Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Call them...unreliable

Last night something was seriously screwed up at South Station. I don't know what happened, but I saw the effects down-track at Ruggles.

Nothing came in when or where it was supposed to. The Needham Heights train that shows up at Ruggles at 4:13 PM...didn't. Trains came at the wrong time, half an hour late or more.

And in every single case the conductors didn't bother to announce what the train was.

Some of these trains were coming in within a few minutes of the arrival time of a completely different train. You'd think that conductors would realize that people would be confused, and would announce the destination. But they didn't.

We passengers had to run up and down the station platform every time, looking for a conductor to tell us where the train was going. And even then, most of the conductors still didn't bother to make the announcements. Passengers had to pass the word along instead.

I understand that the conductors and their union are pissed off at the MBCR and the MBTA, but why do they have to take it out on the passengers? Are they under the delusion that we have any influence at all over the management of the T? Because it has been made more than amply clear that we don't. T management couldn't be less responsive to the needs, concerns, and even the basic health and safety of the ridership. We're cattle, existing solely to be moved from one point to another and to pay our ever-increasing fares.

That is, sometimes we pay. Last night no fares were collected; we didn't see a conductor in the train from the time I got on at Ruggles to the time I got off at Franklin/Dean College. This may seem odd, since the T is so desperately hard up for funds, but I've talked to a lot of passengers and it's not all that rare.

The Franklin #715 arrived at Ruggles 17 minutes late, on the wrong side of the tracks. It reached Franklin/Dean fifteen minutes late.

Tonight (12/19/2007) the #715 ran on time, but the train was having some pretty serious electrical problems. The lights and air circulation kept going out. Everything would simply go dead, for a moment, with even the emergency lights off; it was absolutely pitch black. Then a few of the emergency lights would go on, not really bright enough to read by. A minute or two later the lights and heat would come back up, only to fail again within minutes.

This happened over and over and over, at least eight or nine times.

What next, I wonder?

Monday, December 17, 2007

No Break for Franklin Riders!

It turned out that a few days of having an extra coach on the Franklin #715 train was NOT a harbinger of good things to come. Instead, it was the harbinger of doom.

Not only is the train back to six single-level coaches (at most), but they've put the worst conductor in the entire system back onto that run. He's the angry, rage-filled conductor; the rudest conductor I've ever seen. We'd all hoped that we'd seen the last of him when he disappeared about two years ago, but he's back.

The MBCR has, of course, been having a lot of problems lately. The conductor's union has reportedly been engaging in an unofficial slowdown, "working to the rules" in order to reduce the timeliness of the entire system to 84%. That's the worst performance of any commuter rail system in American, apparently.

I've certainly seen a difference. On almost every train one of the two doors and stairwells is now closed and unusable. I haven't seen any conductors complain if a passenger opens a closed stairwell, though, so at least that's a positive thing.

There was an article recently reporting that South Station trains have the worst record in the system. It's nice to have confirmation of what I suspected, although I wish that wasn't necessary.

Trains have been late more often than usual, and the Franklin #715 continues to be jam-packed every evening. There are, as always, ten or more standees per coach, and they stand for 25 minutes or longer.

In fact, for several days I took the extra time to go to South Station and board the train there rather than at Ruggles, just to be able to get a seat. I had a long-term medical test done (the results came in and I'm fine), and standing for long periods was extremely uncomfortable. I've also been going home at different times thanks to the weather and other circumstances of the season; most other Franklin trains that I've taken have considerably more capacity than the #715, for some reason, so I haven't had much to report.

But I've heard a number of stories from other passengers about terrible service on the line. It would seem that things just won't change under the MBCR. And since the MBTA just re-signed the MBCR to a three-year management contract, the future does not look bright.

The worst service in the nation (I got four free tickets recently for trains that were more than half an hour late), undoubtedly thousands of passenger complaints...and the MBTA rewards the MBCR.

Talk about taxation without representation! At this point, I have to wonder if passengers will just have to rise up and throw the management of both the MBCR and the MBTA into Boston Harbor.

Friday, November 9, 2007

A break for Franklin riders?

On the last two days, the Franklin #715 has had a double-level coach in the place of one of the usual single-level coaches. The results have been startling. A few people have had to stand, but the number is far fewer than usual. I myself got a seat twice in a row at Ruggles, which was such an unexpected development that at first I didn't realize what was happening.

The riders I spoke to were delighted. We don't know if this is a permanent change, but we're certainly hoping that it is!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

More fun on the Franklin line

The T is really on a roll lately, and I don't mean that in a good way.

I thought that I'd seen the maximum crowding on the 4:10 PM #715 Franklin train last night - at least 170 people packed into a single coach. But tonight, Halloween night, it had to be a lot closer to 180 - and this time, the "no passengers" vestibules between the coaches were packed solid as well.

How do I know? Because I was one of the 16 people packed into one of the vestibules.

I was jammed up against the door, and for the first half of the ride I was the de-facto conductor. When people wanted to get off, I opened the door, pulled up the platform to expose the stairs down, got off to let people off (a lot of them thanked me and joked about the crowding - some said I should be getting paid by the T), and then came back on, only to start the whole thing over at the next stop.

I got off at Franklin Dean - one stop short of the end of the line. And for the entire trip I didn't see one single conductor until I actually made it off the train at Franklin.

This overcrowding is getting absolutely insane. I'll make a prediction right now: if the #715 Franklin train has an accident people are going to die (or at least be seriously injured) unnecessarily. Because the Franklin #715 is regularly crowded beyond all reasonable safety standards.

I wrote to Governor Patrick's office; they passed the buck to the T. And I notified the T management more than once. They just won't DO anything about it.

The T's Two-fer

It's strange. Every time that I put up a post noting that things have been going pretty well on the T, inevitably there's a day of terrible service within the week.

But yesterday was pretty exceptional.

It was Red Sox parade day, so I was expecting the train to be packed with screeching Red Sox fans, most of 'em teenagers. That's par for the course. What I wasn't expecting was that the #708 Franklin train (departing Forge Park at 7:00 AM)...wouldn't show up.

There was a clue pretty early that something was wrong: the electric station signs weren't scrolling the usual garbage, but instead kept scrolling "Franklin Dean Station". I tried calling the former SmartTraveler (which seems to have been taken over by the Massachusetts state government - it's now "511", and I imagine that unlike SmartTraveler, the call now does use up my cell minutes), and got the helpful message that there were no problems on the commuter rail.

After the train was about twenty minutes late, the sign finally came up with a message that there were mechanical problems and would be delays. I called SmartTraveler/511 back and told an operator there that they needed to fix that status message.

A train finally came in from the Boston direction. It pulled into Franklin Dean. There were no announcements, no conductors to be seen. It was pretty chilly, though, so everybody just got on and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

After quite a while the train started up and headed back towards Boston. I had to wonder what happened to the people who were stranded at Forge Park!

The train moved slowly, and stopped at all the stops; the 708 is an "express", but when a train has effectively been pushed back on the schedule, they make all the stops. It was jammed pretty full too, with lots of Sox-apparel-wearing teens giggling up a storm.

The train was supposed to arrive at Ruggles at 7:50 AM, but it actually arrived at 8:55 AM. Free ticket for me!

You think I'm done? You think that's the end of the story? HA!

That evening, things were still clearly screwed up on the commuter rail. The usual Needham train did not pull into the station at 4:13 PM. Instead, a very large train of six or seven double-decker cars pulled in at around 4:17 on that track.

The conductors must have all had laryngitis, though, because none of us heard even ONE of them say what train it was. Since something was clearly amiss, a bunch of us regular Franklin train riders went searching the length of the platform for a conductor. I finally found one who told me that the mystery train was going to...Providence!

Which means that the schedule was totally screwed up. Funny, the conductor didn't sound hoarse at all...

A few minutes later (literally) the Needham train pulled in on the same track, and the fine conductors of that train showed everybody how it really should be done. "Needham! Needham train!" several of them shouted over and over. They really did a fine job.

At around 4:30, the Franklin #715 train finally pulled in. We all hopped on. It was jammed beyond all sanity, though; even the alcoves between the cars (where passengers are forbidden to ride) had lots of standees. I managed to get into one of the coaches, and saw something that I'd never seen before.

Almost every possible square inch of standing space was occupied. And two of the three-person seats had four adults in them, and one of the two-person seats had three people! They were Red Sox fans, of course.

I counted as carefully as I could. I probably missed a few people; I definitely didn't overcount. But the coach itself was absolutely full, 122 people seated plus an additional three jammed in. Plus a minimum of 45 standees within the coach gives a total of of 170 people riding in a single coach rated for 122 passengers! If there had been an accident, we would have posted record casualties.

The no-passenger alcoves were also literally packed - I was able to count eleven people in one, but I'm sure I missed some.

The train moved slowly. If engines can feel pain, I imagine that this one did - it was a heavy load. And either the engineer was a rookie, or something was wrong with the engine; there were quite a few sudden jerks that would have knocked people off their feet, if they hadn't been packed in so tightly that falling down was impossible.

There were several long pauses along the way, and each station stop took a lot longer than it normally did. People almost had to climb over other passengers to get out, and there was a lot of pushing. Fortunately everyone remained in a good mood, and of course the Red Sox fans were practically giddy with delight.

Between the Walpole and Norfolk stops the train suddenly stopped. The lights went out. And in the dim light we could hear the AC whirring down into silence. The train was dead.


We sat there in the woods for quite a while. Some kids tried to jump off the train; I heard conductors shouting at them loudly in the distance. Finally the train started up again, and there was an announcement that there had been a train stuck on the tracks ahead of us.

I'd planned to get off at Franklin/Dean, but since my wife was picking me up and had to go to get our son from day care before they closed, I got off at Forge Park (the end of the line) instead. The train had been scheduled to arrive there at 5:17 PM. It pulled in at 5:52 instead.

Two free tickets!

Then to cap things off, this morning the Franklin #710 (departing Forge Park at 7:45 AM) had all sorts of delays, and ended up pulling into Ruggles at 9:02 instead of the scheduled 8:42. It was less than half an hour, so no free ticket - but it was annoying.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fun and Games

I hadn't seen anything major on the commuter rail in the past month or so, but last week there was something annoying.

I was on the Franklin 710 train (departing Forge Park at 7:45 AM). I'd missed the earlier train.

But when we got to the Ruggles stop, we...didn't. The train skipped the Ruggles stop completely, with no announcement in my coach. The next thing I knew we were stopping at Back Bay, with no explanation or apology from the conductors.

Incidentally, am I the only person who actually prefers not to get apologies from the conductors for things that aren't their fault? It's embarrassing. Why should they have to apologize because the MBTA or MBCR management screwed up? God knows that they almost never have to apologize - just as they never have to actually ride on the T.

Early the next week I was standing on the Ruggles outbound platform and talking to a woman about the T (what else am I going to talk about?). She'd also been on the same 710 train when it skipped Ruggles, and hadn't heard any announcement either. It was nice to get confirmation that I hadn't simply dozed off or something!

She also told me that the Franklin 737 train (departing South Station at 4:50 PM) had completely skipped Ruggles two or three times in the previous week (i.e. October 15-19). It's supposed to stop at Ruggles at 4:59 PM, but she said each time it just went right by. I don't take that train, so I didn't see that myself. But she seemed very credible.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Riding On Empty

kylegirl has an amazing story over on the b0st0n LiveJournal community:

True MBTA story!

On Sunday 9/9 the 7:30 Rockport train ran out of fuel. Read the story for the details.

I've never heard of that happening before. There must be procedures in place to prevent that sort of thing from I have to wonder, what went wrong?

Was the system always run this badly? Between this and the communications failure at High Street, the last few days have been pretty awful for the T!

Friday, September 7, 2007

AC, and system meltdown

It's a hot day, so it wasn't a surprise to see yet another hot car on the Franklin #715 train: coach 1517. There was the usual overcrowding in other coaches, with about 20 standees per coach. And once again, the temperature in the hot car was nearly unbearable, even with the doors open.

On an unrelated note, a friend just passed on the news (from The Boston Community on LiveJournal) that "the communications center at High Street has lost it's (sic) ability to communicate with all trains and buses (commuter rail excluded). All of the T Stations are already starting to get crowded with hundreds of people and there are delays system wide".

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Jammed Or Broiling

The 4:10 Franklin #715 was a coach short tonight - there were only five single-level coaches (and no bi-level ones, of course).

To top things off, two of the five coaches had no AC: 1521 and 244. 1521 is one of the 2 seat/2 seat coaches that theoretically seats 94 people, while 1521 is one of the 3/2 models that's listed as seating 122. So that's 216 seats (plus standing space, which would certainly have been used) which were close to if not at 100 degrees or more. The outdoor temperature in the area was 90 degrees today.

