A train engineer in California took the Trolley Problem way too literally and did it bad

Around 1pm on Tuesday, March 31, a 44-year-old train engineer named Eduardo Moreno allegedly derailed a train at full-speed, careening it towards the USNS Mercy, a Navy medical ship for COVID-19 patients that was anchored in the Port of Los Angeles. Fortunately, Moreno's train never actually reached the boat and no one was hurt, although did crash through some concrete barriers and leak a substantial amount of fuel into the parking lot.

According to ABC News:

Moreno allegedly told officers and FBI investigators that he deliberately derailed the train because he was suspicious of the Mercy's intentions and thought it was actually part of a government takeover, the complaint said.

"Moreno stated that he acted alone and had not pre-planned the attempted attack," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Central District of California. "While admitting to intentionally derailing and crashing the train, he said he knew it would bring media attention and 'people could see for themselves,' referring to the Mercy."

In an interview with FBI agents, Moreno stated that "he did it out of the desire to 'wake people up,'" according to the complaint.

In other words, Moreno was driven to potential mass destruction by his dogged belief in a conspiracy theory, much like PizzaGate and the MAGA Bomber.

Upon reading this news, I immediately thought of the Trolley Problem, an ethical dilemma used in philosophy discussions where a (hypothetical) runaway train or trolley is on course to kill a certain people, but there is an opportunity to flip the switch and divert the train, which would cause some other sort of damage. It's essentially a question of utilitarianism. In this particular Trolley Problem scenario, Moreno had the choice: if the train stays on the tracks, some people might survive the disease of COVID-19, but the unproven Deep State conspiracy he believes in will remain an unproven secret of the Deep State. If he flips the switch — as he did, in this case — then he might kill some people who were already dealing with a potentially terminal disease, but at least he could maybe expose the Deep State conspiracy, if it exists.

On the bright side, Moreno ended up crashing into a third option in which there were no injuries, and no Deep State conspiracy.

Mike Schur, creator of The Good Place which had its own brilliant Trolley Problem episode in the second season, recently did a pretty great Twitter thread about the philosophical concept, pointing out the similarities and the glaring logical fallacies that have been invoked since the start of the coronavirus crisis. I don't think even he could have predicted this one, though.

Engineer tried to crash train into USNS Mercy in Los Angeles: Feds [Ivan Pereira / ABC News]

Image: Zapyon/Wikimedia Commons (CC 4.0)