Monday, September 29, 2014

Pretty Perfect Weekend Field Trip

I'm teaching ecological restoration at the University of Pennsylvania this term as an Adjunct Professor.  It's a class for graduate students, and I have taught it every other fall term since 1992 - that's 22 years now, about as long as some of my youngest students have been alive.

I'd like to take the students on a lot of field trips.  The more that they can get out in the field to see actual restoration work, the better.  But UPenn is very near the heart of Philadelphia and it's hard to get to a site, take a tour, and get back to campus in the allotted 3-hour class period.  So, I always offer a weekend field trip to my preserve.  We did the trip this last weekend.
Many of the students are foreign nationals, and most don't own cars, so they use the regional rail network to get near my preserve, and then Kali and I pick them up at the train station.  Yesterday's trip started off badly - a 60-year-old man walking on the railroad tracks was struck and killed by a train (it happens more often than you might imagine; most victims are suicides), which delayed the start of the trip by one hour.  But the students all finally arrived and we enjoyed two hours of nearly perfect early autumn weather.


packrat said...

That sounds like a terrific outing, Scott, and judging from that first photo of smiling students I'd have to think a good time was had by all.

Sad news about the 60-year-old man's demise.

robin andrea said...

I'm surprised that the delay was only one hour. Here in California, a death on the tracks would have meant many hours delayed. Interesting start to the field trip.

Scott said...

Packrat: The smiling image accompanying my post was taken near the start of the field trip, but most of the students were still smiling two hours later.

And, yes, it is sad about the man's death on the tracks.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: You're right; the tracks are often closed for much longer periods when there's a train fatality. I was surprised the trains got moving again so quickly. Perhaps it was because my students were northbound and the accident occurred on the southbound tracks. Also, I believe the incident occurred fairly near a station, so the train may not have been moving too quickly. And, finally, I understand that the man was pushed off the tracks by the train; he wasn't splattered by a direct hit.

There's a public service commercial on television here that airs frequently warning people to stay off railroad tracks. One section of the commercial features a state trooper who holds up a ziplock bag and says, "If you're hit by a train, this is all I'll need to bring back what's left of you." Gruesome, but in a twisted way that actually might make a potential suicide happy.

Mark P said...

I clicked on the first picture. They really do look happy. I wonder how many of them will go back home, and what kind of work they'll do when they get there.
I was on an Amtrak train once when they ran over someone. Not only did they have to sit for what seemed like hours waiting for emergency services, they also had to pull over and check each wheel individually because they had experienced an emergency stop.

Scott said...

Mark: In my experience, the foreign nationals all seem to go back home. They are studying landscape architecture or environmental science, and most could probably find jobs back in their home countries with that kind of background. It's actually probably harder for Americans to find jobs in those fields here in the United States.

The black woman in my class is from Liberia. She told me that her family had not been directly affected by Ebola, but that a friend she had made while she was an undergraduate had died of the disease.

Thanks for the insight about why it might take so long for train service to get up and going again after a collision with a person.