The remaining three coaches were, as the picture shows, packed to the gills. Travel down the aisles was utterly impossible until the last three stops or so; I got out at different stops to move along the train and check the various coaches. Incidentally, I also checked the coaches with working AC to see if any of them were on the "hot car" list. None of them were. I have yet to see a coach from that list since it was first recorded.

So I've now seen nine hot cars since the MBCR claimed that there was only one, exactly one month ago. In fairness, though, I've been told that some of those have been fixed. I'd like to see one of those repaired coaches!

One of the passengers on coach 244 was a young woman; she was pregnant, and had to be at least eight months along (maybe nine). She didn't look comfortable at all. I don't suppose that was entirely because of the incredible heat, but I'm sure it didn't help!

Losing Sunday Guest Privileges

Haven't seen any problems on the commuter rail since the fatality; without hot days, AC problems are much harder to notice. I've heard that after next year we may be seeing much hotter summers, so assuming I'm around (and I have no plans to go anywhere) the topic may get more interesting then.

Just about the only thing of even mild interest that I've noticed is the truly astonishing amount of bird crap all over the newly-repaired and re-opened staircase at Ruggles - even the railings are totally coated! But that's not exactly groundbreaking news.

Of course I'm keeping an eye out for any other problems with trains or the commuter rail infrastructure. And I'm still hoping to find some other authors for this blog.

I did see one thing recently that pissed me off, though. The T has taken away the free Sunday guest privilege for monthly passholders. They claim it's to make the fare system more "rational", or something like that, but from my end all I see is that I'm paying the same price while losing some of the value. And that stinks.

I don't know how many people used the free guests on Sunday option, but I certainly did once in a while. And it's not as if it complicated matters. I understand that subway riders had to be let through the Charlie Gates manually by a T employee, but commuter rail passengers are all handled manually anyway. So this just seems like a greedy grab for more money. At $223 per month for a Zone 6 pass, did the T really need to screw riders that little bit more?

Monday, August 27, 2007

Death on the line

Someone died on the Franklin line near the Windsor Gardens stop this morning. T employees were close-mouthed about what happened (which is appropriate, I think).

The inbound #710 train which departs Franklin Forge Park at 7:45 AM stopped at Walpole and everyone had to get out. We all walked down to a secondary parking lot to a row of T buses. That was an improvement over the last time we'd been bused; that time we were put in school buses, and the drivers had gotten lost. That was when there was a fire on the Windsor Gardens tracks, earlier this summer. It does seem that Windsor Gardens is the trouble spot of the Franklin line lately!

The bus ride took quite a while, but eventually we arrived at Norwood Central. The place was jammed full of people - at least two trains worth, maybe three - but there were two large trains available, both heading towards Boston. Passengers poured across the tracks and crowded into the first train as soon as it opened up.

I got to my destination about half an hour late. Still, I guess I can't complain; at least I survived the morning! And I wouldn't want to trade places with the engineer who drove the train that hit someone, if that's what happened. That must have been a nightmare!

Brian over at myDedham got on the train further down the line, at Endicott. He heard some interesting stuff about the incident; of course, there are always a lot of rumors when something like this happens. He also reports that the conductors didn't handle the repercussions of the incident very well, and came up with an impromptu "no standing" rule at Endicott. Luckily the rule didn't last for long!

Update: According to the news (Boston Globe: Fatal attack ends volatile Norton saga), the man who died on the tracks first shot and killed his ex-girlfriend (who'd had a restraining order against him), shot two of her three teen-aged daughters in the head (both of them are in critical condition; the third was on vacation in Florida). He also killed their family dog before driving to the train station, standing on the tracks, and shooting himself in the head just before the train hit him.

The Globe says it happened at Walpole, but it couldn't have been right at the station - that's where they made us get off the train. The rumors among the passengers was that it was at Windsor Gardens.

This is the second suicide on a southern commuter rail line in the past two or three months, I believe. Someone killed themselves on the Providence line earlier this summer; a co-worker was on that line and came in very late that day. I have to wonder if the incidence of suicide in general has been going up lately. If so, maybe it's connected to the increase in foreclosures and other economic stress factors in the region.

