Robert Meeropol

Robby, Abel, Michael and trains

my perennial chaos

"Robby & Elli" 1968

Robby speaking at the re-launch of the Mary Pitawanakwat Fund in Toronto

Robby and Cory work on the blog.

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Fear of Trains?

February 15, 2015

Tags: Train travel safety

I admit it: Iím a sucker for trains. I fell in love with New York City subways as a child. Sometimes on weekends my brother and I picked a line, usually one with a long elevated section, rode it to the end and then took it back home. Starting in the fourth grade, I took the train to school from the Upper West Side to Greenwich Village. Iíd stand at the front window of the first car staring at the onrushing rails, signals and stations, pretending to be the motorman. After we moved to Westchester when I was a teenager, Iíd ride what was then called the Grand Central Railroad (now MetroNorth) into the city whenever I could.

Now my favorite way to get to New York is to drive to New Haven and take MetroNorth. Other people get work or reading done on the train. I canít; Iím transfixed by the world passing by. I was so excited to ride the bullet train in Japan a few years ago. And while Iím not sure when weíll manage it, Iím already dreaming about taking the Canadian National Railroad with Elli from Toronto to Banff and Jasper.

The mass media histrionics in the wake of every deadly commuter rail accident troubles me. Are my trusted trains becoming unsafe? I suspected, however, that even with the recent spate of MetroNorth commuter rail accidents, it was likely that passenger trains remained safer than driving. So I checked it out. I asked a transportation expert friend for research tips to find accurate information on the relative safety of passenger rail versus auto travel.

While the figures for 2014 arenít out yet, motor vehicle crashes have resulted in 32,000 to 35,000 deaths annually since 2010. That translates to a death rate of slightly over 1 per 100 million miles travelled per year. This figure underestimates the peril to car and small truck drivers and their passengers, because it includes heavy truck and bus riders who have a much lower accident mortality rate.

As of 2013, travel on intercity rail was about 20 times safer than driving. Impressive as that number is, it actually exaggerates the danger to train passengers because most of the reported fatalities are people in cars that get hit by trains at railroad crossings. Incidentally, a surprisingly high percentage of those deaths are ruled suicides.

While a couple of recent accidents may have put a dent in railís safety superiority, the bottom line remains that you are much safer traveling in a train than in a car.

I canít help but wonder if there is a pro-auto, anti-train, bias in the mediaís fear-mongering about commuter rail service. Oil companies and the automobile industry are acutely aware of the threat an efficient rail poses to their profits, and they are not above badmouthing such travel in order to undermine efforts to expand and upgrade train service. Donít be fooled, even our outdated, and underfunded rail system is worth riding. I will continue to take the train whenever I can.

Selected Works

"Bravery is rare. Tyranny is commonplace. Both define the life of Robert Meeropol, son of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In his heart-wrenching, honest memoir, Meeropol recounts the emotional terrors of his childhood, the kindness of Abel and Anne Meeropol-who adopted him and his older brother after their parents' execution-his struggle to vindicate his parents, and his own political activism, culminating in the creation of the Rosenberg Fund for Children, which he now directs."
ĖPublisher's Weekly
"one of those rare books everyone should read"
ĖJoyce Carol Oates

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