When Guns are Outlawed, only Outlaws Will Have Amtrak

This photo is from an unusual accident. The usual one involves a train and a pedestrian. It doesn't hurt the locomotive.

This photo is from an unusual accident. The usual one involves a train and a pedestrian. It doesn’t hurt the locomotive.

Most of us think of Amtrak as one of those massively subsidized, ill-managed government boondoggles, but it does more than simply haul the wealthy Acela Corridor types, the train buffs, and (naturally) the terrified-of-flying, from place to place in the lap of the taxpayers. Sometimes, it’s an agent of Darwin his ownself.

The train, traveling between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, hit the unidentified person shortly after 7 p.m. just west of the station, authorities said. The person was pronounced dead at the scene.

via Person struck, killed by Amtrak train in Chesco.

To the great irritation of the characters on the train, the dead prole delayed their journey.

The human being is inherently fragile, and many everyday things we never think about produce fatalities. In Pennsylvania, where that accident happened, 20 or 30 trespassers get killed by trains every year, according to the Federal Railway Administration, and a similar number injured. (No, you are not entitled to walk along the railroad tracks, or ride your bike there — as we occasionally do. Technically, you’re a trespasser on the railroad’s property or right of way). There are about 400-500 such deaths nationwide, although numbers for 2015 are way up (if you explore the data on the FRA site). That’s about the same number that perish every year in roughly 300 small plane accidents, according to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s annual Nall ReportMost people would not know that, because plane crashed get saturation coverage on the news, and some kid or homeless person that gets the Cuisinart treatment from an intercity freight or local commuter train gets a three-paragraph stub like the one the above quote is from. If that.

Unless he delays the Acela Express and inconveniences someone important.

Like small planes and railroads, firearms are actually a trivial cause of accidental death in the United States, but they’re slightly higher than railroad trespasser deaths, coming to about 600 in 2012, the last year for which we have reliable data. (The scary big numbers that come from innumerates like Moms Demand Fascism come from lumping accidents, suicides, and justifiable homicides by police and lawful gun users in as, “gun deaths,” and then implying they’re talking about accidents. They’re not).

In 2012, more people were killed by machinery (excluding motor vehicles) than by firearms. If you’ve ever worked in a metal-forming business you have no problem believing that… almost anything in a machine shop or foundry can kill you, including the hand tools you use for bench work. More children, particularly, died of poisoning or “environmental” causes (think heat and cold injury, exposure); over 12 times as many drowned (708) and over 20 times as many suffocated (1,182) than died from firearms mishaps (58). Yet Wealthy Moms with Nannies Demand Your Guns. It’s an interesting illustration of the innumeracy of society in general, the distorting effects of a dishonest, propagandistic media, and humans’ extremely poor ability to analyze risks in particular or statistics in general. (Our minds are adapted to use heuristics, not analysis, for risk assessment).

Poisoning in the home kills almost as many people (31,800 in 2012, National Safety Council, Injury Facts 2014) as motor vehicle accidents on the road (33,561 in 2012, NHTSA). Since the 2014 edition, NSC has been playing games with the classification of firearms deaths, such as lumping suicides, criminal homicides and justifiable homicides, into a single “firearms discharge” category.

Back to Pennsylvania, where our story began with an anonymous pedestrian losing at Jousting with Amtrak (if his game wasn’t foot Race to the Crossing), an interesting fact arises from CDC firearms accident data. Pennsylvania, home to this train accident, an active and militant gun-ban tendency in politics, and firearms accidents that even penetrate State Police firearms training, had the highest number of fatal gun accidents in the nation in 2012, according to the CDC.  (Two states with less than a sixth of PA’s population each, LA and SC, had higher fatal-gun-mishap rates per 100k population, though). So PA is still on the high side, if not a solitary outlier; sounds like Keystone Staters could work on their safety culture a little. (Preliminary 2013 data suggests that PA may have reduced the rate:

WISQARS Injury Mortality Report 2012-13.pdf

… or perhaps 2012 was an outlier year). Interesting nonetheless.

