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Strangers on a Train

by E. Michael Jones

 

At 4:22 PM on September 12, 2008, a Metrolink passenger train ran a red light at the CP Topanga signal near the Chatsworth section of Los Angeles and plowed head on into a Union Pacific freight train, causing the deaths of the engineer and over 20 passengers. It was the nation’s deadliest train wreck in 15 years. The train wreck occurred on a curve just after the freight train had emerged from a tunnel, which meant that the engineers of the two respective trains had four seconds to react from the time the trains became visible to each other. During those four seconds the engineer of the freight train and his assistant applied the train’s emergency break and jumped from the train. Both men survived. During those four seconds, the engineer of the passenger train did nothing, allowing his train to plow into the freight train at over 40 miles per hour.

 

Within hours of the wreck, the spokesman for Metrolink blamed the crash on human error, and from that moment on the investigation focused on Robert Sanchez, the 46-year-old engineer of the Metrolink train, but the post-mortem following the crash soon became a hermeneutical battle, in which determinations about what could be said and what could not be said got made with little if anything to do with the canons of railroad safety.

 

Four days after the crash, California Senator Diane Feinstein delivered her verdict. The problem, according to Feinstein, was Sanchez’s work schedule, which made him work “an ‘untenable’ schedule of 11-hour days, five days a week in split shifts.” By the time hearings on the crash got held, people were lining up to make sure that this cloud had a silver lining for whichever group they represented.  Speaking at a United States Senate hearing on the crash, Metrolink Chairman Ron Roberts began his testimony by extending “sincerest regret for this situation” but then got down to the business at hand. “This collision is not just what the NTSB determines to be the cause,” Roberts hinted darkly. “It’s about our nation’s lack of investment in passenger rail as a whole.” Roberts, in other words, used the deaths of 25 people as an opportunity to ask for more money from the government. Labor wasn’t much better than management when it came to self-serving statements about the cause of the crash. Tim Smith, California Chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, saw the Senate hearing as a way of doubling the members of his union, claiming that “the deadly crash is a good reminder why railroad companies should always place two engineers aboard a train.” Those familiar with railroading have questioned Smith’s claim because experience has shown that when trains have two engineers they tend to distract each other with their talking.

 

By the time the Senate held its hearings, there was plenty of evidence about the crash concerning human error, the biography of the engineer, distraction, and a host of other details. The main issue was not gathering information. The main issue was determining which information could be deemed relevant according to the canons of acceptable discourse.

 

One of the first details to emerge in the aftermath of the crash was that Robert Sanchez was a homosexual, a detail which emerged from an AP story on his “troubled personal life” along with stories about traffic violations and larceny convictions. It seems that Sanchez’s “partner” had committed suicide in 2003 and Sanchez had received only three days off with pay to deal with the grieving process. Some observers wondered whether the wreck had been caused by aborted grieving resulting from too few paid grieving days. Some railroad workers complained that their employers allowed them three days off work but without pay.

 

Robert SanchezCarolann Peschell, the sister of Sanchez’s deceased “partner,” felt that Sanchez had murdered him, but she could never get anyone to take her claims seriously. Peschell described Sanchez as “very odd, very strange,” but the rest of the press accounts seemed determined to explain how normal he was once it became clear that he was a homosexual. One report described “the easy smile and kind eyes in the burly engineer's driver's-license photo.” Another report tried to generate sympathy for homosexuals by announcing that a lesbian officer on the Los Angeles Police Department had been among the victims of the crash which Sanchez had caused. Spree Desha, we read, “was a standout presence in the LAPD,” who “proudly wore her uniform on the train to reassure riders that they were under the watchful eye of the police.” Unfortunately, the train Ms. Desha had been riding on was under the watchful eye of a fellow homosexual, and it turns out that that eye had been blinded by passion. It was precisely that blindness which was the cause of her death. If Ms. Desha had been asked before she stepped onto the last train ride of her life if the engineer’s sexual orientation had anything to do with his job performance, one can imagine the answer.  

 

The workplace ramifications of this moral fact quickly got medicalized and absorbed into discourse acceptable to the therapeutic state. As some indication that Metrolink’s criteria for employee evaluation were equally out of sync with reality Sanchez’s employer praised his job performance a little over a week before he caused the deaths of over 30 people by his negligence. In a letter they sent to him on September 3, Metrolink told Sanchez that he would be receiving an employee incentive award bonus check because they had ascertained that  “The measurements to receive your award include safety and rules compliance, exemplary attendance and other performance factors that contribute to the success of your operation.”

