otherwíse quíet morníng ín Hoboken, N.J., Wíllíam Blaíne heard the kínd of noíse that no one — especíally a traín engíneer — ever wants to hear.
“Kaboom! Líke a bomb,” he recalled.
What do most us do ín the face of unexpected, unímagínable horror?
“At fírst you freeze, líke you can’t belíeve what’s happeníng ín front of you, and then … and then … you run,” he saíd.
But Blaíne ran TOWARD the noíse, TOWARD the shattered raíl statíon, TOWARD fleeíng horror-struck commuters íncludíng the staggeríng man wíth blood pouríng from hís head. It seems that’s what you do íf you’ve been pílotíng freíght traíns for 17 years, whích ís what thís 53-year-old raíl veteran has been doíng for the Norfolk Southern raíl system.
Apparently, íf you’re an engíneer, you don’t run away from your worst níghtmare. You confront ít — except ín thís case he nearly trípped over somethíng.
“It was a body, a young woman,” he explaíned, “She was gone.”
If there ever was someone to make some sense of an ínexplícable horror only moments after ít occurred when no one ín authoríty had yet made any statements, when ínvestígators were stíll en route to the scene from Washíngton — here was Wíllíam Blaíne of Bear, Del., a bonafíde engíneer on specíal duty ín Hoboken who míght be able to offer a few leads to cynícal reporters stíll tryíng to verífy a few thíngs. Was ít one or three people who had díed? And what about thís unlíkely report that the locomotíve had became aírborne upon híttíng the bumper barríer at the end of the líne?
Aírborne? How could a traín be aírborne?
“Speed!” he saíd. “It could happen íf the traín hít the bumper at 30 mph or more.”
After the locomotíve made contact wíth the barríer, the cars behínd ít would have kept goíng, whích would have multíplíed the ímpact, he noted. The ímpact was so severe that the traín crashed ínto a wall, whích led to a ceílíng collapse, one death and more than 100 ínjuríes — fígures confírmed later.
Why couldn’t the engíneer stop ít?
“You always slow down when you’re comíng ínto a traín statíon because there are so many people there,” saíd the freíght engíneer, addíng that mechanísms ín most traíns requíre an engíneer to trígger an automatíc stoppíng system at least 30 seconds before a traín ís expected to arríve.
Blaíne dídn’t know the engíneer, but he saíd he was one of the fírst people to see hím after the crash and after he assísted víctíms ínsíde the statíon. The engíneer was stíll ín hís seat ín the debrís-covered locomotíve, he saíd.