Friday, May 06, 2011

Crazy Trains

I have no violent or vandalistic intentions whatsoever -- I feel compelled to start with a disclaimer, in contemporary America -- but if I wanted to derail a train I could do so in less than three hours, starting right now: ten minutes to steal steel from a construction site, five minutes to get to the active train tracks nearby, and another couple of hours to walk along the tracks until I'm deep in relatively isolated woods along various steep embankments, lay the steel along the track just so and wait for the passing train to derail itself.

I'm oversimplifying a tad -- in reality, a piece of steel heavy enough to derail a train would probably be too heavy for me to move without a hand truck -- but if I really were of a murderous mindset, I doubt I'd need long to think of something. I doubt anybody would, which is why I'm unimpressed by reports that Bin Laden's computer held word of a possible train-derailment plot on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

There's over 140,000 miles of standard-gauge train track in the USA (according to a quick Wiki search) and no way in hell anybody can watch it all. But we don't need to; for as long as railroads have existed, anyone with access to a big stone or metal bar, and the will to cause harm, could derail a train anytime they wished. And al-Qaeda's been reduced to train-derailment plots; i.e., the sort of stunts I personally could pull right now if I wanted to derail a train in lieu of finishing this post and going to bed. It is good that they finally got Bin Laden, but in the same way it's good when Germany still arrests the occasional incontinent ninety-something-year-old ex-concentration camp guard: yes, he's responsible for great evil and deserves to face consequences; yes, it's a travesty of justice that he remained free as long as he did; but no, we didn't make the world safer by taking him out of it.

The terror threat is the same as it's been since the aftermath of 9/11: negligible. The 9/11 attacks happened because terrorists exploited a loophole that will never be opened again, at least not while anyone who personally remembers that day is still alive. Ever since then, the only thing we've had to fear is fear itself -- and the nasty things fear is leading America into.


Blogger Windypundit said...

You say you probably couldn't carry something large enough to derail a train? That's no problem, just use something self-powered, like a friggin' dump truck. Steal a big heavy one full of gravel from a construction site, park it in front of an on coming train. Presto, derailed train.

If that's not certain enough for you, then look at the rail fastening system Wikipedia page and figure out what tools you'd need to loosen about a dozen of those and pry the rails out of alignment.

Or if that's too much trouble, there's actually a piece of railroad safety equipment called a derailer, and it does exactly what it sounds like it does. These are used all over the U.S. rail system to prevent cars on sidings from accidentally rolling out onto the main line. So unbolt one from a siding and re-install it on the main line. Or just steal a portable derailer from the railroad's maintenance department. Aldon makes one, and it works like this.

There are many thousands of railroad employees who know how this stuff works, some of whom already work in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, so as you say, it doesn't exactly take a terrorist mastermind.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Russ 2000 said...

I'd like to derail Amtrak myself. Not physically, just legislatively.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Charles Pergiel said...

You shouldn't give the security people any ideas.

10:53 PM  
Anonymous TedTheJackal said...

I think you underestimate the difficulty of derailing a train, though granted if all it took was pluck the train would fly right off the tracks for you. I expect you actually could derail a train, but I think you would need a full on google search or maybe exchange a few emails with Windypundit, who may warrant a few national security letters.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Abel said...

Well, Ted, I might have underestimated the difficult for someone like me, who enjoys long hikes in the woods but becomes completely lazy when facing the prospect of carrying or pulling heavy stuff while doing so. And train derailment is so easy, sometimes the trains derail themselves for no apparent reason at all, or because the cars didn't carry heavy enough loads -- derailments are not really all that rare, though they don't make headlines unless they're carrying hazardous materials or lots of passengers. Chuck Schumer is doing his best to lessen the probability of the latter.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous TedTheJackal said...

I feel like I'm treading a fine line here between positive reinforcement and felony, but I really think you could derail a train if you set your mind to it, though your claim of indolence as a principal inhibiting factor I think casts substantial doubt upon whether you have the requisite crazed fanaticism. Don't take that the wrong way.

6:36 PM  

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