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November 25, 2004

Annals of incompetent railroad operation

Before I start this story, I should first note for our foreign readers that Amtrak's Northeast Corridor is not like the rest of the system, which is really awful. The service between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington makes money, does not share track with freight trains, arrives on time and is much faster than driving. Unless I'm hauling something large or are particularly broke, it's my preferred method of travel between Washington and New York, a trip I take several times annually and often run into old friends in the station or on the train. It's a small world.

That being said, Thanksgiving on the NEC is a little different from normal operations. The train stations on both ends are filled far beyond normal capacity with people who rarely use public transportation and are thus confused and cranky. The 5:10, which would normally require arrival at about 5:05 for boarding, had a line at the gate by 4:30.

I eventually boarded and the train left, filled with the usual train suspects -- college students going back to New Jersey, Hill people headed to their home districts in New York and Connecticut, the inevitable clump of foreign tourists who booked under the false impression that our trains would be as fast, clean and efficient as those in their home country.

I found a seat in the clump of Japanese and all was well until Metropark, N.J., a suburban stop popular with college students whose parents would never venture into Newark or Trenton even if those stops were closer to home. As the train pulled in, I saw the people on the platform looking confused. I also saw that they were rather far away. Since the other platform had a southbound train letting off passengers, we had either skipped the previosly announced Metropark stop or we had arrived, but at the wrong track.

It was the latter, something I've never once seen before in all my years riding trains. The train backed up, the conductor told everyone exiting at Metropark to go to the second car (my car) and they let everyone off over the tracks at the edge of the platform. I saw the whole confused scene from my window.

Then, as the train started slowly leaving the station (I know train engines can't be sheepish, but that's what it felt like), it backed up again, this time on the correct track. Someone forgot a guy in a wheelchair wanted to get off.

Post Author: rj3 | 09:13 AM | Link | TrackBacks

Was the train on a through track without a platform? (Like the up fast at Reading, UK)

I can't imagine anything quite like that happen in the UK, though there was a case of a train routed the wrong way at a junction a year or so back, and missed several stops before rejoining it's proper route many miles further north.

As for detraining passengers on a through track, the HSE would have kittens.

Posted by: Tim Hall at November 25, 2004 01:50 PM

It was on an express track with no platform at all. And yes, it didn't look safe either.

Posted by: randolph at November 25, 2004 02:12 PM

Maybe you should get out of the Northeast (and your Northeast attitude) once in a while. Our Pacific Surfliner trains (Santa Barbara-LA-San Diego) are comfortable, on time, well run and heavily used. Most of what would cause trains elsewhere to be "awful" is the almost insoluable problem of freight train interference. Remember, the world does not end outside of the Northeast Corridor.

Posted by: Mike Weyhrich at November 26, 2004 07:10 PM

Now let's not get all huffy here. The NEC is owned by Amtrak and thus has no freight interference.

Posted by: randolph at November 26, 2004 07:55 PM

Both the dispatcher and the engineer erred on this one. If the train is on one of the two center tracks it will see an approach signal at New Brunswick or Metuchen crossing it to one of the outer tracks.

Posted by: Stephen Karlson at November 27, 2004 01:48 PM

For foreign readers: Not all non-NE Amtrak services are awful, though most are. The Los Angeles - San Diego corridor, now in public ownership, is certainly on a par with the NE in reliability, though not speed, and runs near NE corridor frequency.

Posted by: Jarrett at December 1, 2004 02:03 AM
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