 

Anyone who felt that Sanchez’s homosexuality had something to do with the crash got shouted down. It was clear that only a bigot would make statements like that. That became obvious when the fact was broached on an Internet forum for railroad workers.  The person who raised the homosexual issue was subjected to long and labored explanations of the sort intended for idiot children from the folks who would be the first to die if the nation’s railroads continued blindly hiring homosexuals to drive their trains.

 

On September 30, 2008, RRTom entered the discussion at Trainorders.com by asking a question: “Are they saying Sanchez was a homosexual?” The immediate response seemed like relief that someone had finally stated the obvious.

 

The first response was: “Word’s been out on that for a while.” Then PumpkinHogger joined in by complaining that at work “we have to dance around all that and ignore it or be held to the fire by diversity policies.” The railroad version of political correctness in the workplace “fully muzzles and makes un-PC any spoken thought about anyone. … Sanchez’s co-workers may not have known his preferences were different from theirs. Nobody cares if someone is Catholic, that makes for a different lifestyle if a strict adherent, but gay just flips people out.”

 

But then political correctness kicked in and the focus of the discussion shifted from wondering whether the engineer’s homosexuality had anything to do with the wreck to wondering why someone would raise the issue in the first place. According to FJC, “People who work in the world of railroading are part of a big melting pot of differing ethnicities, religions, sexual preferences and personalities. I never try to judge a book by it’s [sic] cover.”

 

RRTom, however, remained unconvinced. His question: “Are they saying Sanchez was a homosexual?” prompted Pecosvalleychief to respond: “I was actually pleasantly surprised that no one directly reported this. Sure it was implied by the story of his ‘partner,’ but I never saw an actual statement that he was gay. I was kinda [sic] expecting the headline, ‘Metrolink Engineer a Sexual Deviant’ or some such crap. Maybe there is some hope.” Saying that the engineer’s homosexuality contributed to the the crash is something “You’d never see . . . in the ‘mainstream’ media. Maybe on the 700 Club or an anti-gay mouthpiece rag, but not in a metro newspaper.”

 

One railroader opined that he knew many homosexuals and that they were “like any other group,” which is to say “there are nice people and there are jerks.” Then, as if to sum everything up for the likes of RRTom, he added, “I don’t care if a guy at work is black white red or purple with green polka dots so long as he does his job in a professional and respectful manner.” To which RRTom replied:  “It doesn’t sound like Sanchez was doing his job in a professional and respectful manner.” And that response in turn generated more vituperation and more lectures about the virtue of tolerance.

 

 “I don’t know why his homosexuality was brought up,” Calhog opined. “He apparently was an excellent engineer, who for whatever reason, made the worst mistake an engineer can make. His sexuality had nothing to do with it.”  To which Crosstie-Walker responded, “Well stated.” Crosstie-Walker’s opinion was seconded by Benthere, who claimed that “Being gay has nothing more to do with being an engineer and railfan as [sic] being Catholic or heterosexual.” And he, in turn was seconded by another railroad worker who felt that “How an adult American citizen lives his/her private life with another adult American citizen is of no concern. We don’t hear about straight employees of company XYZ who liked whatever.”

 

Then the fact that Sanchez was a compulsive text-messenger came out. On his next to last shift on September 12, a shift which lasted a little over two hours, Sanchez either sent or received a total of 45 text messages while driving a Metrolink passenger train. In his last shift, which began at 3:03 PM and ended with his death 79 minutes later, Sanchez had either sent or received 12 text messages. Sanchez sent his last message 20 seconds before he died. Sending a text message, we need to remember, involves looking at the cell phone’s small screen and keyboard and typing in a message. Unlike talking on a cell phone, which can be distracting while driving, texting must be distracting because it involves directing the driver’s eyes away from the road in front of him.

 

On October 1, 2008, the railroad workers began to discuss Sanchez’s penchant for “texting.” The bloggers at trainorders.com found this fact a little more difficult to dismiss, probably because compulsive texters don’t have a lobbying group which defends their compulsion. Smitty195 felt that Sanchez’s behavior “while operating a train with hundreds of passengers on-board” was “irresponsible and unsafe.” Texting while driving a train “is about as irresponsible as someone in that position can get.” Checkmate concurred: 

 

“Let’s do the math. 43 mph is 61.6 feet per second. Multiply that by 22 and you have him sending the text 1355 ft before impact. What was the official distance given from CP Topanga to the crash site? [I went] On Google Earth and came up with about 2100 ft. If all this is correct, he sent the message after blowing the signal.” Which is to say, the red signal ordering him to stop went by unnoticed because Robert Sanchez was deeply involved in texting.

