Wednesday, October 31, 2007

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.

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