15 thoughts on “When Guns are Outlawed, only Outlaws Will Have Amtrak

  1. AlanH

    ” Pennsylvania, home to this train accident, an active and militant gun-ban tendency in politics” seems a bit harsh. I find PA’s firearms ownership and carry laws quite sensible, as also are its laws allowing defense in the home, defense without running away, and the disallowance of law suits by perps or their survivors, should said perp be wounded or killed during his attempted crime.

    Philadelphia government has a gun banning tendency, but that’s because they have a tremendous number of bad boys shooting each other, and a police fore which believes having guns is for police only, though they can’t be there, sorry, during the crime.

  2. John Distai

    There used to be a website called “Dead Train Bums”. It showed the aftermath of people loss of life to trains, and was quite graphic. I had considered a brief period of “freight hopping” for the adventure of it, until I read on that site and saw the seedier side of life.

    Ironically, all these left wing wackos want to ban the Keystone pipeline for “environmental” or some other such left wing religion hand wringing purpose. Little do they know, or somehow they do and they ignore, that trains have LOTS of accidents. Derailment is frequent, and accidents with cars and pedestrians are unfortunately common. But that oil is still going to get to market, it will just go on the rails, instead of a pipeline. But that data doesn’t figure into the anti-pipeline narrative.

    It’s all about the narrative, regardless of what the facts show.

  3. Mr_Mike

    I’ve traveled on planes and, Amtrak and, Amtrak is much longer, but easier to travel on. Just get on the train a and, get off. No baggage check, no long lines, etc. I can sit an read, or listen to music to pass the time. However, I don’t travel that often, so the preliminaries to air travel seem too much of a hassle.

    Also, in the 1990s, it was easy to get a concealed carry license in my PA county. Just send in the money, pass the back ground check and, write down “protection and, sporting use” as my reasons. The only places where there are big gun control support are near Philadelphia and, Pittsburgh. PA is home to over one million deer hunters! Some rural schools don’t have school on the first day of buck season, although that coincides with the Thanksgiving holiday, but the belief is that a large number of students would be absent that day.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I heard the same about deer season when I visited a friend in Johnstown. (NW corner of the state).

    2. Hognose Post author

      Mike,
      I’ve done just about every kind of travel there is. My preference is to drive short distances, fly myself middle distances, suck it up and take the mailing tube long distances. I still haven’t got my cardiologist and flight surgeon talking to each other, though, so flying’s out for the time being (no medical).

      Every method has its downsides. For Amtrak, I have to get into freakin’ Boston South Station, and that means having someone drop me off or parking north of the city and taking filty, third-world-quality mass transit in. Then, there was the time the Acela Express was delayed eight hours because somebody botched a bridge repair, and we were confined on the train for that time. Sours a guy on the Acela Express, even if his fellow travelers didn’t. It’s still the best way to go if you start out nearer Boston and have business in Manhattan or near Union Station or the Metro in DC.

      There are now bus services to NY and DC that are much less expensive than Amtrak, provide nearly equivalent comfort, are only a noodge slower (if all the bridges are in order!) and have many more departure points and times. I can get that bus six miles from home, free parking, no Boston hassles. Also the buses seem to be in better repair than Amtrak’s rolling stock. Having a 100 outlet is great, and the ones on the bus actually have 110v AC in them, what a concept! Amtrak fixes it when they get to it, or they don’t, and they are not interested in hearing your complaint. They’re retired but still on the job.

      I think everybody knows what’s wrong with airline travel. Fortunately I’m too old and not sufficiently fabulous to be singled out by TSA’s gay guys, so if I get groped it’s by Sumdood who’s enjoying it no more than I, usually. Basically, all the suck in air travel is in the airport hassles and expenses and the ground transport hassles, and the colossal waste of time.

      A small plane at 110 knots can often beat a 500-kt airliner door to door, because you can usually start closer to home and end closer to home. In the place you’re based, at least, you can pull right up to the plane and put your bags on right out of your trunk. Preflight the plane, one last whiz, start up, get your clearance & activate your flight plan (which you prepared on your laptop) and you’re climbing out on course maybe 40 minutes from the time you leave home. This is especially good if you’re going some place that the airlines would hub-and-spoke you all over East Jesus to get to.

