Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Brain Cell Shortage Of The Long Island Rail Road - Postscipt

For those tracking such things, the events of yesterday meant that although I was slated to be on my way by 9:33 am and arrive a bit late at around 10:45 am, I actually began moving out of Wyandanch (Pearl of the East) at 10:03 am, and arrived at noon after being stranded at Jamaica, where the 11:13 am train was held until the next train bound for New York had arrived (which took about ten minutes or so), and after being subjected to an unexplained five minute lets-not-go-yet on the #2 subway line.

New York, where the people are so busy telling everyone how great the place is no-one actually has time to make it happen.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Brain Cell Shortage Of The Long Island Rail Road

So, today I am sitting on a train that is 30 minutes late, and which is severely overcrowded on account of it holding the passengers who would have normally boarded it and those who were intending to travel on the following train.

Okay, here's where I let you, dear reader, perform a mental exercise normally reserved for model railway enthusiasts and real railway dispatchers: a "switching puzzle". Study this entirely fictitious and made-up invented railway track plan. Red dots are stations. Straight lines are railway tracks connecting them. Each line represents two steel rails joined with sleepers or cross-ties so that a train can run on them. Okay?

Now, your challenge is to keep the network running as well as you can when a problem arises. Peak time traffic is traveling from Huntington to New York via Hicksville, and from Ronkonkoma to New York via Hicksville.

Off-Peak traffic, necessary to ensure you have enough trains at the ends of the railway to make up Peak trains (by turning them around - or in the case of the LIRR simply driving them backwards) moves from New York to both Ronkonkoma and Huntington via Hicksville.

The peak schedule calls for trains to move west from Ronkonkoma every half hour (not in real life of course, we dream of a train every thirty minutes in real life but this assumption makes the mental sums a bit easier to do while not changing the real-life model emulation disastrously).

Now, you have a problem near New York that causes delays in both directions, and eventually you have a train heading east from Hicksville bound for Ronkonkoma that is, say, 20 minutes late. That is, you have an Off Peak train that is moving east and that is 20 minutes late.

The astute reader will have noted the single track section at Wyandanch that forms a chicane. Obviously, a train in the chicane denies the route to any train coming the other way.

You have your twenty minute late off-peak train approaching Farmingdale and a peak train sitting in Ronkonkoma about to depart. Assume it takes about ten minutes to get from Ronkonkoma to the entrance of the chicane.

So what to you do?

If you are the Bloody Long Island Rail Road, for reasons that passeth all understanding, you push the off-peak late train through the chicane and hold the peak train. This makes the peak train unnecesserily late. Assuming the rest of the network is on time (an hilariously naive assumption when speaking about the Bloody Long Island Rail Road of course) the introduction of a late peak train will cause disruption as the late train is fitted between the on-time peak traffic from Huntington. Assuming the rest of the network is a mass of late trains and snarling passengers the introduction of one more late train to the rat's nest only exacerbates the problem.

What happens if you hold the late off-peak train?

Obviously, it becomes that much later. But, the peak train inserts itself into the normal peak traffic flow seamlessly (or at least, what passes for seamlessly on the Bloody Long Island Rail Road). No further disruption to the network as a whole is caused. Of course, we need the late off-peak train to become a peak train at Ronkonkoma, so the next peak train may be late, but you have a half-hour to play with and it is just possible the next peak train will be able to depart almost on-time, to the point that the Bloody Long Island Rail Road doesn't admit it is late at all1.

Contrast this with the Bloody Long Island Rail Road's approach: To make all trains as late as possible, then shrug and blame "trains caught in single track territory".

The Bloody Long Island Rail Road has appropriated funds to start a project to lay another track to rid us of the chicane, but only they could come to the conclusion that this would fix anything since the problems they blame on the single track section never originate there.

The problems almost always involve, in order of likelihood:
a) A train broken down in the East River tunnels, which are unhelpfully signaled to the point that no matter which tunnel a train breaks down inside, the maximum disruption to tunnel traffic is caused.
2) Broken rails, which happen more often now heavy freight trains work on the light-gauge track of the Bloody Long Island Rail Road.
þ) Trains actually breaking down in the chicane.

