Engineer, haunted by suicides, to donate time

More than once, Caltrain engineer Rob Orantes has locked eyes with a suicide victim right before his locomotive took their life.

Orantes is not alone. According to Caltrain officials, most pedestrian fatalities that occur on the tracks are suicides. In 2005, eight of 10pedestrian fatalities involved someone who chose to end their life; so far this year, four of eight people who died after being hit by a train knowingly put themselves in death’s way.

“The victims make eye contact, as if to try and make us feel their pain,” said Orantes, who has worked for 12 years on the Peninsula Commute Service.

Immediately after a train hits a human being, an engineer has to put their emotions aside to deal with the victim, passengers and official questioning, Orantes said. Later, after the engineer has been released from duty, when they are at home, that's when the “feelings rush back.”

“These events fuel emotions from the moment they involve me: fear, anxiety, helplessness in trying to stop a train,” Orantes said. “They cut through me like a razor.”

Traditionally, rail representatives have tried to discourage drawing media attention to rail suicides, in fear of encouraging copycat behavior. However, officials from Caltrain and its operator, Amtrak, held a press conference Tuesday to announce sponsorship of a suicide-prevention fundraiser happening in San Francisco this July.

On behalf of the rail agency, Orantes, along with Caltrain conductor Bruce Shelton and Amtrak police officer Jake Mumford, will participate in the 20-mile “Out of the Darkness Overnight” walk on July 22-23, which was created to raise money to support suicide prevention.

Mumford, a former Union City police officer, said he has been assigned to more than a dozen rail fatalities that were suicides during his seven years working as an Amtrak investigator. He echoed Orantes in saying each suicide “haunts” him long after the work day ends.

“I love my job, but the worst part is going to these homes of the relatives of this individual and informing them that their loved one has just chosen to commit suicide on our railway,” Mumford said.

beslinger@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

Just Posted

The Hotel Whitcomb on Market Street was one of many hotels that took in homeless people as part of The City’s shelter-in-place hotel program during the pandemic.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Closing hotels could disconnect hundreds from critical health care services

‘That baseline of humanity and dignity goes a long way’

Pachama, a Bay Area startup, is using technology to study forests and harness the carbon-consuming power of trees. (Courtesy Agustina Perretta/Pachama)
Golden Gate Park visitors may take a survey about options regarding private car access on John F. Kennedy Drive, which has been the subject of controvers during the pandemic. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Your chance to weigh in: Should JFK remain closed to cars?

Host of mobility improvements for Golden Gate Park proposed

Dreamforce returned to San Francisco in person this week – but with a tiny sliver of past attendance. (Courtesy Salesforce)
Dreamforce returns with hundreds on hand, down from 170,000 in the past

High hopes for a larger Salesforce conference shriveled during the summer

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said retail thefts in The City are underreported crimes. (Daniel Montes/Bay City News)
S.F. unveils initiative to tackle rise in retail thefts

Incidents are not victimless crimes, mayor says

Most Read