Braille Monitor                                                                               August-September 1986

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Train Derailment

by Ben Prows

(This article appeared in the Spring, 1986, Blind Washingtonian, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. Ben Prows is a former president of the NFB of Washington.)

On Sunday, January 19, 1986, Hazel tenBroek, Maryhelen Scheiber, and I, all board members of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, were returning from a meeting in Vancouver, Washington, on Amtrak's Coast Starlight when it derailed just south of Tacoma, Washington. There was a lurch, then a crash, then another more significant collision, and all became quiet. There was no panic on the part of either Amtrak officials or the passengers. One of the train's two engines tipped over and burned. Some of the passengers in the rear-most coach where the Federationists were riding were slightly injured. Mrs. tenBroek had a leg contusion, Mrs. Scheiber suffered from a cut lip and bloodied nose, but they stayed aboard the train awaiting help while some of the other passengers were helped off the train into emergency vehicles for treatment of more severe injuries. As with most amateur radio operators, I carried my two-meter handheld transceiver and began to relay messages to the families of other passengers waiting anxiously in Seattle. Even some train officials enlisted my help to contact friends who were waiting in Seattle to notify them that everything was all right.

As the afternoon waned and darkness fell, Maryhelen and I assisted some of the waiting passengers down the steps to the lower level of the car to find the restroom. The power on the train was, of course, off, and there were no lights.

When the buses finally arrived to take the passengers into Seattle, the evacuation of the Amtrak train was orderly and without incident. There was no panic, and train officials seemed not to care that Maryhelen and I were blind. We were assumed to be competent travelers and indeed were helpful in the emergency. There were no attempts to preboard or postboard us. There were no attempts to assign us special seats. In short, we were treated exactly as we would have airline officials treat us--as normal passengers, not needing preferential treatment.