That said, I must say that I feel less sympathy for those who commit suicide by train than for people who kill themselves using almost any other method. They force perfectly innocent engineers to kill them, in many cases causing lasting psychological damage. It's bad enough to kill yourself, but to make someone else live with the memory of it for the rest of their lives? That's contemptible.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Governor Responds - Sort Of

On July 17th I sent an email to Governor Patrick's office about overcrowing and a medical emergency on the Franklin #715 train. By an odd coincidence, I received a reply today - sort of.

I say "sort of", because the Governor's office simply forwarded my email to Bob Stoetzel, the Chief Transportation Officer for MBTA Railroad Operations, and he replied to me. It probably would be inappropriate to post his response since it was a private email, but the gist of it was that they've been short of cars, and he's told the MBCR to look into the overcrowding issue on the #715.

I hope that something happens. But I'm not confident that it will. I've written to the MBTA about the overcrowing issue two or three times in the last four years, and while they've always said they'd look into it, nothing has ever changed.

The thing that I find odd is that in my email I wrote "To be honest, a lot of us have given up complaining, because it's obvious that management simply doesn't care." Yet they forwarded my email to...MBTA management! Not to imply that Mr. Stoetzel isn't a conscientious public servant, but to ask MBTA management to address a complaint about MBTA management seems odd, somehow. I'd have thought that the Governor's office might have wanted to include some sort of direct response from one of their staffers, just to show that they were paying attention and exercising appropriate oversight.

On the other hand, when I emailed Governor Romney's office, it took them five months to respond with a kiss-off form letter assuring me that everything was fine.

Incidentally, I wouldn't want to give the impression that I'm constantly putting the Governor's office and the MBTA/MBCR under seige. I've written to each Governor exactly once, and I've probably filed less than six or seven "concerns" with the MBTA in my entire life.

That's not just the past four years, by the way. Before the high cost of housing pushed me into Rhode Island and onto the commuter rail, I lived in eastern MA and took the subway or buses to work. I've lived in the area for more than twenty years. I'd rather not complain unless something is seriously wrong, as it was on 7/13.

Open Thread

I haven't seen any problems on the T since my last post; in fact, the Ruggles station stairway actually opened this week, after two years of being locked.

Someone I know told me about a problem with a long ramp at one of the Attleborough (or possibly South Attleborough) commuter rail stops. After someone committed suicide on the tracks last month, everyone was moved out of her train and along a long two-story ramp. As she was walking, she thought she had suddenly gotten dizzy. Then she realized that in fact, the ramp was swaying pretty violently. It looked rusty and not well-maintained, she said. I hope to get her story in more detail later.

BostonNOW! ran a story about this blog today: In HOT pursuit . I'm not sure why "hot" was capitalized; I thought for a minute it might be an acronym.

Just to be clear, this blog is for ANY issues about the commuter rail, not just air conditioning problems. I started this because it seemed that the MBCR just didn't take passenger complaints (excuse me, "concerns") seriously, and that one of these days there would be a disaster. A medical emergency on 7/13 convinced me that it was time to say something about it publicly.

If you're a commuter rail passenger and would like posting privileges, please let me know in a comment or email me and I'll gladly add you. Otherwise, anyone (except spammers) is free to post their commuter rail stories in comments. Stories about other T services (subway, bus, ferries, and facilities) are perfectly okay to post too, of course!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Hot Car List

I saw a new coach without AC today on the Franklin #715; it was coach 221. So that's seven numbered coaches since the BostonNOW! article published the MBCR's claim that there was only one without AC.

Here's the list. I'll add to it in the comments on this post, rather than keep creating new ones. If you've seen a hot car, or if you see that one of the coaches below now has working AC, please join in!
  • 220
  • 221
  • 501
  • 604
  • 629
  • 641
  • 644

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Broken Switch

Go figure; they let the stairs at Ruggles crumble for three years (or at least two), and as soon as I make a post about it and bring my camera along to take a picture...they finish fixing them! The chain link fence was gone today. I didn't check to see if the top doors were open, but the whole staircase has been rebuilt.

But this is the MBCR, so naturally things couldn't stay right for long. Tonight on the #715 Franklin train, there was a switch problem. It happened right after the Ruggles stop, and we sat there for more than half an hour waiting for the switch-repair guy.

I spent that half hour standing, of course, along with eight other passengers. It was a pretty angry bunch, and understandably so. There was quite a lot of grousing about the service on the line. One woman loudly reminded everyone to put in for free tickets on the MBTA website. I added the information that those tickets could be exchanged for cash at South Station or Back Bay. A couple of people volunteered that the exact same thing had happened on the same line exactly one week earlier - that on Tuesday the 7th, the #715 Franklin had also been stuck due to a switch problem. I got a ride home that night, so I couldn't say.

