Sunday, November 29, 2015

Suicide Train

Teens train accident ruled a suicide

Suicide Train


**CORRECTED March 2, 2010: The train pictured is not an Acela Express. Full correction here.

The coroner today ruled the deaths of two Interboro HS sophomore girls struck and killed by a high-speed Amtrak train in Delaware County on Thursday were suicides.

Of course my heart goes out the the families of the girls. I also think of their classmate who stood with them on the platform but changed her mind in the moments before they stepped onto the tracks and died. And then, as I read today's story, I worry about the mental health of the train's conductor and engineer. Acela Express trains are permitted to go 110 mph through the area. Once the emergency brake is applied it takes the train the length of three football fields to stop.

I was photographing on the scene at the Norwood station exactly 24 hours after the accident. While we'd heard the rumors about a suicide pact, as I stood on the very same platform as the very same number 2151 Acela Express Boston to Washington train whooshed past me, I could only think how fast, and silent it was.

The snow on the rail bed swirled up in a huge cloud as it passed. Inquirer writer Tom Infield remarked on how it looked like a scene from the Polar Express.

Now, a day later, I recall how I was also thinking "1/125th or a sixtieth of a second," as I wondered what shutter speed would give my photo the right amount of blur as one of the same southbound Acelas passes through the station.

I had checked the Acela timetable and returned - twice - to the station to photograph the southbound trains as they passed, since I'd only get one shot at it. They really do pass by in a blur. As a journalist covering the aftermath of tragic event, you always wonder what those involved must have been thinking. Twenty hours earlier, one of the girls had texted: "Hurry up, the train is coming. We missed the first one."

Like a lot of newspaper photographers around the country, I have received letters over the years when I've shot a feature photo showing people walking along rail road tracks. Both regular readers and rail transportation organizations point out in letters to the editor how dangerous the practice is. While I don't believe a newspaper photo can encourage people to mimic behavior, I did decide years ago to stop taking pictures of it.

The Federal Railroad Administration reports that trains kill about 500 pedestrians a year in the United States.

Inquirer Staff Photographer
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About this blog

Tom Gralish is a general assignment photographer at The Inquirer, concentrating on local news and self-generated feature photos.

He has been at the paper since 1983, photographing everything from revolution in the Philippines to George W. Bush’s road to the White House to homeless people living on the street right outside his newspaper's front door. For his photo essay on Philadelphia’s homeless, he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

His weekly newspaper column, "Scene Through the Lens," takes a look at Philadelphia's urban landscape.

Gralish, along with Inquirer colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Vitez, spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories and photos of "Rocky runners" who come from all over the world to climb the steps - just as Sylvester Stallone did in the Academy Award winning film, Rocky. Their book, Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, was published in November 2006.

Reach Tom at

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
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