It was almost 9 p.m. Monday when the A-Line commuter rail headed from Denver International Airport to Union Station came to an abrupt halt.
I was worn out from traveling. I’d caught a flight from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where I spent six days at home for Thanksgiving, and I was almost back in Denver. I was reading a book to pass the time when the light rail stopped without warning.
A man’s voice over the intercom informed us that someone who couldn’t make it inside the train before the doors closed had decided to jump in front of it in the hopes of catching a ride. The man on the intercom said that the commuter rail conductor was forced to pull the emergency brake.
I muttered something to myself and went back to reading. Then I looked up, and three rows ahead of me was the commuter rail’s security officer standing in front of a nervous-looking man in a ski cap. The security officer had identified the jittery man in the ski cap as the person who’d jumped in front of the train and snuck on. He yelled at the man in the ski cap. “DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH FORCE THIS THING GENERATES? IT COULD’VE SQUASHED YOU LIKE A BUG!” I believe his words were. The man in the ski cap said he was sorry about a half-dozen times.
As far as RTD spokesman Nate Currey knows, this was the first instance of someone standing in front of the commuter rail because he or she was late and didn’t want to wait for the next one. On Tuesday, Currey offered a little advice for anyone who might think that’s a viable strategy in the future: Don’t do it.
“You don’t want to mess with trains,” Currey said. “One train weighs 70 tons. And that’s just one of them. There are two trains hooked together. Total, that’s 140 tons. That versus an 180 pound man — it doesn’t work.”
As far as I know, the man in the ski cap didn’t face any legal consequences. The security officer chewed him out and embarrassed him in front of the other passengers, which, rightly so. He told the man in the ski cap he’d need to speak with the train’s conductor after they’d arrived at Union Station, so he could understand just how risky his maneuver was.
Currey said he didn’t know off the top of his head whether there are legal ramifications for doing such a thing. What he did know was it violated all the rules of common sense.
“It’s just the social contract you have with one another,” Currey said. “Just as you trust people when you’re driving not to run a red light, you expect people not to jump in front of the train when it’s moving.
“Don’t step in front of the train to stop it. With the inertia and mass of those trains, it’s really hard to stop that. If he had to throw the emergency brake, that’s a pretty serious situation.”
Common sense isn’t always common, I guess. So hopefully this serves as a reminder: If you’re late arriving to the train, don’t jump in front of it. Just wait for the next one; if you’re traveling to or from the airport, you only have to wait about 15 minutes.
“If things had gone wrong, that could’ve been on Dumb Ways to Die,” Currey said.