As it was, things could have been worse - and they were, for the people in the next coach. That was coach #644, and it was the fourth hot car I've personally seen since the announcement by the MBCR two weeks ago that they only had a single hot car in their entire fleet. The outside temperature today was in the 80s, so it wasn't as hideously hot as the other cars. But it was sitting still for half an hour, without even a breeze through the doors to cool things off. The conductors announced to the people in that coach that if they were overheated they could move into other coaches, and I saw several people leave in obvious discomfort.

Eventually someone fixed the switch and we were moving along again. I arrived at Franklin/Dean 32 minutes late.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Ruggles Station: Stairway to Hell?

Sometimes you miss something that's right under your nose. Or I do, anyway.

I was talking to one of the regular riders on the #715 Franklin train, and she pointed out something that jolted me: there's only one staircase and one elevator for the entire commuter rail platform at Ruggles.

There used to be a second staircase, but it started crumbling about three years ago and the T blocked it off. They locked and chained the upper doors, and put up a section of chain link fence to block the bottom of the stairs.

And then they sat back and let it crumble. It's just been decaying for the last three years. The chain link fence is partially broken in, but the whole staircase is clearly a hazard - it's literally falling apart. Chunks of masonry are falling off of it!

This is one of those stories where a picture would be worth more than a thousand words. So tomorrow I'll bring in my camera and take a photo of it to post here.

I wonder...are there any laws about adequate access to commuter rail platforms? If there's ever an emergency that requires passengers to get off the platform and up to the station quickly, that lone staircase would be quite a bottleneck. Which it is every morning, come to think of it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

No AC: The Miraculous Multiplication

Medieval theologians used to speak of a "miraculous multiplication". I experienced an ongoing one tonight on the Franklin #715 train.

Despite the MBCR's claim that only one of their 333 coaches lacked air conditioning, there was a yet another hot car on the Franklin line tonight. Last week coaches 641 and 629 had no AC (on the same train, which is pretty miraculous). Tonight the 604 was hot. And I mean hot!

Incidentally, I can't say that there were no hot coaches on the last two days. This was the first night I took the train home, this week.

And yet so far the press seems to have accepted the "one hot coach" story from the MBCR.
It leaves me feeling kind of powerless; doesn't anybody care that the MBCR is using our tax dollars to, well, not fix coaches and then lie about it? Isn't anyone holding them to any sort of accountability?

I guess not.

So, coaches without AC, a running tally:

If you should see any coach without AC, or a coach on this list with working AC, please comment about it here.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

No AC - One in 333?

According to the BostonNOW! article in the last post, the MBCR claims that only one out of their 333 commuter rail coaches lacks working air conditioning.

Tonight on the way home I learned otherwise.

The train was my usual, the #715 Franklin departing South Station at 4:10 PM. It had six single-level coaches, the usual inadequate complement. And of those six, two of them - coaches #641 and #629 - had no air conditioning. The temperature outside was in the low 90s, and in the middle of the coaches it had to be close to 100 degrees if not higher.

People packed themselves into the other cars like sardines. It was literally impossible to squeeze any more people in. I saw young children in the hot coaches, fussing and asking their parents over and over when they'd be able to get off.

I also saw that although coach #516 had working AC, the door was broken on one side. It was stuck more than half-open, making the AC pretty ineffective on that end of the coach. There was a repair tag stuck to the door handle dated 7/31.

So the so-trustworthy T claimed that only one coach in their entire fleet lacked working AC. This was repeated as fact in the BostonNOW! article. But I can testify that as of today, August 2nd 2007, at least TWO coaches lacked AC - and that was only on a single train! If you see a coach without working AC, please note the coach number if you can (it's located on the inside doors and on the roof near both ends of the coach) and record it here.

I have a very hard time believing that those are the only two coaches in the fleet without AC. But I find it very easy to believe that the MBCR just decided it would be easier to lie to the press and the public, figuring that they wouldn't be caught.

Or maybe a second coach broke down the minute after the spokesman spoke to the reporters, and the MBCR decided to put their only two broken coaches on the Franklin #715. How likely does that sound?

