Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lest we forget...

Overcrowding is still common on the Franklin line. This morning, though, it was particularly bad. By the time the #708 train (departing from Franklin/Forge Park at 7AM) reached Norwood Central (which is the mid-point of the run), passengers were being jammed into the aisles. I couldn't see the outer vestibules, but the crowding was extreme:

One accident with a train this crowded would probably cause at least twice as many casualties than there would be if the train had adequate seating.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Celtics on parade

Throngs of people filled Boston to see the victory parade for the Celtics today, so perhaps it was inevitable that there would be problems on the Franklin #715.

The train itself was packed, with lots of teenagers wearing green. The aisles were crowded with standees, although I didn't see anyone in the vestibules themselves.

Shortly after the Norwood Depot stop, the train came to a halt. We were stuck on the short length of track between Norwood Depot and Norwood Central, directly next to a McDonald's. It wasn't long before the smell from the McDonald's became sheer torture.

After a while there was an announcement that the train was waiting for an inbound train to pass, after which we'd start right up again. So we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

For half an hour.

I saw six teens jump off the train and walk down the track towards Norwood Central. And since I was roughly in the middle of the train, the odds are that more jumped off and I didn't see them. Not to mention that I could only see one side of the train; I don't know if anyone jumped off on the other side.

When the train finally started up again, it went at a crawl for a long time. It was scheduled to arrive at Franklin/Dean, my destination, at 5:10 PM; we ended up pulling into the station at 5:49 PM, a full 39 minutes late. So in the last six days the T has failed to make their on-time performance guarantee three times. Now that I think of it, that's a pretty awful record!

Trouble on the Stoughton Line

I chat with a lot of people about the commuter rail. Inevitably, many of them tell me about problems. Yesterday a woman told me about a memorable Tuesday on the Stoughton line.

The morning train (shortly before 8 AM) simply skipped the Ruggles stop completely. Track work, I presume, but apparently they didn't announce it until after the previous stop.

Then that evening the train (at around 5 PM) kept stopping to let other trains go by. When it reached Canton Junction it simply stopped...and then everyone was told to get off and wait for the next train.

So apparently the Franklin line isn't the only one that has problems. But then, we already knew that - didn't we?

Monday, June 16, 2008

A fire and a plan

Part of the mystery is solved: according to WBZ, there was a small fire at South Station and a planned outage for repairs. I have to say, though, that a Saturday in June on a day that two festivals are being held in Cambridge - one of them quite a large festival - is a really stupid day to PLAN to take out the Red line. And why wasn't the T better prepared?

South Station Fire Shuts Down Red Line

A surprising series of screw-ups, part 2

Arriving at South Station 31 minutes late didn't exactly help our schedule. The Cambridge River Festival ran from noon to 6 PM, and it was already well after 2. We headed towards the subway station. A quick trip on the Red line would get us into Harvard Square before 3 PM.

But at the entrance to the subway station (which is part of South Statio, of course) we were waved back by T employees. "The station's closed!" one of them shouted. "Go up those stairs, there will be buses!"

What the hell?

Up the stairs and out on the street, we ran into a scene of budding chaos. There were fire engines, emergency vehicles, and firemen everywhere. The crowd wasn't yet overwhelming, but it was large and growing quickly.

And there wasn't a single damned bus in sight!

Whatever had happened in the subway station - and we heard several rumors, most of them being that there had been a fire (although we hadn't smelled any smoke at the station entrance) - it must have happened pretty recently. Either that, or the T was even more screwed up than usual, because it took a surprisingly long time for any buses to show up.

Here's the scene:

When buses finally started to appear they were all destined for JKF/UMASS, and therefore completely useless for us. In the meantime the crowd had become enormous, spilling onto the streets and greatly slowing traffic. There were several points where buses were pulling in, but it wasn't clear if there were particular locations for specific destinations. Many of the signs on the buses simply said "OUT OF SERVICE", and people had to shout and ask the drivers where they were going. It was, simply, chaos; nobody seemed able to organize the situation and let people know what had happened or where they should go. Parts of the crowd ran back and forth from loading-point to loading-point, trying to find buses to take them where they wanted to go.

Eventually a bus headed for Charles/MGH showed up. We ran like mad and managed to get on. It was jam-packed, of course. Traffic in the city seemed unusually heavy, and it took quite a while for the bus to reach Charles. By the time we reached Cambridge, it was well after 4 PM.

Sebastian was pretty worn out by this point. He's only six years old, after all! We stopped and had some lunch, but after that the walk to the River Festival was simply too much for him. So after all that we had to give up and turn back towards the T. We never got to see the River Festival after all.

But our weekend wasn't over yet. I'd hoped that the Red line was fully back in service, but of course that wasn't realistic. At Kendall/MIT the train stopped and everyone had to get off. So it was back on the bus for the trip back to Park Station. From there the subway trip to South Station was, thank goodness, relatively uneventful.

We took the Franklin train to Norfolk. Sebastian fell asleep on the way, but I was able to wake him (with difficulty) before we got there. The light was failing, but the sun hadn't yet completely set; and to my surprise I was able to navigate my way back home without a single wrong turn. We arrived home late and tired, but okay.

But that was just Saturday. The T had one more surprise in store for us that weekend...

It was a relatively minor one, but still annoying. We had to take the commuter rail in to Boston again the next day. And just minutes before we would have arrived at our destination, Ruggles station, there was an announcement: due to problems with the tracks, the train would not be stopping at Ruggles. Anyone headed for Ruggles would need to go one stop further, to Back Bay, and take the Orange line back to Ruggles. I imagine that would be particularly irritating for passengers who didn't have T passes, since that would mean they'd have to pay an extra subway fare.

