One lucky cyclist. And by lucky, I mean an idiot.

Nearly a “train vs cyclist” incident

Last week, a cyclist on Burnside nearly got hit during the classic one-two-punch where a train in one direction blocks the view of a train going the other direction. The good news is, if you obey traffic signals including crosswalk signs, you run no risk of being hit by a train in a situation like that because you will have a red light and a “don’t walk” sign. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work if you’re a dumbass who ignores warning devices. This is also unfortunate for three passengers on the train who sustained minor injuries as a result of the the hard stop caused by the operator using emergency braking to avoid the cyclist.

The story was picked up by the Oregonian, complete with video from the train, as the Type 4s have nice forward-facing cameras. Some of the comments on the Oregonian article were… actually rather surprising. A few people didn’t seem to think this was that big of a deal,  saying that the cyclist was “obviously stopping” and “would have waited for the train to pass if the driver had not chosen to stop”, and others feeling that this story was unfairly targeting cyclists.

No, let me tell you something:


Unsafe behavior around the trains is not limited to cyclists. I have seen plenty of stupid actions by people on foot, by people driving cars, and yes, people on bikes. This particular incident wasn’t targeting cyclists, however it was a recent event where people on a train were injured, and a cyclist happened to be the cause. Oblivious people are going to do stupid things around trains regardless of what form of transportation they use. In this case, it was a cyclist. Tomorrow it might be something else. I’m not going to say this guy is representative of all cyclists, but I will say that he’s representative of the boneheaded things people do around the trains.

Video by punkrawker4783 showing pedestrians & drivers acting unsafely

As for this not being that big of a deal? With all due respect, you watched a video in an article titled “Bicyclist prompts emergency MAX train stop in Gresham.” You knew what this video was going to show and you were watching for it. And that’s sort of like watching Titanic where you know what’s going to happen (SPOILER ALERT: The boat sinks) so it’s not a surprise when you see it. But consider this from the operator’s perspective for a moment, who didn’t know that this was going to happen at that intersection.

As an operator, you are aware that every single time you pass a train stopped at a platform on the mainline, there is a chance that someone is going to run around the back of it into the path of your train. You also know that cars waiting to turn left – like the one in the video – might run that light. So you reduce your speed (as the operator of that train did) because of those chances, but you never know that this intersection is going to be the one where someone darts out in front of you. But when it happens, you are going to brake hard to bring the train to a stop to avoid hitting them.

Diagram of a Type 4’s cab from the outside. The camera is located at #7

Consider too that the video from the train shows a view that is from a fisheye lens mounted close to the windshield near the top of the glass, so you’ve got a great field of vision in the video. Compare that to the operator’s eyes, which are not fisheye lenses and are situated much lower and further back from the windshield than the camera. Additionally, those pillars on either side of the windshield form a considerable visual barrier:

Left-side pillar in a Type 4

So the view you see in the video shows the cyclist – who you were expecting to see – likely before he entered the field of vision of the operator (who was not expecting to see him). And yes, suddenly seeing someone heading into the path of your moving train is a big deal. People have been killed doing the exact thing this cyclist did. To state the obvious, trains don’t swerve. You have a split second to react and hit the brakes when you see someone who isn’t paying attention and is on a collision course with you, and that’s all you can do – you’re not going to keep going, assuming that they will stop.

To the person who said to train MAX operators not to use the emergency brake… are you serious? Emergency braking on the Type 4s is explicitly covered during Type 4 training – when I did mine a few years ago, we took a 4 onto the test track at Ruby, brought it up to 35 mph, and used the emergency brake to practice both using it and recovering out of it in a controlled setting before encountering situations like this. And yes, the emergency brake is a hard stop, even harder if you’re using it at a low speed. But what other option is there? Run the risk of killing someone who isn’t paying attention?

Operators are not mind readers. I see a cyclist heading on a collision course with a train, and my instinct is to stop the train, not to assume that he’s going to wait for me and then cross behind the train. I can’t tell if he’s obliviously ignorant or intentionally suicidal, but I’m not going to waste a lot of time mulling it over, I’m going to do what I can to not hit him.You don’t put your faith in someone incapable of obeying a red light/don’t walk sign to have the intelligence to get out of the way.

Incoming westbound train, Millikan Way

Some people suggested putting up mirrors in areas where the view of a train might be obstructed. Those are already in place in a few areas of the alignment, such as the above picture taken at Millikan Way. However, similar to crossing gates, warning lights, and don’t walk signs, these won’t help you if you willfully ignore them.

Oh, and one more thing?

Among other things, reading was not this gentleman’s strong point

Yeah, riding your bicycle is not permitted on the train platforms in the first place. Had someone been doing code enforcement on that platform at that time, he could’ve been looking at a $175 citation (or more) before getting the chance to put himself – and others – in harm’s way.


11 responses to “One lucky cyclist. And by lucky, I mean an idiot.

  1. One of my favorite nights for pedestrian watching is the night they light the tree in Pioneer Square. It’s as if some people think that the overall hustle and bustle of nights like that makes following the rules of the road and getting out of the way of that 110-ton box of metal heading toward you less necessary for living to see tomorrow.

    These people are second only to the ones who think that a stroller with a child in it has the power to magically suspend the laws of physics to make trains and cars stop on a dime. I’ve seen that one more often than I can count when I’m downtown.

