When someone isn’t able to get past an accident, Maxwell says he has worked with the employee to find them another department where they can work. Some will transfer to being a bus operator or to maintenance where they won’t be driving transit anymore. But he says operators involved in fatal crashes there keep a support group with each other so they work through the trauma and deal with the fallout the rest of their lives.
An Education for Prevention
Caban and fellow engineer Tom Haas, who was also involved in a fatal accident on the job, are volunteers with a program to educate kids in New Jersey about the dangers of walking along the tracks. The talks can be graphic, but they say they want the kids to understand the dangers for them and the emotional trauma that their families and the transit workers undergo after such a gory event.
“We don’t’ sugarcoat it. We’re very blunt,” Haas says. “The reality of it is that it’s a very tragic incident and it’s hard to deal with it and it affects everyone around them and it’s more than the loss of your life. Hundreds, if not thousands of people are held up getting home and your own family has to deal with the loss of a loved one.”
“It’s more challenging with the adults,” Caban says. “The adults are the ones who run past the gates and those are the ones we seem to have more of a problem with at this stage.”
James Simpson, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, says he realized safety issues needed to be immediately addressed after three children were killed within a 24-hour period there. “The bottom line is, what could we have done as an agency to perhaps prevent an accident,” he says.
Being a densely populated state with hundreds of grade crossings, Simpson says the department is tackling the issue through education, engineering and enforcement to prevent deaths from occurring by beefing up grade crossings and using the latest technology to improve safety at the locations.
“We can do all sorts of fancy engineering, but if we don’t educate the students, it’s all for naught, so we’ve got a massive education program,” he says. “We’re also working on enforcement with adults because they’re the ones doing the really knuckleheaded things at the rail grade crossings.
“You’ve got to make it a priority,” he says. “If you don’t make it a priority, nothing is going to change.”