Train accidents leave engineers haunted

It seems to be happening more and more frequently: people in South Florida racing across railroad tracks, trying to beat the trains.

The videos are everywhere of people in cars, on bicycles, and on foot going around the safety gates, past the flashing lights, and into the path of oncoming trains.

In many cases, the people make it across safely.

But too many times, they don’t. They’re hit by the train and killed.

Noreen Patten is somebody who knows all too well about those times.

“I had some very traumatic experiences that took place while I was an engineer,” Patten told WPBF 25 News.

Patten has been a train engineer for 13 years, the last 11 with Tri-Rail.

During her time on the rails, her trains have hit 7 people.

“The first one was extremely traumatic for me because it was a young man,” Patten said.

Patten can rattle off specific details about each person her train has hit.

Most prevalent in her mind is the young man who reminded her of her son.

“He was living with the homeless camp, the homeless community,” Patten remembered. “And I’ve heard he took his shoes off and gave them to them before he committed suicide.”

She can also tell you about the man who kept himself hidden until the last moment, jumping onto the tracks.

She said the worst part was making eye contact with him just before impact.

“He looked into my eyes and then he just scrambled right in front of my train,” she said.

Those two incidents were in late 2016 and forced Patten to leave the job temporarily and seek counseling.

She returned to the train in March of 2017.

Only four days later, somebody else stepped in front of her train.

“When we hit him, his body landed right where we stopped,” she said. “And so when I looked out the window, you could just see legs.”

She paused after saying that and then continued.

“These are memories, they don’t go away.”

And that’s why Noreen Patten had to go away.

That incident was her last day as an engineer. She left the job and sought more counseling.

She said it’s not just the people who are hit. She said there are so many near misses only the engineers see, so many people who think it’s a game.

“These children think it’s ok to hang around the tracks,” she said. “They play chicken.”

The rail companies are now adding more safety features.

Brightline has started employing “ambassadors” to stand at some tracks and remind people of the dangers of an oncoming train.

Both West Palm Beach and Boynton Beach have installed additional safeguards at some crossings.

In the end, though, you can’t stop someone who is intent on getting on the tracks and perhaps into the path of Noreen Patten’s train.

After nearly a year of counseling and prayer, Patten is returning to the job in the coming days.

She said she hopes she can leave her memories and nightmares behind.

“Think about the engineer,” she said. “Think about the person that’s going through that because they then become a victim to what you’ve done.”

Source: WPBF 

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