I was pretty annoyed too, since my father was waiting in his car at Ruggles to pick us up. He didn't have his cell phone, so I couldn't call him and tell him that we'd be late. Fortunately he was still there when we finally arrived, but it was one last little screwup from the MBTA.

What a weekend!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A surprising series of screw-ups, part 1

I'm a weekday commuter; I don't normally go to Boston on the weekends. When I do, I usually go with my family, and we drive.

But at around 150 miles for a round trip (including some incidental driving in the city area) at roughly 25 miles to the gallon...well, one of the cheaper stations in our area recently bit us for $4.14 a gallon. Do the math: 6 x $4.14 = $24.84.

My zone 6 pass costs $223 a month. My son, who's six years old, will be able to ride for free on the T until he's 13. It would have cost $13.50 for my wife to come along, round trip (plus the additional cost of any subway rides) but as it happened she wasn't coming with us that day. Our total additional cost to take the train would be $0. Who wouldn't save $25 if they could?

So on Saturday my son and I headed over to the Franklin/Dean College stop to catch the #1708 train, departing from Franklin/Dean at 12:47 PM. I'd have preferred to take an earlier train, but his karate class let out at 11 AM and the weekend schedule of the commuter rail is surprisingly inconvenient; trains come once every two hours. Our destination was the Cambridge River Festival in Cambridge, MA. It started at noon and ended at 6 PM.

We were running a little late, but made it to the station with six minutes to spare. It was 12:41. We got out of the car and started picking up our stuff. As we did, another car pulled into the parking lot after us. A man in a safety vest standing next to the station called out to me "Are you going to Boston?"

"That's the plan!" I said cheerfully, but a little warily.

"The buses just left!" he answered.

It turned out that there was repair work being done on the tracks over the weekends, and as a result part of the line was replaced with buses for some of the runs. The problem was that the two buses had both left early! We hadn't even seen them, so they must have left at least seven minutes early, if not more.

The people in the other car started talking to the guy in the vest. They wanted to know if he could call and have the bus wait for us at the next station, Norfolk.

"I don't know how to get to Norfolk!" I exclaimed.

"Follow those guys!" said the T worker. Sebastian and I hopped back in the car and took off after them. As we pulled out of the parking lot, we passed several young women - college students, probably - on their way to the station. It still wasn't quite 12:47, so I suspected that those girls were expecting to be able to catch the Boston train. I wished them well, but figured that shouting the bad news to them out of the window as I drove by would be counterproductive. The T guy could tell them.

As we followed the other car I must admit that I was worried. I was going in a direction I'd never driven before, into terra incognita. With the other car to follow I figured I'd make it to Norfolk, but what bothered me was the thought of a nighttime drive back. I did my best to memorize landmarks at the various turns, and said them aloud to my son as we drove. That was more to help fix them in my memory than in his, of course.

When we got to Norfolk station the damned bus was pulling out again! The car ahead of us pulled into a convenience-store parking lot, and the passenger jumped out. He ran to the bus, while I tried to get a parking spot in the station parking lot. The problem (that's a word I'm going to be using a lot here) was that the bus was stopped in the street, and the cars stacked up behind it were completely blocking the entrance to the lot.

Fortunately the bus driver eventually pulled ahead and onto the side of the road. The other cars moved on, and I was able to get into the lot and park. My son and I ran like madmen to get to the bus.

It was an incredibly ancient schoolbus, even older than the kind that I used to ride when I was a boy. Sebastian (my son) was excited, since he has been dying to ride a schoolbus for years. He had a lot of fun on the ride.

Eventually the bus pulled up at Walpole station, where the train was waiting. I took a quick photo of one of the buses. That's Sebastian's head in the foreground.

We got on the train...and had a long, long wait. It turned out that another bus had turned back and returned to Franklin/Dean station when they'd heard that there were more passengers there! So those girls turned out to have gotten their ride after all. And our trip to Norfolk was unnecessary.

The rest of the trip was actually quite interesting, because there was a lot of track work going on. There are a number of odd-looking little trains - repair vehicles, I suppose - some of which normally just sit parked on the side-tracks between Readville and Ruggles. This time they were all being used, plus others that I'd never seen before, and the tracks were swarming with workers. The train kept honking its horn to warn them along the way. My son was in heaven. He loves that sort of thing (and I liked it too).

I also spotted some graffiti. Now, I'd never do graffiti myself; I just don't have the nerve for it. Somewhere deep inside me is the conviction that the first time I ever try to write on a wall in public I will be caught and punished. But I love to be surprised by funny graffiti.

This one snuck up on me. It was an ad I'd seen a lot lately, a Vermont vacation poster. The clever thing about that series of ads is that they each have what looks like a large handwritten post-it note in the lower right-hand corner of the poster. It's part of the photograph, of course, but it's so brilliantly done that you find yourself actually touching the edges of it to see if it's really a post-it.

This one...well, take a look for yourself:

The train pulled into South Station at 2:14, exactly 31 minutes late. But if I'd known what waited for us at South Station, I'd have turned right around and gone back home. Because this was only the start of a weekend of disasters, courtesy of the MBTA.

Things were about to get much worse.

To be continued...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Trouble on the Franklin Line

It was a tough morning on the Franklin #708 today.

The train started out short a car. As a result, the place was packed; people were jammed in the aisles. And then at Dedham 128, there was a medical emergency. The train lay by for over half an hour waiting for an ambulance. By the time we arrived at Ruggles, the train was 38 minutes late. People were crowded into the vestibules when I got off, but I don't know if they'd been riding there for the whole trip.

I didn't see the ambulance or the medical emergency myself, by the way. I was on the opposite side of the train from the parking lot, and the emergency must have happened on some other coach.