Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Mystery Train

My inbound commute this morning inspired the following poem:

The Mystery Train

The Mystery Train is a train of excitement,
With windows so clouded that you cannot see
Which station you're passing - or IF there's a station,
Or where in the world you might happen to be.

You stare in confusion at windows so frosted
An x-ray machine couldn't peer through the haze.
Is my stop coming up? Or have I just passed it?
Or am I a minotaur lost in a maze?

The conductors all thoughtfully aid in the mystery,
Never breathing a word which might pierce that dark veil
Where is the train going? Are we passing a station?
Was that blob Back Bay station, or was it Montvale?

If YOU want to ride on a train full of mystery
They're rolling along on the tracks every day
You might never get to the place you were going,
But that's how it is on the MBTA.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Silent Stops and Secret Stations

No major issues lately, but there are still a few things to write about.

There was a bit of a stir on the inbound Franklin #710 train this morning (08/06/2008). After the Readville stop, the conductor announced over the intercom that the next stop would be Back Bay. Since the train was supposed to stop at Ruggles, this caused a bit of a stir.

The train sometimes skips Ruggles due to track problems, so the announcement seemed unusual but not impossible. They're supposed to announce that they're skipping Ruggles, of course, but they don't always do that.

In the end, they stopped at Ruggles after all; the announcement must have just been a slip of the tongue by the conductor. So no free tickets today.

I did cash in five free tickets recently, and was annoyed at the attitude of the guy behind the counter (at Back Bay). He insisted that all three letters had to be pre-signed before I got to the window, and I had to be at the window with my driver's license, tickets, and letters all in hand. Time was short, but after waiting through the line the first time I had to go out, sign and arrange everything, and go through the line a second time. It wasn't a terribly long line, so I'd guess that the clerk was just being officious for the hell of it.

Speaking of silent stops, conductors have been particularly silent at Ruggles lately. They often don't bother to announce the destination of the train, and sometimes they don't even step out on the platform! Since the trains have been more and more erratic, time-wise (they can vary from the schedule by five minutes or more) this is particularly worrisome. Often passengers have to go into a train and ask the passengers inside where the train is going.

A few quick notes:

Smelly Car - A coach on the Franklin line had an unusual problem: it stank. It wasn't a bathroom car, but it smelled like sewage for the entire trip. This caused a "hot car" effect; passengers avoided that car and piled into the other ones. Unfortunately I didn't note the train number (it was a later-evening outbound run), but I think the coach might have been #604.

Hefty hefty hefty! - MBTA head Dan Grabauskas announced via cellphone from his luxury state-supplied SUV1 that T riders would be facing "hefty" fare increases in 2010 unless the Legislature took action. I'd predicted that he'd jump the increase forward to 2009, so I guess I was wrong about that. But I have to wonder what he means by "hefty". Recent increases have been in the 25-27% range; what could a hefty increase look like? I'm guessing 40% or more, but please feel free to put your own guess as a comment. The winner will receive a free luxury SUV, fueled and paid for by the taxpayers of Massachusetts2.

Wall Street Journal story - A couple of months ago I was interviewed several times about the commuter rail system by Alex Roth of the Wall Street Journal. Here's a link to a copy of the story: Riders Swamp Public Transit. I imagine we'll hear a lot more about the strain of increasing ridership on public transportation over the years to come.

Late! - I was chatting with an experienced passenger, and she pointed out something that I hadn't really noticed: the trains have been late a lot, for a long time now. Not necessarily by a lot, and not by that golden 30 minutes that means a free ticket, but the trains are regularly five to fifteen minutes late by the time they reach the end of the line. I don't think we've actually arrived exactly on time in months. But just because I'm me, I'm going to start tracking arrival times on the Franklin #715. It will be interesting to have some solid data to post.

Oh, a quick shout-out to the women I talked to on the train this morning. Hi!

1 - Okay, I don't know that he made the announcement from the SUV, but I couldn't resist mentioning that little perk of his.
2 - Offer will not be honored. No free SUV for you!