Monday, September 20, 2010

Do I stay or do I go?

There was a mechanical the other day on the northbound surfliner from San Diego, that led to two trains being yoked together, basically "deadheading" the broken engine up to LA. Once they made it to LA, they split the transets again, but it was start of the evening commute , and there was much pushing and pulling and delay due to incoming traffic before they got the trainset that was supposed to be #582 (southbound, 4.10 departure) re-installed on a platform. Then they had to go push the engines around to replace the one that wasn't working.

Trains live in a one dimensional world that is bound by the track. You can't just jump from one track to another; you have to back up past a switch, then come forward and switch onto the new track, drop off whatever you are dropping off, then back up and repeat . By the time they got the trainset dropped off ( at the far end of platform 11, squeezed in front of another train), and the old engine deposited in dishonor on the center spur, and the new engine attached to the trainset, it was 4.50; the conductors (as frustrated as everyone else on the hot platform) making hand signals to the engineer as they tried to get the air system hooked up and the power going.

Right on time, the southbound train #784 from Santa Barbara arrived, which leaves LA at 5.10 to continue downline. My conundrum: do I continue to wait for #582, which isn't likely to leave much before 5.10 itself, or do I trot over to another platform and get on #775? The conductors shrugged; "we haven't even air-ested it yet," one said (air pressure provides brakes), and there were no lights on in the cars. "You make your decision," commented the head conductor. (She's like that, she never states an opinion on such things.)

At 4.55, I decided to cut and run, betting on the 5.10 train being the first to go. My logic was also based on experience that a train out of its slot picks up more delays as it goes, so I figured it would drop further behind. Of course lots of other people made the same bet, so the 5.10 train was Standing Room Only by the time it left LA, 9 minutes late. And as I looked out the window, I saw that the other track was clear: #582 HAD left before #784, and because tracks are one-dimensional, it would beat us home after all. Sigh. (Although it only left 10 minutes ahead of me).

Given the experience that mine is always the longest line in the supermarket, I just know that if I'd bet on #582, it would have taken another hour to leave LA.

The train is great when it works, but when it doesn't, it's a real pain.

Picture from Trainweb

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Missing your stop is not an emergency

I like to say that if you ride the train enough you will experience everything. A while back on my evening commute home, the train started to pull out of Oceanside station and then there was a loud WHOOSH sound and it stopped immediately. After a minute the conductor came on, and said in an annoyed voice.

"Ladies and gentlemen, pulling the emergency brake without an emergency is a felony and you will be removed by the police. Missing your stop is not an emergency."

We all looked around, wondering what sort of idiot pulls the emergency brake. The conductors, exasperated, walked through the train looking at each emergency handle for the one that had been pulled, so they could close it again. The emergency brake releases a valve that depressurizes the braking system, thus applying the brakes, so that the train cannot get going again until the valve is closed.

Of course, the errant handle was in the last car of the train. The conductors quizzed the passengers and got a description of the kid around 17 or 18 with a skateboard who panicked when he realized the doors had closed, and pulled the handle. They found him, and after what I hope was a stern talking to, they let him off. I saw him jump on his skateboard and saucily swoop down the platform.

I thought that they should have kept him till the next station, at least, but as one conductor commented, by the time they got the police, and a report, we'd all be much later than we already were. So they cut their losses, and we rumbled home.