Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Loathing And The Even More Loathing On The LIRR

The good thing about finally having a laptop to use is that I can drool this dribble "on the go1".

That includes time spent "commuting" on the bloody Long Island Rail Road, who often demonstrate to the world that they couldn't find their rear ends with both hands and a map.

Take this morning for instance.

The day got off to a crummy start when I woke up to the shrilling of my alarm feeling like I hadn't had any sleep at all. I staggered round the house, stark naked, clutching a towel in my twitching, sleep-deprived hand and bumping into things until a shriek of rage indicated I had bumped into Mrs Stevie, who was taking her early morning nap.

Staunching a number of small wounds with the towel I made my way to the shower, where I realized that the dripping tap now resembled an ornamental wall fountain and Something Would Have To Be Done.

All this staggering, bumping, wounding and showering made me slightly late, but that didn't matter as a profusion of total nitwits on the road made me quite late indeed. Each traffic light took two changes to get through because of SUV drivers too afraid of their own shadow to actually drive when the light turned green until someone else had gone first to prove terrorists hadn't somehow subverted the very tarmac, and since each lane was filled with the ugly gas-sucking things no-one went anywhere until the yellow light showed, spurring a panicked dash for freedom.

The bigger the car, the smaller the brain.

I finally boarded my standby, get-me-there-on-time train and settled in as the announcer announced a twenty minute delay west of Jamaica2 into Penn Station, which translated into "trains backed up in the Jamaica station throat because we don't have anywhere to put them". Magic.

That meant that just about the time I should have been boarding my Brooklyn-bound train I was able to watch it cruise into the station while I was still several hundred yards out of Jamaica. And of course, they couldn't hold the Brooklyn train because that would cause congestion.

We pulled in slightly after the following train to Brooklyn, the one that comes ten minutes after mine and stops everywhere so it always carries me 15 minutes into the part of my time card that will, due to the vagaries of the bloody Long Island Rail Road and their idiot schedules, get me home again a full 90 minutes after my usual Azathoth-awful arrival time, typically sometime around 9pm - too late to get anything useful done but eat and get indigestion in time for bedtime.

For our convenience it was brought in not on the adjacent track so all we would have to do was cross the platform, but on the next platform which required us to sprint to a staircase, vaulting over the slower fellow commuters, run up the stairs gasping for breath, dash across the bridge and down the stairs and try and find a door not clogged with standing would-be passengers. For our further convenience this train was a couple of cars short, so it was full to overflowing. But wait! For our absolute convenience the train was held so a few more trains full of people could attempt to transfer onto it from the apparently doomed Penn Station bound trains.

Yes, once again we were being treated to a "tunnel signal problem" fiasco, a staple of the Long Island Rail Road commute.

The problem, they say, is that of the four tunnels under the East River that connect Long Island to Manhattan, only two are signaled in both directions. One of those is permanently in use by Amtrack, who own Penn Station or the tracks into it or something. I lost track of the fine details of this particular needless idiocy years ago.

So, during normal operations the bloody Long Island Rail Road uses two tunnels in the "peak" traffic flow direction and one in the opposite, "off-peak" direction. Should one of these tunnels be rendered unusable due to, say, oooooh a signal problem or something, there is an obvious problem in that using the two remaining tunnels for peak direction traffic is only possible if the problem isn't in the one tunnel that has signals in both directions.

Edit: Which shows how annoyed I was. It of course doesn't matter which tunnel gets knocked out as the bloody Long Island Rail Road dispatchers aka the IQ Brigade will continue to run Off-Peak trains and so any failure will reduce the Peak traffic under the East River by 50%. Were the IQ Brigade to consider not running Off-Peak trains for the duration of the emergency, there would "only" be a 66% chance of a Peak service impact.

That's right, of those three tunnels, traffic can only move safely in both directions through one of them, because in the other two the signals only work in one direction, one into and one out of Manhattan.

Brilliant, eh?

"But Stevie" I hear you ask, "Surely this ancient, steam-era situation has been remedied by now?"