 

Outrage against engineers who text while driving trains was more acceptable, but in expressing that outrage, the railroaders once again went out of their way to say that this compulsive texting had nothing to do with Sanchez’s “orientation,” or as TomPlatten put it:

 

If it, in fact, is true that he was “texting” 22 seconds before the crash—regardless of his “orientation,” he was clearly inattentive to his task, and was, therefore, responsible for the deaths of 24 people. Nothing can change that now! It is sad that he lost his own life, but if he had been doing his job properly, he would be alive today and so would the other folks who died! It is time to call a spade a spade.

 

Well, it depends on what you mean by spade here. Robert Sanchez, it turns out, wasn’t “‘texting’ 22 seconds before the crash—regardless of his ‘orientation.’” He was texting 22 seconds before the crash because of his orientation. Sanchez, it turns out, “was something of a celebrity . . . among young train fans,” which was the main-stream media’s way of saying that he was in the habit of communicating with teen-age boys while he was running his train. It turns out that there was a link between Sanchez’s compulsive texting and his sexual compulsions after all, even if everyone from the main-stream media to the mainstream railroad establishment was determined to ignore it. Sanchez called these boys “his teenage train buffs,” according to his next-door neighbor Bud Amelsberg. “They would all yell at him as he rolled by.” And instead of ignoring them and keeping his eyes on the track in front of him, Sanchez would try to contact his fans and arrange to meet them. The last message Sanchez ever texted, the one he sent 20 seconds before his death, “apparently told the teen and his friends where Sanchez would be meeting another passenger train,” according to KCAL 9 and CBS 2 reporter Kristine Lazar. Or is this just another way of saying that Sanchez last act before he died was arranging a meeting with a 14-year old boy, a meeting so important to him that he was willing to risk the lives of hundreds of people to arrange it.

 

Once again this fact took a back seat to other more important considerations, like discrimination against homosexuals. Cumbresfan, another railroading blogger, wrote: “I’m dealing with one [knee jerk nut] on another forum that believes that the engineer’s homosexuality was the direct cause of the wreck, that he was a pedophile and his texting was to young men for obvious reasons. He said if it was a priest it wouldn’t be covered up. I told him goodbye. I’m not going to argue with such a closed mind.”

 

In the American empire we can only offer technological solutions to moral problems, largely because we have acquired the unfortunate habit of redefining moral problems like homosexuality out of existence. The archetypal moment in this regard came in the early ‘70s when homosexuality was stricken from the DSM’s list of disorders.  The only moral that the trainbloggers could draw from the Metrolink wreck was “respect the train” or as NJTMatt put it, “The solution is never to get comfortable and always respect the train. Texting while running is not having respect for the train. . . . based on what the NTSB has found this engineer seemed to have a habit of texting while on duty.”

 

As the details gradually emerged from the press accounts, the story of what actually happened began to take shape in spite of virtually everyone’s determination to force it onto the procrustian bed of allowable discourse. The engineer who was the cause of the fatal trainwreck was a homosexual who was in the habit of compulsively texting teenage boys while at the controls of passenger trains where the lives of hundreds of people were literally in his hands. Concern for those lives finished a distant second to Sanchez’s sexual compulsions.

 

Aquinas articulated the moral consensus among the ancients, both Christian and pagan, when he opined that lust makes you blind.  Would Metrolink consider hiring an engineer who was blind? Probably not. Why then do they insist on hiring someone who, because of the fact that he is a homosexual, is blinded by lust? When we say blind we mean that in the most literal sense of the word, i.e., incapable of seeing a red light, in fact a large red light, prominently displayed as a warning not to proceed, as it was at the CP Topanga signal.

