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.