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

No comments: