• Jenny DeHuff

My Jarring Juxtaposition to a Recent Amtrak-related Death in Washington D.C.


This story is one that starts as a joy ride but ends in gloom – or vice versa – once you understand the details.

My trip to Rhode Island was planned strategically: Travel by train rather than by car so that I could use the hours on the rail to work. The cost-benefit analysis proved the same once I weighed the expense on tolls, gas and train ticket. It pretty much equaled out.

So, I headed off last week to Narragansett, where I joined my roommate from college to celebrate her birthday. As I arrived at the Trenton Amtrak station, thinking I would barely make my train because I got lost finding it, I was shocked to learn my train was an hour and a half late. The one transit officer on duty had no idea why.

All seating areas at Trenton Transit Center are blocked off due to Covid-19, so I was relegated to stand with my luggage or sit on the tile floor. None of the purveyors within the two-level facility: (Dunkin Donuts, Auntie Anne’s, McDonald’s, the Pizza Grill, a bank branch, a newsstand or any of the snack kiosks) were open.

Growing hungry, thirsty and beyond frustrated – still not knowing the reason for the unusually long delay – nor anyone else, I waited. And waited. I was alerted to two more delays. Hours passed. My train was scheduled to depart at 4:20 p.m. Time passes like molasses when there is nothing to do in a barren train station and nowhere to go but stand or sit on the floor, masked.

When my train finally arrived just before 7 p.m., I learned the reason for its delay was because a man back in Washington, D.C. had jumped in front of an adjacent train, resulting in his death.

When I asked Amtrak about the incident, Jason Abrams, a public relations manager for Amtrak based out of New York, wrote to me in an e-mail:

“At approximately 12:40 p.m. [Tuesday], Amtrak Northeast Regional Train 176 came into contact with a person trespassing on the railroad between Washington, D.C. and New Carrolton, Maryland. There were no injuries to the 105 Amtrak customers or any crew members. Passengers will be transferred to another train. The incident is currently under investigation.”

As I boarded my train, masked and exasperated, I asked a friendly-looking passenger – a woman – if she knew the café car was open. She said yes!

“Thank God!” I said, “Because I could really use a drink. And some food.”

“Do you know what happened?” she said.

“No?!”

The woman, who declined to be identified, said that back in D.C., our train had been stopped for a long time because it had to accept passengers from Train 176.

She told me she saw a “mangled body” on the ground when they we stuck in D.C. for a long while. This was the man who “threw himself” in front of the train or was otherwise attempting to scale the tracks, she told me.

By the time Amtrak had picked me up in Trenton, this woman had appeared to compose herself, but not everyone on the train was so easygoing. Some were solemn, quiet, and many other witnesses had already gotten off at previous stops.

Amtrak says it has a police department and a partnership with Operation Lifesaver, a national, non-profit safety railroad education group whose goal is to eliminate deaths and injuries at railroad crossings and along railroad rights of way.

Abrams wrote that a significant percentage of trespassing incidents are suicides and Amtrak works to reduce these tragic occurrences every day. It offers suicide prevention helpline support and signage is posted on platforms and stations nationwide.

This Sunday, Sept. 6, marks the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week in the U.S. There are life lines out there for those who need help and guidance.

As of this writing, there are no further details as to whether the unidentified man committed suicide or was just being a daredevil on train tracks.

All that said, I’m grateful my time in Rhode Island was wonderful. My trip home on Amtrak was safe and uneventful. And remember that before you go bitching about an inconvenience in travel plans or any others, there may be a bigger picture behind it.

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