Every single one of the trains that I have been riding that have broken down in the single track section has been a train that has been obviously malfunctioning for miles and which has been stubbornly driven, coughing and wheezing, into the single track section so it can finish the job of expiring. This could be addressed with a simple operating rule, Viz: "No train shall be driven east from Farmingdale or west from Deer Park unless it be in a sound condition, but shall instead be halted at the aforementioned relevant station so that a) passengers are not marooned and 2) other traffic will not be impeded by a broken train.".

It's not rocket science. It's railway network logistics, and the Bloody Long Island Rail Road has been doing that in one form or another for over a hundred years.

I just think that they should have gotten a handle on How The Trick Is Done by now.

  1. Five minutes late is not late according to the Bloody Long Island Rail Road

Monday, December 08, 2014

Canada - Postscript

Oh, and it turned out I was right and we were totally in Historical Downtown Sexsmith where I said we were and not Somewhere Else You Idiot, because I agreed to let Mrs Stevie drive back there the day before the wedding and she ended up exactly where we had been days before after following signposts (the last refuge of the directionally desperate in my opinion) to it.

It was here I was quite badly injured when I laughed so hard I inadvertently tripped the door mechanism and fell out of the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X, whereupon Mrs Stevie accidentally ran me over.

Luckily I remembered that our Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X was Bear-Rated and rolled myself between the wheels, thereby avoiding a nasty squishing by quick-thinking, but I was temporarily deafened by the roar of the exhaust as it passed over me and the radiated heat from the muffler set fire to my chest hair.

So much for Historical Downtown Sexsmith.

Of course, this victory was offset quite a bit when Mrs Stevie walked into our downstairs bathroom upon our return to Chateau Stevie and discovered the cell phone I lost in JFK Airport at the start of this saga lying by the sink.

Such are the swings and kicks in the nuts of fate.

Canada - The Rest Of It

So, I hear you asking, what happened in Canada?

Well, not much, really. We spent most of the time shuttling between the various family, a few places we wanted to see and my dad's hospital bed until the wedding on Saturday. The shuttling was done with Mrs Stevie at the wheel of the mighty Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X, which served to alleviate most of her rage for the duration of the vacation. Such was her joy in the earth-mover-sized truck that she rarely paused to drink coffee (the chief cause of her short temper in my opinion).

One weird event that left us scratching our heads involved The Stevieling's addiction to Animé Merchandise. We visited a small store in the old town high street (the town has grown and spread since this charming row of businesses was the center of commerce) where she purchased a couple of items and I bought a couple more for her. A couple of days later we went back so she could pick up another item she'd been on the fence about, only to discover the store completely stripped to the walls. No hint of a change of venue was given when we were there the first time. A classic fly-by-night.

I was sorry to note that one of the small bookshops had closed since my last visit. It was an old-style bookshop where I could pick up really old secondhand SF paperbacks from the sixties, and it had a prominent Canadian Author section too where I once scored a really, really good detective mystery set in Quebec. These authors don't get much if any exposure outside of Canada itself so I was hoping to do a couple of hours browsing in that section. Oh well.

The Wedding was coming along apace despite the Forces of Evil arrayed in good order trying to stop it happening. Everything that could go Eddorian Hellfruit-shaped did. The venue had to be changed in a welter of mendacity on the part of the renter that cost the happy-if-it-kills-us couple a grand and a half, That in turn screwed up the catering and the music and I don't know what all else in a cascade failure the likes of which left the East Coast dark for days. Eventually it was held in Centre 2000, a V-shaped building with a circular hall used by various town organizations for ad-hoc1 functions and which serves as a visitor center. It is really cool, with an observation dome that looks out over Muskoseepi Park and it has a ginormous moondial in front of it.

What it doesn't have in any sort of profusion is power outlets.