      The Achilles’s heel of a small plane is weather. A jetliner has two professional pilots, turbine engines to outclimb most weather, radar to see cumulonimbus they’d best not try to outclimb, equipment that can handle icing, and strict (and strictly-obeyed) procedures that make it safer than staying home and taking a bath. I got stuck once for three days in Bridgeport. There is one day’s entertainment in Bridgeport, unless your tastes in entertainment run to hookers and blow.

      1. John Distai

        We have a family friend who is into flying and owns a small plane. He claims that it is quite affordable, and cheaper than golf. He’s from some sort of wealthy stock, so as a rising prole I’ve always been skeptical of his trying to relate financially to us common folk, and dismissed what he’s said about the affordability of his hobby as BS.

        He’s mentioned that lessons for a pilots license would be in the $5k to $7k range, buying a plane is about the cost of a new car, and that the upkeep of one is about $500 a month. And that you don’t even have to own a plane, you can join a “flying club” and rent a plane (like his!).

        Any truth to his claims?

        1. Hognose Post author

          Those are real, and even conservative, numbers. When I first learned to fly (I had to do it twice… long story) it was pretty usual for pilots to solo in 6-8 hours training and pass their flight tests at the minimum 40 hours. Since then (early-mid 70s) the FAA’s Office of Aviation Inhibition (that’s a joke, but the whole thing is basically an office of aviation inhibition) has piled requirement on requirement on new students, while not removing some of the old outdated stuff. (This is probably worse on the instrument rating than the basic fair-weather private pilot’s license, though). As a result, times for a PPL have more than doubled; the typical student now solos around 20 hours and takes 100 to be ready for his or her checkride. Costs have also soared, mostly driven by regulation which has caused the costs of fuel, aircraft, parts, and overhead to skyrocket, and have driven down student starts. Of course, lower student volume means higher costs!

          Nobody gets rich on flight instruction. (Nobody doing it for Americans and amateur pilots, anyway. Some of the certificate mills that mass-produce foreign commercial pilots here in the USA are making a fortune. They’re not always making good pilots, although some are).

          There are clubs, shared ownership, etc. that will let you manage flying on a budget if you are disciplined. Also, if you fly for business, you can charge the mileage off as a business expense, or, depending on your employment situation, even get it reimbursed on your expense account (For instance, the .gov reimburses contractors at the DOD rate, 50-something cents per statute mile, last I filed one of these). That mileage rate paid for my plane rental for many trips to Fayetteville or DC. (Flying in the DC area requires special training, but it’s not onerous. The airspace is complicated and a good GPS is probably a must).

          A used 4-place plane (meaning, in most case, 2 adults + 2 kids + full fuel or leave some fuel on the ground to carry 4 adults safely) is about $35-50k for a good reliable and well-kept plane made, usually, in the peak of US private aviation in the late 70s. (A new plane’s cost? Bentley territory, for basically the same plane as the 70s model — the FAA has really held innovation back). Remember that every airplane has to be maintained like it’s in Jay Leno’s Garage, so it’s not like the guy down the street who’s still driving his 1976 Cutlass that you can see through for rust. $500 a month will cover insurance, tiedown (maybe hangar some places. Here, it’s $300-400 alone) and a reserve for annual inspections, periodic overhauls (1500-2000 hours on engines and props, for example) and that sort of thing. Your overhauls and inspections will cost less if you fly a lot — the plane’s worst enemy is corrosion from sitting.

          The economics of home building are different. We expect my bro (who is paying) will have about $70-80k in the plane before we’re done. It will be worth maybe $70-80k used — this brand, Van’s, holds value better than competitors — meaning the 1,000 to 2,000 hours of work we will put into it is uncompensated. However, FAA says you have the privilege to build a plane if you do it for “recreation and education,” and we’re getting a ton of both. actually, he’s inbound to wash, etch and prime parts today. (I’m providing the workshop, many of the tools, etc).

          Middle-class people and even ordinary working stiffs can fly. You just have to want to badly enough.

