542

It’s a westbound Amtrak train number. It is probably representative of a whole bunch of other things too, but to me on Monday evenings it’s my ticket out of the concrete jungle and mayhem waiting to be flattened by another number – an 8.2.

I don’t understand how common sense seems to go out of the window when it comes to trains. I use three train systems and the road system on Mondays. This morning, like every other, I was up at 3:00 am. Leaving the house at 3:50, Debby dropped me at the station in Sacramento at 4:25. The train leaves at 4:30.

I change in Richmond at 5:55 and grab the 6:00 am to Millbrae. This time it’s BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). And for what it’s worth, it is actually pretty good. Arriving in Millbrae at 7:!2 I get to wait at the station until 7:48 when I get on a CalTrain to San Carlos ETA at 8:05.

The ride home is the reverse and I end up catching the 542 at 5:57 pm – or at least that’s the intended time.

Last week was a bit of an exception.

I arrived at Richmond around 5:20. The announcement already had the train scheduled late due to “train congestion”. As every minute passed, the automated announcement let us know that the train was going to be one minute later.

“Train 542 will be arriving at six ten pm…”

One minute passes.

“Train 542 will be arriving at six eleven pm…”

This continued. For an hour. Apparently this “train congestion” couldn’t be foreseen. Now how is it that trains, that run on a schedule, every day for weeks and months and years get congestion? Someone explain that to me – I just don’t get it…

While this delay happened we (as in the other stranded souls and I) watched and counted as numerous trains came and went east. Then we counted them going west. But none of them going the same way as me. Then we watched as mile long freight trains rumbled through the station – again going east.

So I;m sitting there thinking, if there’s train congestion – why are these trains going that way too?

An hour turned into hours. And as we waited the sun began to tuck behind the man-made mountains of brick and a cool breeze filled the station atmosphere.

It was 8:40 before the train arrived. It wasn’t the 542. That got cancelled (no kidding). The next train was packed. And I mean no seating room – standing room only.

Surprisingly everyone was in very good spirits (myself included) and I eventually managed to make it home by 11:40. Not a bad day using public transport. Or as they say in a commercial someplace “let the train take the strain”.

I have an idea. Let the train take some time management and expectation management courses. Oh and while it’s at it, perhaps a common sense course might help too.

And why do I burden you with all of this?

I arrived at Richmond today at 5:20. The automated announcement was giving it’s usual depressing update.

“Train 542 will be arriving at six ten pm…”

I had my groundhog day moment but fortunately saw this one short lived. Despite the announcement fluctuating between a 6:10 arrival and the scheduled 5:57 arrival, the 542 was on time.

As I ride back passengers talk of last week’s debacle as if it were yesterday. A common ground that brings them all together. There was no dissatisfaction or frustration last week and it didn’t carry over to this week either – a far cry from the way airplane passengers complain and grumble.

It got me home. That’s what counts, even if I was a little more tired that I would like to have been.

Safe travels…

[Image: Todd Evans 2007]