BostonNOW! story

A story came out in BostonNOW! about the crowding situation (although the focus was more on the supposed improvement in air conditioning maintainance).

A year later on the rails: No sweat
But riders still cramped on some lines

The T spokesman was quoted in a way that was misleading (or, more likely, made a misleading statement), so I made a comment on the story:
One of the problems dealing with the MBCR/MBTA is that they have all the facts, and they don't share them. Or they share them selectively.

Railroad spokesman Scott Farmelant said "Locomotives can only power so many cars". I'm sure that's true, but it's misleading in the context of the Franklin #715 overcrowding problem: that train normally consists of six single-level coaches. I've seen the same engine pull five DOUBLE-level coaches (which must be much heavier) and two single-level coaches simultaneously.

So the excuse of the Little Engine That Couldn't isn't really credible, is it?

As for the claim that only one coach in 333 lacks air conditioning, I can only say that I simply don't believe it. There haven't been many hot weekdays so far this summer, but I've already seen more than one train this year with at least one coach without AC.

I've started a blog for passengers to records stories and complaints about their commuter rail experiences. It's called "Charlie On The Commuter Rail", and it's on Blogspot. Any passenger is welcome to come by and post their story.

Incidentally, one clarification for the story: there are normally at least eight people standing PER COACH on the Franklin #715 (and often there are more). That's 50 total standees per train.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Every time I start writing a reply to a comment here, I end up remembering things that need a whole new post.

For example, stairwells. Or stairways. I'm not sure what the official name is. But if you don't know what they are (and if you don't, why are you reading this?), they allow passengers to get off on either ground-level stations or platform stations, depending on how they've been set.

For platforms, there's a steel floor plate which covers the stairs.

To exit at ground-level, open the door, step on a switch, lift the plate, latch it to the wall, and a stairway is exposed which goes down to ground (i.e. track) level. I'm sure that passengers aren't supposed to open or close the stairways, but some of us have figured out how to do it - out of necessity.


Because some conductors don't feel like bothering to open or close stairwells. That can be mildly annoying, when they force two coaches worth of departing passengers to file through one stairwell, instead of the usual two. But I remember one time when it was more than inconvenient.

This happened about three or four months ago. As they sometimes do, the conductors on the Franklin #715 disappeared. Unfortunately, they'd left both of the station-side stairwells closed in the vestibule closest to where I was sitting. Since most stops past Ruggles don't have platforms, that meant there was no way for passengers to leave the train - unless they opened a stairwell for themselves.

The pregnant woman who was starting to panic in the vestibule obviously didn't know how to open a stairwell. Or possibly, since she was fairly well along, she wasn't physically able to open the stairwell; the steel floor plates are pretty heavy, particularly if the spring that pushes them up is weak. So I ran over and opened a stairwell for her.

She got off, and an elderly handicapped veteran who'd been waiting for someone to open the damned stairwells hobbled on. How do I know he was handicapped? He had a cane, and was limping badly. How do I know he was a veteran? He had a cap on with the name of his ship - not proof positive, but enough to convince me that he was a veteran.

I have to wonder: wasn't ANY conductor looking down along the train? I'm sure that's part of the job description. How long was that guy standing there, waiting for someone to open the stairwell?

Incidentally, this time the train wasn't too crowded for the conductors to make it through the cars to do their jobs. I remember clearly that it was actually rather quiet that day - only one person got off from that vestibule, and only one got on. It was quite unusual.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


While many conductors on the commuter rail work hard and do a good job, the ones who don't stand out in my mind.

There was the one we knew as William - a big guy who looked like an ex-football player going to seed. He was in a constant rage. More than once I saw him almost get into fistfights with passengers. He's the only conductor about whom I've seen graffiti ( it said "CONDUCTOR BILL IS A C---SUCKER").

He was on the Franklin #715 (departing from South Station at 4:10 PM) for years. His rages and bizarre behavior were a constant topic of conversation among passengers; most of us were a little scared of him. One thing that we noticed was that shortly after Ruggles, he'd disappear and not be seen for the rest of the trip. One guy claimed that he went up to the front car after making a single ticket pass, and spent his time kissing up to the head conductor there - but I have no idea if that's true.

