Train crew rattled after emergency stop for man on tracks
He jumps away at last second
Walter Nutter knows what it feels like to be powerless, watching his train barrel down on a person standing on the tracks.
A 39-year-veteran engineer on commuter rail lines, Nutter has been at the controls of a train four times when a person, usually bent on suicide, was struck and killed. One of those occurred just last year.
While passengers feel the train brake suddenly and other crew members on board can walk away, Nutter and other engineers have to stand at the front of the train for the horrible outcome.
“I do turn my eyes away,’’ Nutter said, “but you hear it. That’s pretty tough.’’
On Friday, Nutter came moments away from striking a fifth person.
Nutter and conductor Stacy Neville were in the control car of an inbound train from T.F. Green Airport in Rhode Island to Boston at about 10:45 a.m. As the train approached Readville Station in Hyde Park, Nutter noticed a man standing about a quarter-mile away on the track.
The train was traveling at 70 miles per hour, he said.
“The next thing you know, the guy stood in the middle of the track and raised his hands in the air as if to say, ‘Go ahead and hit me,’ ’’ Neville said. “Walter was blowing the horn, and he put the train into emergency, but it doesn’t stop on a dime.’’
At the last second, the man jumped out of the way. The train came to a stop a short distance beyond where he had been standing.
An engineer at the station who saw the train slide into the emergency stop rushed over to check the man. Boston police and Emergency Medical Services responded. The man, whose name was not released, was taken to Faulkner Hospital for evaluation.
The incident left the crew rattled.
“It was very scary,’’ Neville said. “I looked away as soon as I saw his hands go up. I left the cab and was just bracing myself, because I didn’t think he was going to get out of the way.’’
For Nutter, it was an all-too-familiar sight.
“The near-incidents are almost as bad,’’ he said. “The buildup of adrenaline and anxiety doesn’t go away right away. I’ve thought about it a lot. It wasn’t as bad as the last one.’’
Nutter was controlling a train at the West Newton station last year when an elderly man stepped off the platform as the train approached. In such circumstances, the braking system typically cannot stop a train in time to avoid striking a person standing in its way.
Neville has never been working on a train when it has struck a person.
Nutter estimates that the average crew member goes through it two or three times over a career. The MBTA and Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co. have sponsored various programs to discourage trespassing on railroad property and suicide by train.
“You just have to think about it,’’ Neville said. “It’s not just you. You have so many other people affected by this, especially the engineer, because he’s up there. It’s awful. Just talking about it, I get goose bumps.’’