Amtrak Worker Fights for Life After Being Electrocuted
Rob Zimmerman lost his left arm, right hand and toe after being shocked with over 12,000 volts of electricity
Safety at work is extremely important, especially when you are dealing with high voltage train tracks. One Amtrak worker is struggling for life after being electrocuted while working on tracks in New York’s Penn Station.
A Ronkonkoma volunteer firefighter and Navy veteran is fighting life-threatening injuries, including the amputation of his hands, after suffering an electrical shock while working as an Amtrak lineman last month in Penn Station, his family said.
Robert Zimmerman, 45, was working near tracks 12 and 13 at Penn on the morning of Jan. 11 when his left hand made contact with a live overhead catenary wire that provides power to some trains, according to his wife Christine Zimmerman. The father of three absorbed 12,000 volts of electricity, but survived, his wife said, in part because metal in his body from a spinal surgery helped keep the current away from his heart and other vital organs.
“My husband is a very, very strong man,” Christine Zimmerman, 44, said, speaking during her first day home after being at her husband’s bedside around the clock for three weeks. “He’s more concerned with me and the boys and making sure that we’re OK. He does not feel sorry for himself. He’s not that guy. He just wants to get better. And our goal is just to get him out of the hospital alive.”
In a statement, an Amtrak spokesman confirmed that “an engineering employee was injured Jan. 11 while working in New York Penn Station,” but said he was unable to comment further. “The cause of the injury is under investigation.”
Christine Zimmerman said she didn’t fully appreciate the risks of the job until her husband’s accident. Through tears, she recalled signing the paperwork to allow doctors to “cut his hands off.”
It was a difficult twist of fate for Zimmerman, who relied on his hands during his 12-year stint in the Navy, another dozen years working as a locomotive engineer for the Long Island Rail Road and as an emergency medical technician for the Lakeland Fire Department. He also was a football and baseball coach for his three sons, Andrew Grogan, 26— also an Amtrak lineman — Anthony, 19, and Joseph, 16.
“He said, ‘How am I going to hug you anymore? . . . How am I going to pitch to Joe? I can’t even catch a ball for him anymore,’ ” said Christine Zimmerman. “My husband gets up and goes to work. That’s his thing . . . He does everything with his hands.”
The National Transportation Safety Board in November issued a report criticizing the “weak safety culture” at Amtrak after its probe of an April 2016 crash in Pennsylvania that killed two Amtrak employees.
“These safety shortcomings occurred across several levels of the Amtrak organization — maintenance of way, dispatchers, management — and reveal Amtrak’s weak safety management,” the report read, in part.
With Zimmerman, a Brentwood native, still suffering “agonizing pain” and likely to undergo several more surgeries, including skin grafts, his wife said it’s too early to predict what the future may hold and whether he’ll be able to benefit one day from prosthetic hands.
She expects their home of 18 years will have to undergo major renovations, including to allow her husband to use his feet to control the bathroom sink and shower. A GoFundMe campaign to support the Zimmerman family has already raised more than $33,000 of its $100,000 goal.