On the Ground Next to the Nimitz Freeway

This Tim Zukas image of a rarely photographed spot - at 16th Avenue, geographically south of East Oakland Yard - comes with a story.

Here we see the the south/eastbound Coast Starlight gliding past Hanlon siding (the vacant track in the foreground) without incident in about 1972. Hanlon Siding dated to San Francisco & Alameda Railroad of the pre CP 1860's, BTW.

One warm summer day a few years later, my Pool 4 (Oakland-Watsonville) freight train stood at the same spot, while we picked up a car of flamable compressed gas off the siding. Proper placement in the train dictated that we must reach into the siding with the first dozen or so cars. I dutifully made the cut; pulled up past and lined the main line switch of the crossover into the siding that shows at the far end of the line of bushes. At the same time, the rear brakeman hopped off to line the inside crossover switch and make the joint on the car. Seeing that the enginner's view of the rear brakeman would be obscured, I walked up towards the engine to pass signs, and then sent the cut back towards the joint.

After attending to hand brakes, the rear brakeman then gave a go-ahead, which I relayed to the engineer. As soon as we moved, I saw a puff of dust - always a bad sign - and instinctively gave the engineer a washout. As it turned out, the rear brakeman had forgotten to line the inside crossover switch, causing the car to derail on the run-through switch pints...next to the Nimitz Freeway...at the height of rush hour.

Normally, the company radio is jammed with traffic that time of day, but when the engineer put out a "mayday", it went totally silent for an extended period. A local news outfit was monitoring it, however, and reporters arrived long before any SP officials, who appeared only after the authorities had closed down the Nimitz...at the height of rush hour.

The rear brakeman took the fall, but in all honesty, the cocked switch target on the run-through switch was clearly in my sight, and I had failed to notice it. I was nearly as culpable for the incident as the other guy, but I had the perfect alabi, since I could honestly say that I was far removed from the switch. Such was railroading back then.