Letter Re: Just In Case

I was glad to read in M.L.’s article “Just In Case” that he packs some form of flashlight for the train commute. I wonder if he realizes the single-most important use for it would be inside a tunnel. A grid-down situation will stop subway and above-ground light-rail trains which operate on electricity delivered by overhead wire or energized third rail. Grid-down will also bring at least a momentary stop to diesel-powered trains if the signal system goes dark. Earthquake, terror attack, or even a derailment are other ways one might find themselves onboard a train that suddenly gets stopped inside a tunnel.

In addition to the Los Angeles subway, M.L.’s commute might involve several other tunnels if the initial rail journey from home is out of the suburbs or outlying canyon country north or northwest of Los Angeles. Both areas use rail lines which have several tunnels, two of which are about a mile in length. One of these mile-long tunnels is just outside Chatsworth; the other is near Sylmar. If it becomes necessary to evacuate from a train in such a tunnel, personal lighting will be crucial. One additional concern, in the event the locomotive is not shut down in a reasonable amount of time, is that the interior of the tunnel might become filled with diesel exhaust.

Rail commuters in New York, New Jersey, Seattle, and Portland also have the potential of finding themselves stopped inside a tunnel. And long-distance travelers on Amtrak trains pass through numerous tunnels, some of them quite long, on certain routes. Of the many tunnels which the Empire Builder train between Seattle and Chicago passes through, two of them are more than seven miles in length, one of these being northeast of Libby, Montana, the other being under Stevens Pass in the Washington Cascades. Imagine having to walk your way out of the middle of a seven-mile long tunnel. You had better have some spare batteries for that light.

One final thought. While most commuters become familiar with the landmarks and communities along the freeway, very few of them pay attention to where they are during a train ride. If getting home is the ultimate goal, it’s important for rail commuters like M.L. to take note of the location of communities, stores, infrastructure, and general terrain along their route. In addition to tunnels, are there bridges, gang-infested areas, or other “challenges” on the rail line you would need to be aware of in the event of an emergency? – Bruce in Idaho