Horror on the Tracks

It’s gradually occurred to me that the derailment of the Amtrak Northeast Regional train in Philadelphia last night is not only a human tragedy of considerable dimensions (at the moment the death toll is six, with more than 140 people in hospitals), but a source of considerable trauma to the many Washingtonians who regularly take Amtrak to go north or south. I used to take this same train a lot, though usually from Fredericksburg to Union Station and back.

I’m sure many volumes have been written that I’ll never read about the particular grip train travel has on the modern imagination. But underlying all the gritty drama of high precision speed and landscapes passing much more intimately than can be experienced from an airplane is that fear of the rare but traumatic event that has made “train wreck” and “running off the rails” powerful metaphors for all kinds of chaos.

Prayers for those who died or are injuried, and for their families and other loved ones. Here’s Johnny Cash performing one of many songs inspired by such events, “The Wreck of the Old 97.”

UPDATE: New York Times reminds us the same stretch of track is where a derailment on the Labor Day weekend in 1943 killed more than 50 passengers.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.