Thursday, June 23, 2011

Adventures of a Power Commuter, or how to get home when the line is closed

Amtrak #582 was on time out of LA yesterday afternoon at 4.10pm, and I was pleased that I was able to make it to the station in time to catch it. Of course, then as we left Santa Ana, the conductor uttered those awful words: "there has been a trespassing incident, and we will be delayed in Irvine for some unknown amount of time." So by 5.10, we were sitting at Irvine station.

Although it sounds innocuous enough, "Trespassing Incident" means someone died on the tracks. Grim experience meant I knew better than to wait for Amtrak to tell me what is going on. Now that I am in possession of a smart phone, I Have The Technology. So I immediately checked the Twitter feed for Metrolink's Orange County line. Metrolink is the commuter line that runs down south as far as Oceanside, the northernmost stop in San Diego county. (I go further, to Solana Beach, which is why I have to take Amtrak). Metrolink are very good at updates and indeed reported that there had been an auto accident.

Uh-oh. THAT doesn't sound good.

From there I jumped over to the Orange County Register, which is very fast at putting breaking news on line; from this I learned that a woman had driven off a bridge over the tracks near the Laguna Niguel stop and died .

Conclusion: we're going to be here for a while. I called my wife. If things got really bad, Irvine is around an hour or so from home; but at commute hour, there was no point in starting that drive and besides, she had plans last night. But driving to Irvine would be a back up for the worst case.

Now, the GOOD news is that we were in a station, not stuck on the tracks somewhere trapped on the train. The doors were open so people could get on and off and walk around. The other good news is that there is Stone Brewery beer on Amtrak. So I went down to the snack bar and purchased a beer and some snacks.

I had just started to drink the beer when the conductor announced that Metrolink was going to run a train one stop further down line, to Laguna. From there, they would provide a "bus bridge" as far as Oceanside. Metrolink liaises very well with the Orange County Transit buses, so they get that kind of thing going quickly. And Oceanside is much closer to home than Irvine.

So I ran into the restroom to empty my water bottle, carefully filled it with my Stone IPA (I don't waste Stone beer), and got off the train. At the doorway, the conductor was explaining to a young woman, in Amtrak doublespeak, that he couldn't say how long they'd be in Irvine while Amtrak sought some "accommodation" for them, but the Metrolink would be coming through in 5 minutes.

I ran up the two flights of stairs, over the bridge, and down to the other platform just in time to jump on the Metrolink train. It chugged down to Laguna, where a group of buses was waiting. I snagged a seat for an express ride to Oceanside (and tweeted MetrolinkOC to thank them!) There wasn't even any traffic on the freeway to speak of (it's never like that when *I* drive) and we were in Oceanside in just over half an hour.

As the bus opened the door, I asked if anyone else needed to go to the Solana Beach station and wanted to split a cab. Only one woman said yes (sad, since it would have been a lot cheaper with 4 of us) but still half is better than full fare. $50/2 later I was back in Solana Beach. It was 7.40, about 1h30m late. I asked the Amtrak station officer if Amtrak #582 had made it. He laughed and told me it was still stuck in Irvine.

Oh, and Amtrak's status updates on THEIR twitter feed? As of this morning, they hadn't bothered to update it in 18 hours.

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