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.


Lois said...

I remember an MBTA bus driver on the Watertown line who I am sure had a personality disorder. He went ballistic once because I had "hailed" the bus and he wouldn't stop ranting about it. I am sure that his file contained numerous complaints.

Doodle Bean said...

OMG! He's been on the evening Fitchberg Line for several years. I've filed many complaints about him - to the point where Steve Jones of MBCR showed up on the evening train to talk to me and find out about him (of course Bill was on his best behavior that night).

Essentially, he is friendly with young pretty women and guys with whom he can talk about hunting, boating, fishing and sports. Everyone else is liable to be harassed and/or threatened.

It's not just the passengers. He has had fights with other conductors. One I know of requested a transfer just to not ever have to work with him again.

All I can say is keep complaining, riders, and eventually he will be canned.

Quasit said...

Interesting; there's a conductor on the Franklin line who's called "The Wicked Witch of the West" by some passengers (I didn't coin that nickname, incidentally). I've heard her have screaming arguments with other conductors in the vestibules.

I don't know what the arguments were about, but they'd go out there, close the doors, and we passengers would sit there staring at each other awkwardly while the conductors would scream at each other in a fury. Not exactly professional behavior! If I ever did something like that, I'd expect a reprimand at the least.

She's had that sort of argument with more than one other conductor, too.

The problem is that if you file a complaint about behavior like that, at most a supervisor might speak or transfer to the one person you complained about - and personally, I'm not interested in getting people in trouble. My problem is with the system, not the low-level people working in it. Some of them have temperament problems, yes. But most of them seem to be under incredible stress, clearly beaten down by a system that doesn't care how badly things are going.

Management is not being held accountable. That, plus a woeful lack of funding, is the real problem - as far as I can tell, anyway.

Carter Beats the Devil said...

I guess I'm lucky-- I take the Fitchburg line every day, and all of my conductors (mostly guys) seem really good (except for one who came back from Disneyworld talking about having raped Goofy-- but he's not really hostile, just has a gross sense of humor). Most are very nice actually, although the Fitchburg line is notorious for mechanical problems and lateness. I look forward to seeing them in the morning because they are usually so cheerful and I'm not even awake yet!