If train tracks run through your city, you learned at a young age it’s best to avoid hanging out around them. Nothing good happens when you flirt with the dangers of third rails, massive spikes, and, of course, passing locomotives. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message…
When two brothers were walking along some Rhode Island train tracks in 2014, they saw someone — or rather, something — hadn’t been able to cross over the tracks so smoothly. They were left with two options: step in and help, or let disaster run her course…
Jacob Vincent and his brother Max were out for a walk along the train tracks near their home in Lincoln, Rhode Island. A running creek not far away added a pleasant rushing sound to the serene, sunny day. Then Jacob saw something unusual.
It wasn’t a train barrelling down the tracks cutting through the small town of just over 20,000 people. “I spotted a dark object lodged into the opening of the tracks,” Jacob recalled. On closer inspection, he recoiled.
That “dark object” was an animal — a tortoise, to be exact. How long she’d been jammed in the tracks, Jacob could only guess, but evidence indicated the tortoise was suffering. It must’ve been hot in the sun against metal rails.
In fact, Jacob noticed the tortoise was dehydrated, too, an indication she’d been stuck for quite some time. The brothers had a decision to make: would they help this tortoise or let nature do its often-cruel work?
For Jacob, it was an easy choice. “I quickly ran down to the stream to fill up my water bottle,” he said, “to pour onto the dry turtle to help her regain the hydration and energy she had clearly lost.” But it would take more than that to dislodge her.
The brothers went to work, trying to “un-stuck” the tortoise, but she proved really stuck. No matter how hard they pulled, the brothers couldn’t move her. This wouldn’t be a quick problem to fix — that’s when Jacob started getting nervous about the train.
He pulled out his phone and looked up the schedules of trains using the tracks. Sure enough, the research confirmed his worst fears: a train would be passing by in a little less than an hour! They now had a time limit to save this tortoise.
Still, the boys were tapped out on solutions. They didn’t have the power and strength for the job, and they knew they wouldn’t get it in an hour. So once again, Jacob turned to his phone. This time, he called animal control.
Time passed, and the train rolled closer. The brothers knew, they would hear its whistle within minutes — maybe even see the front of it peaking through the trees. But all they could do was wait for animal control.
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But before they heard the train or felt its vibrations along the tracks, animal control arrived. The crew, Jacob noted, “shared the same compassion for animals that my brother and I share.” They wanted to save this tortoise.
But at first, animal control approached the stuck tortoise with the same strategy the two brothers used. The crew tried pulling it out, but the turtle still would not budge. And worse? Now the poor girl was terrified.
Still jammed in the tracks, the tortoise started writhing, wriggling her arms and legs about. So Jacob proposed another strategy: why not use something in the area as a tool of sorts? Could something create just a sliver of space between the tortoise and the rail?
“I decided to push a nearby piece of wood under her belly to help slide her out,” Jacob said. While the idea might’ve seemed crazy enough to work at the time, it was not without shortcomings.
For five minutes, Jacob, his brother, and animal control worked at freeing the tortoise, but even with the wood beneath her, she wouldn’t budge. Soon, ten minutes passed; then, fifteen. All the while, the train barreled closer and closer. Until…
After twenty minutes struggling with the stuck tortoise, Jacob and the gang finally pried her loose! Hurray! Sunshine, daisies, and trapped tortoises freed from train tracks! Everyone celebrated — perhaps no one harder than the tortoise!
The only thing that would’ve made the moment more exciting for the brothers was if the train had sped by just seconds after they freed the turtle, but hey — they were probably happy with how it all turned out. Still, there was work to do.
While the train wouldn’t be running over any tortoises that day, the heroes of the day needed to return the tortoise to her home (and she couldn’t catch a ride home on the passing Amtrak)!
Vincent had a simple solution though. “My brother Max picked up the snapper with no hesitation,” he said, “and brought her down to the creek so she can run free and pursue her ongoing life as the prehistoric monument that she is.”
Indeed, the brothers gave this tortoise a chance, something not all tortoises get when crossing the tracks. So many were hit in Japan, for instance, workers installed turtle tunnels underneath their tracks for easy passing.
Thanks to these two animal-loving brothers this tortoise is back on the right side of the tracks, safely where she belongs. And as amazing as saving one tortoise life is, their rescue inspired others to keep a closer eye on their local railroads.
Meet Swapan Debbarma and his 9-year-old daughter Somati. When they realized thousands of lives were in danger, they didn’t hesitate to risk their own to prevent a terrible tragedy from happening.
This story began in the village of Dhanchara, which is in the region of Tripura, wedged between Bangladesh and Myanmar. Tripura lies in a geographically disadvantageous location in India, as only one major railway connects it with the rest of the country.
This area was home to Swapan and his family, who lived in severe poverty. Their humble home was a bamboo-woven hut with no furniture, holding only a few linens and a couple of pots for cooking. Sadly, the Debbarma family usually didn’t have much to cook at all.
The family consists of 7 people: Swapan, his wife, their three children, and Swapan’s parents. When they could not even afford a grain of rice, Swapan tried something new, as he could no longer sit by and watch his loved ones starve.
On June 15, 2018, Swapan took Somati and walked through the forest near his home. Not only was he looking for fruits with which to feed his family, but also bamboo to cut down and sell at the market for a few rupees.
Throughout the previous day, the region had experienced heavy rain, and on his quest through the Atharamura hills, he came across the aftermath of a landslide. This caused problems for the duo’s journey.
See, one of the ways Swapan made sure he didn’t get lost was by staying near the railroad. But when he stumbled upon the landslide, he noticed the tracks had been dislocated — any oncoming train would crash straight into the water below.
Trains in India are often completely packed due to the high-density population and limited resources. Even when riders aren’t sitting on the roof, the trains are almost always filled to (or beyond) capacity. So if accidents happen, a lot of people get hurt.
It could be hours before the next train arrived — hours Swapan could’ve spent searching for food and bamboo to provide for his family. But he knew it was his duty to warn any train engineers about the damage
Finally, after more than an hour of silence, Swapan and Somati heard the sound of a train rolling down the tracks in the distance. The engineers must have spotted the two sitting on the railroad because they blew their whistles repeatedly.
The train was moving from Agartala towards Dharmanagar, a 4-hour train ride on the Northeast Frontier Zone that only rides once a day. It was for this reason that no accidents had happened on those tracks yet — but the danger was now in sight.
Swapan took off some of his clothes and used a few pieces of fabrics as flags. There he stood, waving his clothes, standing on the tracks as the train rapidly approached him.
At first, the engineers thought Swapan must have been a madman. Was he trying to enter the train miles away from the station? Was he trying to overtake the train? Was he trying to cause an accident?
The train was getting dangerously close to Swapan, and it wasn’t slowing. Desperate, he pulled his daughter in front of him, thinking the engineers would stop to save a child. Somati was scared, but her father told her: “stay strong, please, stay strong for all the people on board.”
The train finally stopped — and only a few feet away from where the tracks had been dislocated! Sonu Kumar Mandal, the main driver of the train, came running out to make sure Swapan and Sonati were okay. When he realized they had saved him and his 2,000 passengers, he asked to take a picture with the two heroes. This was only the beginning of their fame.
Sonu posted the picture on Facebook and before they knew it, everyone in Tripura knew the story of Swapan and Sonati. Even Sudip Roy Barman, Tripura’s Health and Science and Tech Minister, learned of their heroics. He invited them to his home to share a meal and thank them in person.
In the following months, Swapan and his family were showered with gifts from grateful passengers and admiring locals. They received over 300,000 rupees (roughly $4,000) in checks. The only problem? Swapan is illiterate and cannot open a bank account. How could he help his family if he couldn’t cash the checks?
Still, there was a happy ending for Swapan. Not only was a railroad station named after him, but he was also offered literacy classes and a job working for the railroad. Some even suggested adding a chapter in social science books about Swapan’s story as an example of courage and selflessness in public interest!
Imperfect or even dangerous railroads are sadly not uncommon in India. Earlier this year a farmer, Amar Dewri, stopped a train full of goods from moving over a fractured track in a nearby region. The ministry of transportation is aware of the issue so hopefully, nobody else needs to risk their life for the greater good.
Swapan is incredibly grateful for the generous responses to his heroic act, mostly because it helped him provide for his family properly. And of course, he was thankful to his brave young daughter Somati, without whom this may not have been possible.