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What Is the Fear of Train Tracks?

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Updated June 29, 2012

Question: What Is the Fear of Train Tracks?

Siderodromophobia, or the fear of trains, is a broadly encompassing diagnosis that includes all fears related to trains. Some people fear crashing, others are afraid of the lack of control. Still others do not directly fear trains, but find them to be a trigger for other phobias such as social phobia or germ phobia. But what about people who are afraid not of trains, but of their tracks? Do they technically have siderodromophobia, or is it an entirely separate fear?

Answer:

Fears Related to Train Tracks

Although it lacks an official "phobia name," the fear of train tracks may not be that rare. A quick Internet search turns up hundreds of discussions involving this fear. The phobia of train tracks generally hinges on two main concerns-the fear of accidentally being stuck on the tracks and the fear of being pushed. These fears often encompass not only railroad tracks, but subway tracks as well. Many people report that subway platforms are particularly terrifying, as they worry about being pushed or falling onto the tracks below.

Of course, train tracks and subway stations can be risky, and it only makes sense to use caution. Crowded platforms carry an increased risk of being accidentally jostled or pushed as everyone struggles to get onto an already-full train or subway car. Likewise, it is never a smart idea to stop on railroad tracks. Making sure there is enough room to get all the way across before proceeding is prudent. The phobia, however, goes far beyond simply using an abundance of caution.

Common Causes

The fear of being stuck on railroad tracks is often, though not always, related to a previous negative experience. If you have ever had a car stall on the tracks, you may be at increased risk for a phobia. However, the negative experience need not have happened to you. Every once in a while, a train derails or someone is struck by an oncoming train. Although these events are extremely rare, they generally receive ongoing media coverage for several days. Watching an accident on TV could be enough to spark a fear. If your parents were afraid of railroad tracks, you may be more likely to develop a similar fear.

In addition, railroad tracks play a role in many urban legends and ghost stories. One popular legend states that in the 1930s or 1940s, a school bus full of children stalled on a railroad crossing near San Antonio, Texas. The driver and ten children were killed when the bus was hit by a speeding train. Today, if a vehicle is stopped near the tracks, their spirits will push the vehicle uphill over the tracks to safety. Supposedly if you sprinkle talcum powder on the trunk and rear bumper before trying this, you will see handprints in the dust.

Whether that legend is true or not, it demonstrates how pervasive stories about railroad tracks have become. Another popular superstition involves picking up your feet when crossing a railroad track by car. The origins of this one are lost to time, but kids and even adults continue to follow this "rule" today.

Coping With a Fear of Train Tracks

If your fear is mild, you may be able to contain it with self-help methods. Simply spending time at a railroad track or subway station near your home can help dissipate some of the fear. Purposeful breathing, visualization and meditation relieve stress and can help ease panicky feelings.

For some people, however, this fear becomes life-limiting. If your fear is severe, you might take long, circuitous routes to avoid crossing tracks. You may be unable to use the subway system or even take a public bus, as you would be unable to control the driver's route. If a fear of train tracks severely impacts your life, it is best to seek professional assistance.

Source:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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