Monday, September 16, 2013

The Third Rail

Politicians and pundits often refer to some sensitive issue as being the third rail of "insert area needing solution here". Most people these days are too busy to listen to politicians and pundits dissect the difficult problems of the day, so of course they have no idea what a third rail is, let alone why it's deadly.
Third rail with contact shoe

Because people aren't listening to politicians and pundits, and they don't know about third rails, they're dying.

What other explanation can there be for the Chicago Transit Authority's new marketing campaign?

The CTA is noticing an uptick in third rail-related deaths, so it's clear that the average train rider doesn't know about the third rail and why you shouldn't touch it. The signs posted along the tracks aren't doing the the trick, and so something more must be done to make people aware of the rail that provides the electricity that makes the trains go.

A new campaign has been launched to tell people to stay off the tracks, which you'd think was common sense, given that the third rail carries 600 volts of electricity which is more than enough to electrocute anyone who comes in contact.

The posters that will soon appear in Chicago area train stations are there to remind commuters that if they drop their cell phone on the tracks, consider it lost because if you jump down on the tracks to pick it up, you'll die. There is no poster down there on the actual third rail that warns you, right at the spot of possible contact, that you are well within range of 600 volts, so there will be no explicit warning about the rail itself. The poster is where it is to discourage people from going down to track level in the first place, so they don't actually have to encounter the third rail.

How much good the posters will do to advise those who are too drunk to see straight is a problem that won't be solved by slapping colorful pieces of paper on a wall. It's often the inebriated who can't stand up without wobbling who tend to tumble off the platform, and because they are impaired, are most likely to flail around until they hit the third rail and fry their personal electrical system.

What about the distracted ones who find themselves on the wrong platform and make a dash across the tracks to get to the opposite side by crossing the tracks instead of using the overhead crosswalk? If they are in such a rush, they aren't likely to peruse the warning posters before climbing off the platform and picking their way across the ties.

The better solution is to instruct the children in the time-honored manner in which they were once taught to respect the third rail. Every mother in Chicago and the surrouding suburbs should bring the kids to an 'El' platform and point to the third rail, adopt an ominous tone, and assure the little ones that if they touch that thing they'll die immediately. Then repeat the warnings on a regular basis until the lesson becomes ingrained and a new generation knows about the third rail.

That's easier than trying to reach busy adults who don't listen to politicians and pundits so they never stop to ask what the third rail is and why it is so untouchable.

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