Well, you'd think so wouldn't you? To my certain knowledge the problem has been discussed as a "must get done" item for twenty five, going on twenty six years, because I've been riding the bloody Long Island Rail Road that long. That’s right, the bloody Long Island Rail Road can't get a relatively simple signal installation done in twenty five bleeping years.

"But Stevie" you say, "if the track belongs to Amtrack how can they?"

Well, since the bloody Long Island Rail Road is part of MTA which in turn is part of the city government which in turn is part of the State government, and Amtrack is, via an equally twisty chain of connections, part of the Federal government, both are paid for by Taxpayers and so there should be some way of getting a simple wiring job done. I mean, there are infrastructure Stimulus Dollars to be had that would pay for it.

But in time honored fashion the bloody Long Island Rail Road talks the talk and leaves it up to their passengers to walk the walk (due to cancelled trains).

So I got to work just in time, by hustling. Of course, my colleagues were discomfited by my staggering around the office, throat roaring as I drew in volumes of life-giving air, my face bright red and by my pleas to be euthanized immediately.

So much for the ride in.

The ride back looked to be much better as I sat typing this TOS entry, until the bloke next to me showed me the screen of his Blackberry with an e-mailed alert that "due to a track condition outside Westbury Station, our train was being taken out of service in Jamaica. We discussed the matter for a bit, noting that the crew hadn't alerted us yet and we were very close to Jamaica.

Then we realized that this was the bloody Long Island Rail Road and the crew was probably just trying to avoid unpleasant reactions from the commuters. This turned out to be the case, and as we pulled up to the platform the bleeping useless bastards told use what we had already known for about five minutes.


To understand why the crew were so scared and why everyone was so pissed-off you have to know that there are exactly two trains that leave Brooklyn (which used to be called Flatbush Avenue but since the Granite-Lined new station was opened they re-titled Atlantic Terminal, requiring changes to every automated ticket machine in the system not to mention all the relevant printed schedules and how much did that cost I digress) that do not require the passengers get off at Jamaica and try to get on another at Penn Station are the almost useless 4:34pm and the very useful and popular 6:04pm. We used to have a useful and popular 5:01pm instead of the idiot 4:34pm that is too early for anyone to use, but some bloody Long Island Rail Road wuckfit decided it should run out of Penn. I've actually caught it. It ran almost empty the entire journey that day, but I'm sure that was an atypical day. Riiiiight.


If you take a train that means you have to change at Jamaica, you will almost certainly be catching a rush-hour train out of Penn Station that left already jam-packed full of commuters. When forced into that sort of commute I always ride the subway to Penn and board there because, Mr clueless bloody Long Island Rail Road dispatcher, I can get a bleeping seat that way. I once had to wait almost two hours on a frozen Jamaica platform becuase the system was so thoroughly bleeped to Port Jefferson and back that fewer traiins were running and there wasn't any room on any train that came through.

Well, track problems, congested systems, it's understandable that they'd have to reduce the traffic, but it's rather less obvious why it should be the 6:04pm out of Flatbush Avenue Atlantic Terminal every time this needs to be done, and it isn't at all obvious why, as we stood crammed face to face on the 6:22pm out of Penn why there were so many off-peak trains clogging up the same congested rail system we had to change trains to open up.

My theory is that given that the Ronkonkoma line was the last electrified, and since the computer dispatching system was up and running years before that, the Ronkonkoma schedules haven't been properly integrated into the system and it is just easier to delete trains from that schedule than to try and deal with the problems intelligently. This would also explain, mostly, why numerous times a year the 6:04pm peak train sits at the west end of the Pinelawn-Deer Park single track chicane for ten minutes so an off-peak train can get past us. Call me Phalthobart Malthusian Befubbleblatt but that doesn't sound like anyone with an active brain cell is at the dispatching desk. Can you imagine if the UP ran their line that way? Perishable fruit would sit rotting while a load of coal sauntered the afternoon away with priority routing.

I've often said that the bloody Long Island Rail Road couldn't find the cheeks of their own arse with both hands and a map and that they couldn't get me drunk in a brewery, but today they proved they couldn't get me laid in a cat house.

  1. And indeed, on the job
  2. Not the good one

No comments: