One dead, one critical: And it could have been prevented

One college freshman is dead, and another one lies critically injured after a train roared over the trestle on which they were stargazing. As officials wring their hands over the November 17 death of 18-year-old Liberty University student Hannah Emmaline Williams and rightly point out that the public has no business on the private property of railroads, youth remain eternally curious, so it's unfortunate that few realize there is a way to survive an encounter with a train. As this reporter wrote nine years ago, "Lie down: Expert reluctantly offers safety tip," it can be as simple as letting the train thunder over you.

"It's not a sure-fire way to avoid getting killed," cautioned the Roanoke-based safety expert for Norfolk Southern, "but we have had individuals who laid flat and survived."

In Charlottesville, over Moore's Creek in the Woolen Mills neighborhood, there's a well-travelled railroad bridge which features a pedestrian walkway running the length of the elevated span. However, the Lynchburg bridge might not have been so well-equipped. If it were equipped with safety pods or walkways, they're not obvious in a satellite photo of the structure which stands nearly 200 feet above the James River.

–final two paragraphs added 11:29am, Tuesday, November 22.

Read more on: train tracks


If you're lucky and nothing is hanging down from the train, says safety expert Gilbert. . One more tip --lose weight; thin people stand a better chance of surviving.

Very sad !

Lose weight really Nancy?

Getting run over by a train usually involves losing a few limbs. I have seen drunks passed out on the tracks, emerge untouched though.

@hookreader see link above " Danny Gilbert advises lying very low between the rails.

"It's not a sure-fire way to avoid getting killed," cautions Gilbert, the Roanoke-based safety expert for Norfolk Southern, "but we have had individuals who laid flat and survived."

That's what he'd do if he was caught high on a trestle facing a looming train. "But I could be killed if something drags and catches me," he says. Air hoses, for instance. They connect all the cars and routinely hang mere inches above the rails. A thin person, Gilbert says, stands a better chance of avoiding death or injury from an air hose.

Sad, and unnecessary to add that "it can be as simple as letting the train thunder over you" hopefully no person reads this goes out and tries it to get a rush and is killed by this extra comment.

The students were feeling good last night. And back and forth across the train tracks at 15th Street and the tracks at the end of Elliewood Avenue they go all night long. And in complete contrast to the stepped up enforcement not long ago, the police pass right by them without saying a word to them. It's just a matter of time before.......

Icarus learned the hard way also.

I have a brother-in-law who works on a railway. The paperwork is hideous. The nightmares are hideous. He's had amputees and decapications.

A few weeks ago, I yelled at a few people going under, over, through a stopped train. They thought I was insane; off the rails, so to speak. One asked how to get around the train: I told them. One listened: I was grateful.

Stupid chances are stupid. Some number of railroad employees are haunted today.

Just don't put yourself in a position where lying down and being skinny might save your life. Surely that's a simple imperative.

How could you people be so insensative? Hannah Williams grew up in church, went to a christian school her ENTIRE life & had started her freshman year at Liberty University a CHRISTIAN institution. There was a meteor shower the night her & her friends went on the train tressle to look at it, because it was up very high and it was a better view. Hannah was always down for something new and something exciting to do. she was a risk taker. She was an angel on earth. @NancyDrew Hannah was VERY thin and healthy, she played sports her whole life. What a cruel thing to say. Is this all you people have to do with your lives? Mock & ridicule and make fun of articles on the internet about young, intelligent believers in christ? Oh, I bet you are doing these things because Hannah was a follower of Jesus and you probably hate christians. How dare you.

I don't hate christians at all, I piety them.

"I don't hate christians at all, I piety them.", So, you have a religious devotion to them. Interesting.

Closer to home, the CSX trestle over Moore's Creek is a disaster waiting to happen. The wooden parts are in bad shape and there's no place to go but straight down if a train comes. The tracks and trestle get an endless stream of kids, homeless people, and the merely curious, most headed to the old building to party. They've completely tagged the place and thrown trash everywhere. It's a pity that the property owner encourages this.

@lots of stuff - LOL

@OliviaDale - Nobody said a single word - either in the article or in the comments - about this young woman's religious beliefs or her weight. For the most part, they mocked the advice given for surviving.

But, as my mother used to say to me, "if you're gonna keep crying, I'll give you something to really cry about": So, what's up with sky-daddy letting this devout angel-on-earth get chiffonaded (big word, I know, google it) by the choo-choo? Why not some of those evil public-school, secular university kids? I know, 'it's a mystery' we dare not question.

@OliviaDale I am very sad for your loss.

The comment I made was taken from the statement of the Roanoke safety expert for Northern Southern. The value of this article is to hopefully prevent future tragedies of this nature. Unfortunately, the information provided above was of no help to these young people, but, may give pause to others in the future.

Having the presence of mind to lie down as a train thundered overhead would be an act of courage most people I know would not be capable of, even knowing it may save their lives. Jumping out of the way - no matter how far down, would be anyone's normal instinct.

If this skinny theory holds any weight, that is another good reason for our over-reaching government to force tofu in school cafeterias and Libs like Bloomberg (and like believing progressives around the nation) to start regulating how kids eat and exercise.

I reckon areas like the Sudan see very low rates of train fatalities.

Not enough details - but I have to wonder if this was actually a suicide? Why would people be lying on the tracks when I train is approaching? It just doesn't make sense.

@dolce, I'd kill myself if I had to go to Liberty University, too.

@dolce, if you read the article linked above the circumstances are fully explained - not intentional, but kids being kids, and not unlike risk taking adults.

