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

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