Update: That incredible train selfie video is, in fact, real. Here’s why the victim wasn’t hurt.


(YouTube)

UPDATE: Well, just when you think you’ve seen it all, the Internet delivers another surprise. Jared Michael, the viral video star I suspected of pranking us, appeared on the syndicated news show Right This Minute last night and promised that the video was “100-percent real.” (Although, in skeptics’ defense, Michael also said “It certainly looks fake. I totally understand why people think it is.”)

Michael was, as many a kind, globe-trotting reader emailed me last night, near the tracks of Peru Rail, which runs from Cusco and a few smaller destinations to Macchu Picchu. That goes a long way toward explaining why he mysteriously wasn’t hurt. A lot of tourists walk the route instead of taking the train, which means the tracks are often crowded with people. The route is also very windy. Accordingly, trains go pretty slow: Peru Rail says the leg from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu takes an hour and a half, and it’s only about 26 miles. So the train that hit Michael moves at an average speed of 17 mph — way, way slower than the speeds typical of passenger trains in the U.S., and a little more than half the speed of your average flying soccer ball.

Anyway, I’ve contacted Peru Rail for further details and will update again if more information is available. In the meantime, I stand by my skepticism. In the words of Michael himself, “I would be extremely skeptical [of the video], because a lot of stuff you see on the Internet is fake.” Exactly.

UPDATE, 4/22/14: Here, at last, is the (belated!) statement from Peru Rail. Wrote the railway’s spokeswoman, Carla Reyes:

As we are currently conducting an internal review of all the relevant facts and circumstances it would be inappropriate to comment further at this juncture. However, we can state that no formal report has been received up to date.

As a general statement PeruRail operates rigorous operational safety systems as a company and on all train routes. Safety warnings are clearly displayed for all passengers to adhere to. Moreover, we would like to add that global policies indicate that one should not stand close to the railroad tracks for safety reasons in order to avoid incidents with moving trains.

Here’s our original post:

The train selfie video that blew up Wednesday afternoon is a masterpiece of short-form storytelling. It has a despicable character: the smug, stupid track-side selfie-taker. It has an unlikely, everyman hero: the unseen train conductor who kicks him in the head. And it has, improbably, a happy ending: Even after said conductor kicks said selfie-taker … nobody gets hurt.

 

Guys, this is all too good to be true. Why is no one fingering Jimmy Kimmel for this?!

Granted, said video is only 10 seconds long — giving us precious little to debunk. But there are some immediate red flags here. For starters, it is only 10 seconds long. (Where’s the reaction? The denouement? The long shot of an enraged conductor fading into the distance?) For another thing, why does a guy taking a selfie — a.k.a., a still photograph — have his phone in video mode? Why is this the only video he’s uploaded in the past two years? How does the leg reach so far off the train? Why doesn’t the other leg seem to move?

Then we have the actual physics of the thing. Train speeds vary enormously by country, track type and train (passenger vs. freight, for instance). But even if the train was moving at a crawl of 30 or 35 mph – well below the conventional passenger rail maximums of 80 to 90 mph – a direct impact to the side of the head should cause injury or pain, certainly enough to stop the impacted party from crowing “wow, that guy kicked me in the head!” (Consider the fact that even recreational soccer players are regularly concussed from heading a soccer ball, which moves roughly at 33 miles per hour … and is far lighter than a man’s booted foot.)

Determined to disprove this video once and for all, I took the question to the experts: O Gauge Railroading Magazine’s “on-line forum,” the hang-out of train fanatics the Internet over… including my dad. I wanted to know if anyone in the forum could identify the train by its coloring — different companies have distinct color schemes — thereby allowing me to call the train company and (hopefully) get to the bottom of the whole thing.

Regrettably, the fine hobbyists of O Gauge Railroading magazine do not know where the train is from. But they did unanimously agree the clip was staged.

“I, for one would not be standing that close to the rails with an oncoming train seconds away,” one gentleman commented. In lieu of solid answers, that probably makes a good take-away for all of us.

(Do you recognize the coloring of this train? Please e-mail caitlin.dewey@washpost.com. Seriously, I want to know.)

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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