  2. It never ceases to amaze me at how cavalier people will be around trains or at intersections.

    As a pedestrian, I frequently encounter MAX trains at the gated crossing at Cedar Hills Blvd. between Millikan Way and Beaverton Central. I always stop behind the strips that say “STOP HERE” and stare DIRECTLY at the cab of the oncoming train so the operator knows that I see him coming. I do the same thing at platforms, especially in downtown Portland where people often cross streets on a whim.

    I do this because I figure the operator will feel at least somewhat more at ease knowing that I see the train coming. I figure any little thing I can do to reduce the stress of an already high-stress job must count for something.

    I also won’t cross until I can see far enough in the other direction to make sure that I won’t be hit by a train coming from the opposite direction.

    I was once riding near the cab on a type four heading westbound out of the Robertson tunnel that hit a deer. The thing I remember most was the sound the deer made as it passed under the train. It was extremely loud. So loud that my first thought was that a wheel had fallen off the train. I could also feel it bump and roll through the floor and hear it moving down the length of the train. The train did not slow down even a tiny bit after it hit the deer.

    It’s a 200 lb. bag of mostly water vs. 180,000 lbs. of steel multiplied by 10-55 MPH. Do the math people, the train will win every single time. You are not Superman, you are not more powerful than a locomotive. Don’t take risks with your life.

    Often, it’s not you who ends up paying a price for taking risks, as the three injured people on that train can attest. It was also traumatic enough being on that train knowing what happened to that deer. Imagine how it would feel if it were a person going under the train instead. I shudder at the thought.

    • I always stop behind the strips that say “STOP HERE” and stare DIRECTLY at the cab of the oncoming train so the operator knows that I see him coming. I do the same thing at platforms, especially in downtown Portland where people often cross streets on a whim.

      Which is appreciated, because any indication that a person is aware of the train and not likely to act unpredictably is nice to have.

      The train did not slow down even a tiny bit after it hit the deer.

      I don’t think I’d heard about that one. I hope the operator DID stop though, because striking anything is cause to stop the train!

      • The train stopped at Sunset TC and the operator exited the train and walked forward, presumably to inspect the front of the train. We stopped for about 10-20 seconds there before continuing on.

        My comment was meant to illustrate that even when an automobile strikes a deer, it will usually be knocked to one side and lose a lot of momentum because the mass of a car is relatively small. A 180,000 pound train striking a deer was like a human walking into the path of a house fly.

        I heard a lot of radio chatter in the cab after it happened and the operator may have reduced speed somewhat 5-10 seconds after the fact, I don’t remember exactly, but the initial impact had no effect on the speed of the train. I didn’t mean to suggest that the operator did anything wrong or was at fault in any way, only to illustrate the equation Force = Mass x Velocity.

        Sorry for any confusion.

        • Thanks for the clarification – and yes, you are right about the damage a train can do to an animal (or person, or car, etc). These things are heavy, and even at slow speeds can be deadly if people try to beat them.

  3. Even without the TriMet no bikes rule, the cyclist could also get cited for failure to obey a traffic control device, and driving on the sidewalk.

  4. For a myriad of reasons, many pedestrians seem intent on their own distruction by way of a MAX train. I started to notice a few months back, when I began taking the Cleveland-downtown grind on a daily basis. Im a father, but it doesn’t even take a parent’s protective instinct to go bonkers as you watch people’s small children (4,5,6??) run, basically unsupervised, up & down the length of a MAX platform. As the train approaches. Or people who run in front of a train just leaving the platform. It seems that a large amount of the general public has no clue how, that in a fraction of a second, things can go from routine to tragic. Its not worth the rushing to save mere seconds or the few seconds a parent has their eyes on a cell phone rather than their toddler. How many idiots with earbuds jammed in their idiot heads cant/dont hear a 55-ton MAX train comin their way. Hell, this actually DID happen once already! To a young, pretty, & probably intelligent girl with her entire life ahead of her – because of one poor choice. We are, in fact, only ONE bad decision from a similar fate when around a big, heavy train. Once, I set a nickel down on the top of the MAX rail at the Foster platform and waited for the next train to come by. I watched closely as the first car ran my nickel over, then the second car, then, just as the last wheel hit my nickel it picked it up and flung it up into the undercarriage, then back down onto the gravel around the rail ties. I went to fetch my nickel and found it shockingly flatter than I expected! It was smashed, with no mercy, into an almost paper-thin piece of metal, barely recognizeable as a piece of money…except for the distoted letters, almost ‘smeared’ across what was left of my poor nickel: “In God We Trust”.

    • I can’t condone putting coins, ballast, or ANYTHING on the rails… but yes. The trains aren’t a toy, they’re not soft, and though no operator WANTS to hit someone, physics will win out. A person can be killed by a train rolling at walking speed.

      • Though if you’re going to do that, at least put it on the platform-side rail in a station, so if it does go ballistic, it’s most likely to shoot into the stone face of the platform instead of at someone.

        • Yes, I know…it was a childish thing to do, & Im certainly not gonna do it again or encourage anybody else to do it. I absolutely did NOT intend any harm, and honestly, it was early and nobody else was on the platform with me, I was 100% positive it couldn’t causevany harm to train or human, and an old boyhood curiousity presented itself. My only point was to illustrate the immense power of these machines.

          • Heh, I’m not saying don’t do it…just make sure nobody’s going to get hit by it if you do it. :o)

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