 

As a cultural mile marker which can indicate how far we have fallen over the course of my lifetime, I recommend Alfred Hitchcock’s Hollywood movie Strangers on a Train. The main character in the film is a tennis star who meets a homosexual deviant on a train by chance. The homosexual then proposes dual murders: he will kill the tennis star’s promiscuous wife if the tennis star agrees to kill his overbearing father. Hitchcock portrays the homosexual as a decadent member of the upper class because as of 1950, when the film was made, working men were family men. This is another way of saying that during the 1950s America came closer to implementing the family wage, i.e., a man earning enough to support a wife and children, than at any other time in its entire history. Railroads didn’t (knowingly at least) hire homosexuals because for the most part union jobs went to the heads of families. The family wage had many benefits, but one was keeping homosexuals out of the engineer’s cab on trains and confined to places like Bohemia, where the damage they could inflict on decent people was negligible.

 

There are other lessons we can draw from the blogging railroaders’ inept attempts to understand the cause of the Metrolink train wreck, and most of them have to do with the state of contemporary discourse. If anything, their interest in this question is more immediate than that of the average American. If the nation’s railroads continue to hire lust-blinded engineers, they are much more likely to die as a result than the rest of us. And yet the blogging railroaders were so tyrannized by the conventional narrative, they seemed more likely to drive their trains over a cliff or head on into each other before they would give up their attitudes toward homosexuality.

 

In this they are remarkably similar to their traditional enemies, the nation’s automakers, who are fighting for their survival by aiming all of their weapons at their own heads. After arriving in Washington to ask for bail-out money, they seemed incapable of articulating the main reason they deserve to be bailed out, namely, because they are the last bastion of high wages in American industry. As a result their enemies, i.e. the Wall Street financiers, got to articulate the case against them with the help of other members of their ethnic group, i.e., the ones who control the media in this country.  As Charles Krauthammer, one of their spokesmen put it, the real issue here is wages. The financiers and the media moguls want to force the auto industry into bankruptcy because, as Krauthammer wrote,

 

Saving Detroit means saving it from bankruptcy. As we have seen with the airlines, bankruptcy can allow operations to continue while helping shed fatally unsupportable obligations. For Detroit this means release from ruinous wage deals with their astronomical benefits (the hourly cost of a Big Three worker: $73; of an American worker for Toyota $48), massive pension obligations and unworkable work rules such as “job banks,” a euphemism for paying vast numbers of employees not to work.

 

What Charles Krauthammer forgot to tell us is that $350 billion dollars of the government’s bailout money had already been dispersed to the “massive pension obligations” of firms like AIG. The only difference is that the money at AIG’s pension fund gets divided up between hundreds and not hundreds of thousands of pensioners.

 

The Big Three should have no illusions about who calls the shots in this country. It’s no longer 1954 when what was good for General Motors is what was good for the country. It is now 2008 and under the new dispensation what is good for Wall Street is what is good for the country.

 

The big three automakers looked like deer caught in the headlights of one of their own cars when the mainstream media convicted them of flying to Washington in private jets. They were blinded in their way as well, if not by greed then by an inability to see that they were adopting the commands of their enemies and had been doing so for decades. Henry Ford, I suspect, would have been able to read the writing on the wall. When he was on his death bed, he was asked by a reporter what he thought of the Ford Motor Company going public, i.e, falling into the hands of Wall Street. His answer was clear enough. He raised himself up on one elbow and, wagging his finger at the reporter, said that he’d tear his company down brick by brick before he would let it fall into the hands of the Jews.

 

Charles Krauthammer and the people whose interests he represents have long memories. Now they are within striking distance of achieving two goals which have always been close to their hearts: punishing Henry Ford and destroying the last vestiges of union power in America. Another member of the same sect, Alan Greenspan, bragged about how during his tenure as head of the Federal Reserve System one of his main goals was keeping labor in line. His actual phrase was “off balance.” The goal of both men and the interests they serve is a world in which the goyim all work for firms like Wal-Mart and earn slave wages, which they can then be convinced to spend on flat-screen TVs, which enslave them still further. Wall Street wants Detroit to die, so that they can pick up the pieces at fire sale prices and then reconstitute the auto industry along lines they find congenial, which is to say, with workers getting paid $5 per hour with no benefits.

 

As some premonition of his death, Robert Sanchez asked that his ashes be scattered on the railroad tracks. If Detroit doesn’t awake from its own dogmatic slumbers and discover what’s in store for them a few miles down the tracks, they should imitate Robert Sanchez and ask to have their ashes scattered over the Interstate Highway System.CW


E. Michael Jones is editor of Culture Wars.


This article was published in the January 2009 issue of Culture Wars.


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