  4. AuricTech

    Back when I joined the AGR staff of my Louisiana Army National Guard unit in 1994, I-49 was not yet complete. As such, our preferred route from Baton Rouge to Camp Beauregard in Pineville involved taking US Route 71 north from just west of Krotz Springs to the southern edge of Alexandria. That route involved driving through the small town of Bunkie. There was a railroad track that ran parallel to US-71 on the east side of the highway, which meant that anyone wanting to reach the northeast side of Bunkie had to cross the tracks. I don’t recall the name of the firm that posted the signs, but there was a series of signs along the road, patterned after the “Burma Shave” advertising campaign:

    Remember this
    If you’d be spared
    Trains don’t whistle
    Because they’re scared!

    It’s a pity that the pedestrian in this incident didn’t heed this advice before becoming yet another victim of Kinetic Energy Poisoning.

    One thing that amazes me about the human body is that it is simultaneously quite fragile and quite resilient. However, though one can find many incidents that make one wonder how anyone could survive, when it comes to direct application of massive* amounts of kinetic energy to the human body, betting that the human body will win against kinetic energy is usually a sucker’s bet….

    *Yes, I used the word massive intentionally. ;-)

    1. Hognose Post author

      Human resilience is remarkable. I remember when I got my first pulse oximeter for flying ($359 and needed a prescription from an MD for another $100! Now the same unit is $30 in Wal-Mart or CVS. Nothing like getting the FDA’s hands off something). Anyway, I got it to monitor my 02 saturation at altitude (because the first thing that goes is judgment when you start to get hypoxic, but you can see the percentage drop while your mind is still working well). But I soon found it indispensable for nearly anything. It’s fascinating to watch your resting pulse as you get out of a chair, walk up a couple flights of stairs, and sit down again — and see how quickly it recovers. Complicated to the point of magic.

  5. Captain Mike

    For a few years back around 9/11 I was a Patrolman with the “filhty, third-world-quality mass transit” Police.
    As a result, I avoid riding the subway in Boston if humanly possible.

    During my tenure, I attended more than a few train pedestrian accidents.

    If it was a subway train, it took a lot of speedy dry to clean up the mess.

    If it was a commuter rail at speed, there were a couple of big pieces and a whole lot of little ones. Think of a sledge hammer connecting with a watermelon.

    It doesn’t get in to the media story’s much, for whatever reason, but I would estimate between 50-75% of the ones I responded to where suicides, maybe more. Mostly people with mental illness, looking for the exit.

    Apparently suicide by train is very common in Europe because firearms are harder to get. Germany averages 1100 per year if this article is accurate.

    http://thetransitcoalition.us/News/LAT20050126c.htm

    “In Germany, there were 5,731 railway suicides from 1997 to 2002, an average of more than 1,100 a year for a five-year period, Mishara said. Men were more likely to take their lives than women, and a disproportionate share of the deaths occurred in the vicinity of psychiatric treatment facilities.”

    If they drive their car onto the track, they usually take a few innocent passengers with them.

    One more thing to look forward to if the anti 2A crowd get their way.

    1. "Greg"

      On the other hand, perhaps the anti 2A crowd will turn their attention to trains?

      1. Hognose Post author

        After dropping Kid off at Reeducation Camp (aka High School) this morning, I enjoyed a drive along the shore while figuring out what changes to make to my goals and schedule for the day and the week. There’s a multiday rainstorm raging here, with rain and wind, and the Atlantic is always a sight at times like this; the road is winding; the car comfortable. On the radio, a public service announcement: “Don’t race trains to a crossing.” It was couched as a boxing announcement: In this corner, a train, 6,000 tons; and in this corner, a car, weighing 1.5 tons.

  6. AndyN

    About 10-15 years ago in Reading a guy got in a vehicle chase with with his ex-girlfriend, caught up with her at a railroad crossing and used his vehicle to push hers onto the track into the path of an oncoming train. Killed the ex, her young child, a friend who was with her and the friend’s young child. Good thing he didn’t have a gun, he probably would have just shot his ex and left her poor child an orphan.

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