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.