This meant that the couple, who had negotiated the Rapids of Panic and cruised into the headwaters of What-the-Fbleep had to get creative. They retained the services of a local Beer'n'Pool pub for the food, which was delicious, and roped a local up-and-coming Reggae band into providing the Excellent Ents™. It was memorable, and they were radiant as a Newlywed Couple In A World Truly Gone Mad. If there is any justice in the universe they have a big lottery win coming for the torrential rain of needlessly annoying crap they weathered with smiles for all.

The wedding ceremony itself had been held in the open air in a park we had driven past about two trillion times and never noticed. It was really sunny, if a tad windy. Nowhere on the order of the mini-hurricane that made such a fiasco of the candle lighting ceremony at BiL the Elder's wedding but it carried the sound away from me so I couldn't hear some of the vows.

Didn't matter of course. The vows are for each other, no-one else, and I had done the whole thing myself once so had first-hand knowledge of the sorts of things being said.

Mrs Stevie said it was kinda fun watching someone start out on The Great Adventure, and without thinking I said it was more like a Grim Reminder of the Hell to Come, and then she said some very harsh things and called me vile names, but luckily the wind carried them away from the happy couple who were too busy watching each other to see the demeaning scuffle off in the wings.

At the reception, during one of the band's numbers, the conga player shyly approached my sister and asked about the dark haired girl in green. She fixed him with her very best lizard stare and said "you mean my Niece?" and he retreated at speed. It was worth the trip to see that happen. I told the Stevieling she should dance with him and have some fun but she scowled at me and said "I'm seeing Charles, Dad!" in her best imitation of her mother. I pointed out that Charles was about forty-five hundred miles away and I certainly wasn't suggesting anything other than a couple of dances at a wedding on account of me not being in the mood to have to punch anyone (thereby getting punched back several times if history serves as a lesson), but she went thin-lipped and sent me off to sit with the Old People.

Since these were people who in some cases had been influential in building the town we were sitting in, I actually felt this was a good thing. The Steviesis has a raft of Very Important People in her circle, indeed is a Very Important Person in her own right. I can't get enough of the stories some of the people who come to her parties can tell.

For example, we had gone out to the Muskoseepi Park Village Restoration Museum Thing and I had seen a humongous horse-drawn machine that had been there for years but was now being restored, and which turned out to be a horse-drawn grader. I never knew they had such things. When it became apparent I was really interested in the thing an ancient guy was called from what he was doing and asked to talk about it, and as he had been a driver of one about sixty years before he had a lot to tell. Well, turns out one of the Steviesis's good friends was not only an Extremely Important Person but had also driven one of these things in his long and checkered past. I was enthralled by his stories of how it all worked, how the teams were assembled (hired from local farmers), the sheer mechanics of making roads in the great prairie during the very harsh weather they can get. I told him he should get this all down on paper, write a book, at the very least tell someone at the restoration his story so it would become part of the larger tapestry.

Then I got sad for a bit because I've been trying to get my dad to do the very same thing for over a decade and he won't. His head is full of unique memories of the hardship people suffered while trying to restart the English industrial base in the post-war years, when the infrastructure was still in tatters and there was no money to fix it up. Hell, I remember seeing bomb sites all around and that would have been in the very late 1950s. There was no money to clear the debris and rebuild.


The kids were married and we were due to fly out two days later. We visited the happy couple in their new house the next day. They were rattling around with a collection of Star Wars and Batman themed memorabilia but only a bed and a table as furniture. It made me smile to remember what it was like to have no need for anything else, and they have so many great plans for what they want to do it made my head spin. I hope they get it all and then some.

One neat thing was that on the way home I finally got to see and photograph a train of grain cars, though they were a sad, dilapidated collection, lacking the majesty of their clean, well-maintained look of only, what, three years before. Pfft.

Then, of course, it was time for fate to kick me in the hurtybits. I went down to the hotel computer suite to arrange our tickets home. Everything was going well until I entered my address, at which point the whole website became hostile and refused to allow me to check in. Mrs Stevie called me an idiot a few times and then drove us to the airport where I tried to check in at a desk, but the nice man told me he couldn't do advance check-ins. He did show me to a machine and showed me how to use it to do what I wanted, only it also took one look at my passport and refused to cooperate. At this, the nice man scowled at me and became more distant. Clearly I was a security risk. So we went back to the hotel.