Yup, going to Liberty would make me walk right into the path of a train as well. No wonder.

Interesting that this thread only got anti-Christian after we were told we already were.

Self-fulfilling profecy, anyone.

"Williams' death was the latest of several that have occurred on the trestle through the years; at least nine people have been struck by a train and killed while on the span."

I am a good Christian, but stories like this make me think Darwin was onto something. I am sorry for the poor young woman's death, but at the end of the day we can only do so much to protect people from their own curiosity.

You may not find yourself on a train trestle, so here's some more practical advice: when you're running or crossing the street, can you please take one of the headphones out?

I've heard a lot of people refer to natural selection concerning this incident.

I'm a christian. I went to Liberty for 3 semesters.
While it is sad that someone had to die this way it was completely preventable. I almost feel guilty for not feeling much compassion towards these people. Yes, it's tragic. But there's a reason it's illegal to trespass on the trestle. There are PLENTY of other places to watch meteor showers in Lynchburg without putting yourself in danger.

@Olivia - Hannah Williams may have been a good Christian, raised in a Christian home and going to a Christian school but that didn't stop her from breaking the law, which she died for. If she was concerned about doing the "right" thing she wouldn't even have let herself, or her friends, get in a situation like that. I'm not saying she was a bad person but don't try to justify her actions by saying she was a good christian and did nothing wrong.

Haven't we all done crazy things to see the stars ? The death of anyone is tragic, but the death of young people, and the toll it takes on family and friends even more so. No one is perfect.

Yes I read the article - that's why I asked. Star gazing? REALLY? How do we know? How do we know it wasn't really suicide? How could someone not know a train was coming? Those things are LOUD and VIBRATE tremendously. I still wonder. It just doesn't add up.

My only sibling died at age 19 - I do understand the effects on the family - intimately. No one is perfect - but how does one die on the train tracks? that does somehow seem more preventable than other 'accidents.'

I grew up mere feet from the RIVERMONT Trestle and I can tell you people have been walking out on that damn thing forever. And been killed doing so. Maybe it's because my grandfather worked so many rescues there or maybe it's the unpredictability of freight traffic or maybe it's the signs that warn of danger or maybe it's the sheer height of the thing, but I have always known that going out on that bridge was a huge risk.
There are a great many dark places to watch a meteor shower in and around Lynchburg. The RIVERMONT trestle is not one of them.
Growin up in Lynchburg, I have known many LU students who have confessed to walking on that trestle. And it boggles my mind. You're so right with God you don't believe in horrifying death by fast train? Long fall? Seriously? There are fences for a reason. Visit Riverside Park and look at how some idiots have cut the fencing around the trestle and rolled it back. That's not a casual, wandering, wrong turn into death. It's like wondering what clearly labeled poison tastes like and drinking your fill, with friends!

It's the length of the trestle. It's no mere bridge that spans a road. It spans the entire James River gorge from one high hillside cliff to the other. You get far enough out, there's nowhere to go but over the side and it is impossibly high. It'd be like tip-toeing the top ledge of a sky scraper while lions are on the roof.
This girl didn't commit suicide. She died in a stupid stupid stupid way. We will never find an end to lamenting the incredibly stupid ways in which really wonderful people die. Especially the young.

I had no idea - didn't think someone would take such a risk. I assumed they fell asleep and didn't hear the train coming? I'm not familiar with the area obviously. thanks for filling in the details. Very senseless and sad.

There is no reason for the RIVERMONT trestle to have a walkway. It doesn't connect to anything that any pedestrian would have/need access to. From the rural Amherst County side to the short lead-in to an underground tunnel on the Lynchburg side. It's not a by-way or a short-cut for anything other than rail traffic. The only reason people venture out on it is for the the thrill or the view.
My grandfather spoke of people crossing it on foot in the 30s to save hours walking from Amherst County to Lynchburg and even then, people died doing so.
Putting a walkway along the trestle would only embolden people to go out on it more often. Better to leave it alone, I think, and educate people of he danger. How about a sign similar to Crabtree Falls, warning of the danger and listing the names of those that have died or been injured? But still, there will be people who do stupid things...often with tragic consequences.
Think of that poor engineer.

A sign commemorating those who have died at the entrance is an excellent idea.

I agree with rivermont girl, with all of it.

Especially the poor engineer, I was thinking that before, there was nothing more he could have done and now he has to live with the tragedy.

I hate that things like this happen and could be prevented.

The walkway is more than likely there for railroad workers, so they can perform maintenance on the tracks; maintenance workers who are 1 – allowed to use the walkway and 2 – coordinate with the railroads in order to perform maintenance when a train won’t be passing through. Not for public use. It boils down to people obeying the law and not walking along something that is neither safe, nor allowed. Unfortunately these two young people made a terrible choice. My heart goes out to the families of the two and I hope the one person in critical condition is able to recover. Hopefully it will serve as a reminder to others, but I have a feeling it won’t.

good to know there's a walkway on the Moore'sCreek crossing.I've been here some thirty years and did not know that.That could be a Cville bucket-list item.

@think about it: I get the reasoning behind maintenance of way walkways, etc. I meant that having a walkway, designed more to shelter trespassers would be unlikely to curb the trespassing, merely increase it. I don't know what repair crews use to maintain the trestle. Perhaps simply detouring or stopping traffic? But I've never heard of a railway worker falling from or dying while doing trestle repairs.

stay off of the RR bed. No train has EVER swerved and hit something. Sad that it happened, but the only sign commemorating those who have died is all ready there "NO TRESPASSING"