Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A failure in management

Things have been rough for those of us on Pacific Surfliners 763 lately.  This is the first train out of San Diego, and is very heavily used by commuters.The big stop is Irvine, but a surprising number of us are power commuters going all the way to LA on a daily basis.

From LA, 763 goes on up to Goleta, where it turns around and comes back down as train 784.  This is the 5.10 departure out of LA and is also a heavily used commuter service.  Of course, if 763 is late going out, 784 is late coming back.

For the last few weeks 784 has been a disaster, mainly due to trackwork north of LA.  Finally, Amtrak decided to have 763 terminate in LA, and use the Amtrak coaches to bring everyone down from up north.  (This was suggested by one of the regular tweeters some days before they did it.... did Amtrak listen to him?)   That helped. Now the trackwork is done and 763 is again going up to Goleta.

But 763 has been having problems.  There have been cancellations, mechanicals, and a trespassing incident last week (= railspeak for fatality, probably suicide) .  This last caused me to get a ride to Irvine from a fellow commuter, D;  he dropped me at the Irvine station so I could get on Metrolink.  My mother would be horrified that I'm getting into cars to drive 50 miles with men whose last names I don't know!  ;-)

Monday this week 763 was 30 min late which had me really peeved.  But yesterday, it exceeded even that, by throwing a mechanical just before it reached the LA river, about 15 min outside of LA Union.  We came to a stop and sat waiting.

Normally, if there is a locomotive failure, they sweep it up by coupling the dead train to the next Amtrak coming by, making a double-length train that limps the rest of the way into LA.  The yard is there and they can swap out the engine.

Foolishly, we assumed that since we were at most 2 miles from the yard, they would just send out a locomotive and pull us in.  Right?

Wrong!  Turns out the worst place it could have happened was near the yard.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  Apparently they drove some mechanics over who couldn't fix it.  They offered to let people off and walk them to the street, but we were in industrial east LA/Vernon, in the middle of the freight yards-- not exactly a place where you can catch a cab, and not easy to direct a colleague with a car.  We watched as Amtrak 599 (the express) went by an hour later, and then, another hour after that, we saw 567 go by. Finally, FINALLY, a rescue locomotive arrived and took us into LA Union, 2.5 hours late.

A conductor told me today that the problem was that the rescue locomotive didn't have a conductor and they had to have one to leave the yard. (Conductors are the commanders of the train; the engineer is the driver).  If that is the case, why didn't they just hook us up to 599 when it came through, and go in together?  Yes, 599 would have taken a 20min delay to do that, but the hundreds of people on 763 would have gotten to LA much earlier and 599 is often late anyway.

Whose brilliant idea was it to leave 763 sitting there stranded for 2.5 HOURS?   

The first goal should be to get passengers where they are going.  Especially for 763, which is not full of vacationers, but full  of people trying to get to work.  I should have been at work at 9.15;  I needed to be at work by 10;  I got there at 12.

 If we'd thrown the mechanical in San Juan Capistrano, we would have been to LA by 10 and I'd have been to work by 10.30--not good, but not nearly as awful as it was.

Every morning when I get on 763, I feel like Dorothy Parker:  What fresh hell is this?


Lance said...

Ouch! Hope your boss accepted the "stranded train" excuse.

Anonymous said...