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Train Crash: A Greek Tragedy

It is a play that was foretold before it happened.

“Safety first” is a saying that was drummed into me as a child by my father, a railroad engineer. Unfortunately, there are way too many times that safety comes nowhere near first.

Reports are coming out of Greece that exposed the neglect that was well known already in the country when it came to train safety. They have the worst record for train safety in the European Union. There was a project that was funded but delayed in implementation to prevent just such an accident that caused two trains to collide head-on.

Human error is blamed because there wasn’t a technological solution in place. Technology can work, if it is maintained and continuously operational. It is one thing to implement a safety system and it is quite another thing to maintain it.

I am quite sure, given the outrage in the country, that there will be a huge effort to implement the safety features that are needed. Yes, like here in the USA, people close the barn door after the horses have already left. It takes a Greek tragedy to motivate people and institutions to act!

Don’t be smug about our situation here in the United States. I recall just such an accident happening in Washington state when I worked at the state emergency management office many years ago. I was called into the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) due to a train-on-train accident. A freight train had a head-on collision with another freight train, and both had multiple engines pulling their respective cargo. Some, if not all of the crew, died. I recall some crew members jumped from the moving engine when they saw the crash coming, likely after they tried to slam on the brakes.
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.