Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Road to Disaster

The last time I took the train was just two days ago. Usually I take two trains to my friend’s house and back: one between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the other between Tel Aviv and the north. But this time the cab I had called was late and I missed the connection to Jerusalem, so I ended up taking the bus home from Tel Aviv.

I dozed off in my seat only to be awakened by an abrupt swerve. We had almost hit the guardrail. So much for dozing on this trip, I thought. I fought the urge to ask the driver how many hours he had been driving and whether he had had any sleep within the past twenty-four hours.

Since bus and truck drivers in Israel earn very low salaries, many of them moonlight. Of course, the trouble with that is that they go without sleep for long periods of time, putting their passengers’ lives at risk. I still remember how, in 1991, two sisters were killed when the driver of their cab fell asleep at the wheel. The young women were the only children of their parents. Unfortunately, no lessons were learned, or at least not for very long. The problem is still very much with us, as we found out today.

At least seven people were killed and 189 injured this afternoon when a truck crashed into a Haifa–Beersheva train in the northern Negev. The truck driver had been driving for thirty hours, and his company was already under investigation for making its drivers work more than the required limit:

According to ZAKA, the driver of the truck had been working for over 30 hours at the time of the collision. The trucking company which employed him was already under criminal investigation for having its drivers work for 30 to 40 consecutive hours, Channel 1 noted. The investigation was opened some two months ago.

Two months ago?! Why was this company still allowed to put drivers on the road?

I find myself wondering: did the conductor survive? Is he all right? Which conductor was he? (I ride the trains so often that I already know several of the conductors.) Was he the one who, last April, made the first run from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem since the line had been shut down approximately eight years before? (He was the one who opened the doors of the engineering compartment so that the media and interested passengers could watch the maiden voyage from up close.) Or was he the man who joked with me as we pulled into Beit Shemesh? Or the young man, clearly a new immigrant, who had such a masterful touch on the controls that we barely felt the train decelerate as we pulled into the Malha station?

Seven people were killed today in a needless train crash as they went about their business. That’s seven lives gone, seven families grieved beyond bearing, seven futures that no one will ever see or enjoy—and all because the director of a truck company wanted a bit more profit.

Sweet dreams, Mr. General Manager.


UPDATE: The death toll is now up to eight. Both the truck driver and the train driver were killed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. If you're a spammer, don't waste your keystrokes. If you're a real, honest-to-goodness commenter, welcome!