Thursday, June 9, 2011

This is 2011 not 1911-a rant

And I live in Beverly--not Horseshoe Bend ID or St. Petersburg in Russia. So why is the train service so unreliable?

Today I got on the 5:40 commuter whale train to Newburyport and the train left North Station, traveled about half a mile and then sat for 20 minutes. At first they told us that the previous train had left late, and so we were being held so that we wouldn't have to ride right behind it. This narrative is suspect, since the previous train didn't stop at the first 3 stops--it runs express to Salem. My seatmate was a lady who felt like talking a bit. We discussed the situation and I said "Well at least they're not backing the train into North Station, making us all get off and get on another train." (This happened to me this winter, but I'll say more on that subject later.)A few minutes later, the train started backing up. A male voice said "This is not a good sign." My seatmate and I laughed, because well, it wasn't a good sign.

Now they told us that there were electrical problems and we'd have to take an alternate route but "there is no problem with this train." Eventually we started moving again. We made it all the way to Charlestown before the train stopped again. We were stopped on a bridge. The surrounding area was industrial stuff and swamp. We were stopped for long enough that I wondered if they were going to make us get out (and how? Where would we debark?) The next announcement claimed that because of the weather (lightning storms) there were electrical problems and that was why we weren't moving but "We are doing paperwork so that'll get us moving soon." Both my seatmate and I were mystified as to how "paperwork" was likely to improve the situation. Finally we more or less started moving.

But this is not an isolated incident. This winter, when I got to the commuter rail station I felt like I might as well be living in Horseshoe Bend in 1911 as far as the train situation went "Yes there will be a train. Sometime today." When I got to North Station one evening all the trains on the board were listed as "Delayed." Yes, there was a lot of snow, but this is Massachusetts, where "a lot of snow during the winter months" is an expected condition. Shouldn't the people who run the T and the Mass Bay Commuter Rail expect this and plan accordingly*?

On one of the evenings when all the trains were delayed, I fell in with another comrade from Beverly. We both noted that some of the trains (our in particular) had changed from "Delayed" to "information coming soon." That's nice. Our train's not just delayed-it's Wicked Fucking Delayed. The announcer kept assuring us that they were bringing "new equipment" out on the track. To me "equipment" is, power drills, tape measures, screw drivers, anti-static wrist bands, hack-saws, slide rulers, calculators, paint brushes--tools that you can hold in your hand to do...whatever you plan to do--not trains. (Which is what they meant.) My buddy and I laughed about the "new equipment."

But seriously. I live in the US. We were once proud of our railroads. They were once one of the things that Made This Country Great. Now, I live on a rail line that has a bridge that was built in the 1800s and so gets stuck open (because it hasn't occurred to anyone these past 200 years to modernize it?) The last time I took the train to New York I booked Acela tickets both ways, by my train broke down on the way home in New Haven, so they put all of us on the Peasant Train that was across the tracks (the Peasant Train stops every 50 feet between New York and Boston and they are still using the same cars that they were using when I was in high school) so I rode from New Haven to Boston sitting in the aisle next to the toilets. I didn't write and complain because, well, it wasn't Amtrak's fault--strictly speaking.

My parents went to Italy last year. Meaning no disrespect to my Italian friends, my impression of Italy (while I was living in France last decade) was that it was not the most efficiently run state("oh you sent it by post to Italy? Well maybe it will get there, eventually.") However, my parents (who don't speak Italian) were able to buy tickets--with seat assignments--on a train that came on time and delivered them to where they wanted to go (Ravenna.) They were very impressed by the efficiency of the Italian railroad.

I was pleased to hear that they were impressed and that Italy had an efficiently run railroad. At the rate things are progressing in the US, I expect that somebody I talk with soon will be impressed by the Iraqui** railroad, as compared to ours.

It makes me angry that our rail infrastructure is such a bad state--not just because I use it to commute to my job or go to New York to visit my relatives--but on General Fucking Principle!

It is true that the railways did not start in the US---the first railroad was in the UK--but as I've said above, our railways were one of our achievements as a country. I don't know the history of how they were removed from private hands and made a public service, but it is shameful the state they are it as compared to other countries. When I lived in Paris I could get to London in less time and with less headaches than it takes me to get from Boston to New York. When I came back to the US and heard about the Acela trains they were planning to start using I was thrilled to death. But, the trains could not go TGV speed because the tracks were in a bad state.

I am not a politician, but I really don't understand what the payout is in *not* investing more in our railroad infrastructure. I have heard politicians moan about how Amtrak is not turning a profit, but isn't the point of making something a public service removing the profit motive? The Beverly Police Force is not earning a profit. I'm not suggesting that we defund them.

I work in Boston, so (even when I lived in Cambridge) showing up an hour late and saying "The T" is perfectly acceptable. But I feel that by not bothering to be reliable the T--whether it's the Red Line, the 39 Bus or the Commuter Rail is showing contempt for it's riders. "The T--where the Hell are you going in such a big hurry?"

*This really seems obvious to me--I did not need my business school professors to explain planning for expected conditions to me. I work in financial services. I know that quarter ends (and even more so year ends) and tax time are busy times. I plan my work around these times---I don't suggest that we roll out new software in December or in April. Whenever possible I do preventative maintenance before crisis times. I'm not a genius and this is not a new idea.

**Yes, Iraq--that country we invaded a decade or so ago where people still don't always get electricity or clean water

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