When the freight train struck your garbage truck, it crumpled and exploded; sheets of plate steel popped flimsily off the vehicle; and a projectile vomit of household waste spread a hundred metres down the track.
You wonder what you might have done differently, what might you have changed in order to save two men’s lives. Nothing, really. Well, perhaps you might have taken that day off work. Then the truck wouldn’t have gotten stuck on the rails.
You had considered calling in sick. You’d been out late the night before; you’d had a few drinks. Still, you weren’t the kind of guy to let people down. The show must go on, even when you weren’t feeling great.
You’d had two beers in the bar and two beers over dinner, that was it. Actually no, that wasn’t it. To be sure, you’d had a few beers in the bar, but just one bottle of beer in the restaurant. But when the buzz wore off the next morning at work, probably around eleven o’clock, you remembered that you’d ended up somewhere after the restaurant. You’d searched your memory for the name of the night club; it wasn’t coming back to you. There was a Brazilian woman behind the bar, what was her name? She had called last orders for the night.
You got up early – no problem – had a shower, coffee, breakfast and a walk. You were fine. If you hadn’t been, you’d have called in sick. But you were fine. Driving the truck is a skilled job, but you’d been doing it for twenty years. Most of the time you’re crawling along, barely moving. It’s only tricky if you have to squeeze past double-parked cars.
At around ten-thirty in the morning, you were turning out of a narrow street onto a wider road and one of the back wheels mounted the kerb. Lenny said “woah!” with a big, surprised face, because you’re not the kind of driver who mounts kerbs.
By early afternoon you figured the alcohol must have left your system. It had been twelve hours and you felt so lousy that you figure that you were now hungover, not drunk. Not that you were ever drunk. But Christ, who had ordered rounds of whiskey? That’s just a good night gone wrong, totally unnecessary.
The safety barriers for the train track were raised, until you were halfway across the track, then the barrier slammed down in front of you. You couldn’t reverse because there was a car behind you. Then, while you were figuring out what to do, the barrier behind you slammed down and then – and only then - the alarm bells started dinging; only then the lights started flashing.
Both Lennie and Al were looking worried, but they didn’t pile out of the truck to safety, because you told them that everything was under control. You started to angle the truck in the narrow space, to work your way around the boom without breaking it. The challenge was to angle around the boom without ripping down the signal pole and the wires that hung loosely from it.
Then the train was just there. Out of nowhere.
Lenny died instantly, you’re told. Al died around nine hours later, he’d been flung out of the truck, his head hit a concrete post hard. You’re relatively OK, they tell you you’ll be able to walk again before they release you from the hospital.
They’re putting it down to “systems failure,” the barriers slammed down without warning; the barriers didn’t come down soon enough for a freight train travelling at that speed. There’s a guy from OSHA who wanted to talk to you, but they got you a lawyer and you’re in the clear, because they didn’t take any bloods from you, not that bloods would show anything, because you were fine. The OSHA guys is focused on CCTV footage from the front of the train, which shows you trying to angle around the barrier. What did he expect you to do? Just sit there?
Friends visit and ask you, is there anything you would have done different? You say nah, nothing, nothing you would or could have done differently. For most stuff – the late night, the barriers, angling the truck, telling Lennie and Al to stay in the cab – you probably wouldn’t do it any different.
But there is one thing. When your tyre went up on that kerb, you knew that you weren’t fit to drive that day. That’s all the evidence you need. That’s the truth that keeps you awake at night.