Monday, September 29, 2008

Almost Ripped in Half and I Had My Camera Too! Shucks!

Seeing someone get caught in the door of an N Judah and then immediately ripped in half - while you sit a few yards away with a camera ready to go - is an opportunity that hardly ever presents itself.

I got off Caltrain around 10PM on Friday evening and headed toward the N platform where an outbound train was waiting. As a group of about a dozen Caltrain passengers and I crossed in front of the lead car, walk light on, the operator pulled up toward us. I gave him an exasperated "what the Hell?" gesture, because he had just blocked the lead car doors with the railing at the north end of the platform. And of course because he was piloting the huge Breda person-grinding machine that had just lurched toward me. Normally when an operator pulls up like this, he keeps the doors closed and then heads on down King St. while the passengers beat on the sides and flip him the bird. Anyway, the entire front car was blocked by the railing, which extended to within a few feet of the front door of the rear car. The railing stands close to the train - about one foot away.

Unexpectedly, the operator waited, opened the doors, and let us in the rear car while he was out of position on the platform. There was a guy excitedly darting back and forth on the platform asking people at random, "Is this Broadway? Does this go to Broadway?" "There's no Broadway here," offered one passenger semi-helpfully, as she hurried inside. The guy seemed entirely unable to decide whether to be inside or outside the train, and so he temporarily resolved the dilemma by standing in the front doorway, half inside the car, half on the platform. And at that moment, with the door wide open and starting to close, the train moved forward quickly.

The guy, with an expression of complete shock on his face, the kind of expression someone has only when he realizes he is just about to die, leaped backwards out of the door. (This is an expression I had actually never seen before, and even by itself, it was kind of cool to watch.) Almost immediately the railing whizzed by the still-closing door as we headed up King Street.

Of course, had the guy stayed in the door for a fraction of a second longer, he would have been bisected by the railing, and absolutely, without question, torn mostly or completely in half and been dead within 2 seconds of an untimely moment of vacillation.

And I would have been there with my camera!

Well, okay, though I would have been Weegee-on-the-spot until the police ushered me away from the grisly scene, I actually found this horrifying. An LRV is required (by State and Federal law) to have interlocks that prevent the vehicle from moving forward until all doors are closed, and that brake the vehicle if doors are opened while it is in motion. This is not an optional "nice to have" feature; it is a "must have otherwise people will die in ways that can't be shown on CSI" feature. To wit, the guy who was ground to bits beneath the N Judah between 31st and 33rd earlier this year (as in, he was distributed all the way from 31st to 33rd) may have been caught in the door, at least initially. And this confused young gentleman came within arm's length of a similar fate.

Several other passengers were left gaping as we pulled away. After a couple of stops I moved to the lead car and told the operator as we waited at the Embarcadero portal, "Hey, dude, your interlock is totally not working. There was a guy in the door when you pulled away back there at 4th and King." He looked a little my way and said nonchalantly, "Really?".

Yes, really, dude.

I got off at Embarcadero and headed up to the Muni booth where I told the lady inside, "That N I just got off of, the interlock isn't working at all, and the operator pulled away from the Caltrain platform with a door wide open and someone jumping out of it." She looked surprised and got on the phone.

From there I don't know what happened, but apparently no one was dragged to a grisly demise. I got on the next N and rode uneventfully back to the Sunset.

For those of you who care about such things, the rear car was 1550 and the lead was 1545. For the time being, you might want to step lively through the doors of 1550.

I have to point out that the fact that the LRV almost killed someone is not the fault of the equipment. (The equipment sucks, but that's a different story.) It's first the fault of the operator, who was obviously not looking to see if the train was clear down the right side. Checking both sides of the immense metal death hulk to see if they're clear of soft, squishy people is not optional. It's also the fault of whoever failed to find, report, and fix the problem with the interlock or allowed the LRV to be operated without the interlock on.


Anonymous said...

I was on a J train the other day which also left the stop with the door open. I was very surprised these trains dont have an interlock.

Joseph N. Hall said...

They do have interlocks. But interlocks seem to be broken or disabled with distressing frequency. Actually, "once" is distressing. If you get caught in a door while the LRV is moving, well, that's bad.

PTCruiser said...

The trains are equipped with door interlocks. They are also equipped with an interlock bypass switch in the operator's cab. The operators are not supposed to engage this switch, but obviously they are.