Later we drove over to the rental place and returned the Ford Leviathan Supa-Kab Turbo-X, where Mrs Stevie became extremely emotional and had to be taken for a nice cup of coffee to steady her nerves. For weeks afterward she would sigh and shed a tear before climbing into her Shuttlecraft-sized people-mover, her normal mode of transport and formerly a source of great satisfaction to her (something about being higher up than everyone else, but I wasn't really listening when she explained the attraction of the thing after she bought it).

Mr Steviesis blew me away when he insisted on getting up in the middle of the night to drive us to the airport the next day. I tried to tell him not to, but he insisted. It was so early that Tim Horton's was not open so he couldn't get a cup of coffee, poor bugger. On the plus side, neither could Mrs Stevie. At the airport we encountered yet more problems checking in and I told Mrs Stevie that she should perhaps plan on traveling with the Stevieling and I'd follow later when I'd resolved whatever it was. However, she saw through this ploy almost immediately and bullied one of the staff until they figured out how to turn off the snotty switch on the software, and I was able to be cleared for the return flight back to where I came from under the watchful eyes of the women of Chateau Stevie.

We said our goodbyes, removed our shoes and prepared for battle with customs and immigration. It started well when the jar of Saskatoon Preserves in my suitcase triggered the x-ray alarm, and got steadily worse as the day wore away.

As for the flight, the less said the better. It had its ups and downs.

Arriving in New York we walked out of the terminal building to be hit in the face with the atmospheric equivalent of a moist armpit and the eardrums with Snothausen's Symphony For Airhorns and Ableeps.

We were back.

  1. Latin for planned while drunk on German wine

The Bloody Long Island Rail Road: Their Incompetence

So, once again I am running ten minutes late and once again it is entirely because the policy on how to move trains to and from Ronkonkoma was written by a squashed apricot and implemented by The Clown Collective.

Just east of Farmingdale the double-track right-of-way narrows to a single track chicane, which runs through Pinelawn, then Wyandanch to become two tracks again at Deer Park. The common wisdom is that this causes congestion and an expensive two-track upgrade is being talked about as I type.

The problem is that the expense and disruption this so-called plan will produce is hardly worth the time and angst when a simple1 change to the stupid-with-a-capital-stupe policy on how to move trains through the chicane would make the whole problem go away instantly.

The policy I speak of is the one that calls for late off-peak trains to be prioritized over on-time peak trains and sent through the chicane first when there is a clash.

This in turn guarantees that between the time the off-peak eastbound train with its three passengers comes through Wyandanch, Pearl of the East, a minimum of ten minutes must elapse before the train coming the other way stops to pick up the hundred or so freezing and/or wet passengers waiting to go to work or go home from work, having paid a premium to travel on the peak trains involved.

If the "policy" were changed so that an East-bound late off-peak train got held at Farmingdale and late Westbound off-peak trains got held at Deer Park, the peak trains could be routed around them.

Big deal, right? Why do we care?

Because holding the Westbound peak train disrupts not just that train but every other train on the network west of the junction at Hicksville. It also means that transfers at Jamaica2 are lost because the Bloody Long Island Rail Road doesn't hold them3 and the next Atlantic Avenue-bound train is typically half an hour behind. Thus, holding the peak trains cause not a ten minute delay, but numerous delays and, more importantly, makes me a minimum of forty minutes late for work, time I must make up.

I can live with the unforeseen problems causing major disruption (while noting that some of these are perfectly foreseeable by anyone in possession of a plurality of brain cells), but this fbleeptardery is entirely avoidable with minimum effort.

As I type we are passing through Mineola. I should be boarding my connection, but I'm still about 10 (i.e. 40) minutes behind schedule

Another win for the Bloody Long Island Rail Road and the IQ Brigade “in charge” of it.

  1. as in so simple a five year old could figure it out
  2. Not the good one
  3. I've been told that doing so would cause "congestion" in the Atlantic Avenue-Jamaica network, which in actual fact is a twin track straight line and so cannot become "congested" by too few trains