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Feb 12, 2006

From the New York Times: “IPod on the Tracks:”

I was on the tracks. I’d stared down at the tracks all my life. It had always been rats, the third rail and garbage that provided that space with its faint air of horror, but it turns out that the most powerful feeling while I was down there was simply being lower, almost beneath, everyone else. I looked up and saw a lot of knees. I wanted only to rise.

My career has, at far too may times, required that I work on live railroad tracks. This work is usually proceeded by some form of safety training, lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to a full day. The training is usually the same: look both ways before getting on the tracks, don’t touch the 3rd rail/catenary, step over (not on) the rail, etc. Mostly routine stuff.

One particular transit agency had a simple visual aid to drive the point home. The instructor picked up a small iron pry bar, measuring 1in by 1in square and about 18 inches long. He held up the bar to make sure we all got a good look. He then walked across the room and picked up another pry bar, again 1in by 1in square, but it was about 5 feet in length.

The instructor explained to us that the short pry bar used to be the same length as the longer pry bar. A track worker was using the longer bar during regular maintenance, and he accidentally touched the 3rd rail. The bottom 3 ½ feet of the bar vaporized. Most of that iron vapor was absorbed by the worker - he apparently spent the next 36 hours in excruciating pain at the hospital before dying.

Unless you know what you’re doing, stay off the tracks. Heck, I do know what I’m doing and I almost got killed once. You can always buy another iPod.

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