What I do know is that I once saw an elderly woman fall off the train because William, as usual, wasn't there to do his job. She was moving slowly, second in a line of three women getting off the train. The first one made it off. The train started moving just before the second one got off, and she fell and pitched off the train straight into the crowd below. Apparently no one on the train saw, because it just kept going. The third woman, a younger one, was forced to wait and get off at the next stop. She was not pleased.

Now, I may be mistaken, but it's my understanding that it's the duty of a conductor to help passengers off the train (if they need help), and to watch and make sure that it's safe for the train to begin moving. William neglected that responsibility over and over.

Naturally I wrote to the MBTA. And I got the usual apology and kiss-off response. From discussions with other passengers I know that many of them complained specifically about William the conductor as well, but none of them got any satisfaction either.

Eventually the MBCR took over. And when I made a complaint about the Franklin #715 (believe it or not, I don't make that many of them) and mentioned William, I was told that all complaints had been lost in the transition to the MBCR - there was no longer any record of a complaint on file. From anyone.

The stories I could tell about William! Like the time that the train was on the wrong side and - but I'll save that for another post. No point in overloading this one.

I don't know what happened, but eventually William was no longer on the #715. I've seen him on other lines occasionally, and once a number of us were disturbed to see him back on the #715, but that was apparently a one-time event.

There's also a story I want to tell about the time that the conductors left all of the stairways unopened, which almost left two particularly vulnerable passengers stuck. I'll write about it next time.

In the meantime, I don't want to be the only one posting here. So if you're a commuter rail passenger and have some stories to tell, let me know by commenting in the Welcome post and I'll gladly give you authoring privileges.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Franklin #715 overcrowding

I've been riding the Franklin line daily for years, and all that time there has been terrible overcrowding on the homeward #715 train, departing South Station at 4:10 PM. I get on at Ruggles, and haven't been able to get a seat more than a few times a year. Nor am I the only one forced to stand - there are usually quite a few of us.

I've emailed the MBCR about the issue over and over. The response is always that there's more than enough seating, or that the train was short a car for some reason (in which case I get an apology - I've come to consider those worthless, though).

On Friday, 7/13/07 I counted 33 people standing in a single-level coach. A woman in the next coach had a medical emergency and passed out; unfortunately there were no conductors around, and it was so crowded that passengers were completely unable to pass down the aisle in search of a conductor. We ended up trying to pass the word down the aisle by shouting. It wasn't very effective; we couldn't reach a conductor for several long minutes.

Fortunately the ill woman's condition apparently wasn't critical. But if it had been, the delay caused by the overcrowding could have had serious consequences.

The train was short a coach or two, I believe, but that happens pretty often. Other coaches were as crowded as the one I was on, or more so.

I've written more about that evening and the Franklin #715 on my LiveJournal; here's a collection of commuting posts.

Recently I got a response from the MBCR. I'd asked them (among other things) why the Needham Heights #619 train (departing Ruggles at 4:13 PM) always has many totally empty seats, while the Franklin train six minutes later always has at least 50 standees.

The explanation confused me: the extra space on the Needham train might be needed for a later rush hour train that required the capacity, or is being "put up" for the night at a facility, ready for the morning commute.

But an inbound evening rush hour train isn't going to see heavy use - most people are leaving the city, not entering it. So I can't believe that the extra capacity is needed for the next ride in.

And why isn't any extra seating needed for the line which actually has a visible and consistent shortage of seats every single night? I'm not a railroad expert, but it seems to me that when you have 50-100 people standing for half an hour or more every night for years, that's a sign that there's a shortage of seats!

Yesterday I checked the Needham Heights train again. The first car was almost totally empty - there were less than ten people on it. Those coaches theoretically seat 128. I checked another coach which had ten totally empty three-person seats and eleven empty two-person seats.

It's hard not to feel that I and a lot of other Franklin passengers are being screwed. Since I'm paying $223 per month for my train pass, that's particularly annoying. And every time anyone has complained to the MBCR or MBTA, we might as well be talking to a brick wall; nothing changes.

I hope that this blog will at least serve as a place for passengers to record their dissatisfaction with the commuter rail. If you want to make a post, please comment and I'll add you to the list of authors.


This is an open blog for comments from passengers on the Massachusetts commuter rail system (which is administered by the MBCR under the auspices of the MBTA). This blog is unofficial and in no way endorsed by or connected with the MBTA, MBCR, or any other organization.

All contents are the property of the author(s). If you want posting privileges, please comment and I'll add you to the list of authors.