Friday, November 09, 2007

A Bit of a Long Commute, Both Ways

Wednesday we went out for fondue at Crepes Cafe in Menlo Park. It was fully of cheesy goodness!

The next morning, I was determined to work that off. I biked to work, with a bit of a detour. I went up Alpine Road a bit, realized it wasn't really heading the right direction for me, and turned back, and ended up on a poorly marked bike trail that leads to here:

To be clear--it started out as a bike trail, labeled as such, but apparently you're not supposed to bike up to the dish. Or so I was told by the Stanford campus security. I'm pretty sure there was no sign at the entrance I used.

Well, I enjoyed my one and only ride to the dish.

After that, I felt entitled to an easy, conventional, ride home on the train after work. It was not to be. I noticed that the express, which leaves Mountain View just ahead of my local, kind of limped away from the station. My own train arrived on time, but poked along, until after leaving Cal Ave, they announced that the train ahead had broken down, and that we'd be pushing it.

After a few minutes, we proceded, crew got off, we carefully nudged up, and pretty soon there was that big clanking sound of couplers.

Not what you normally expect to see out of the front window.

So far, OK. But apparently the recovery plan went awry at this point. I think they had mechanical problems making all the electrical and brake-hose connections that need to be made for a bunch of cars and engines to actually function as a train. It appeared they even brought in some guys from the shops in San Jose to figure it out.

I think we were stuck there for about 90 mins, with the lights out a lot of that time. One door was open, and a conductor took a "don't ask don't tell" approach to letting passengers escape via a hole in a fence that lead to Alma (a dark stretch with no sidewalk and lots of traffic).

Plenty of trains went by in both directions on the SB track. So our two stuck trains did not bring the system to a halt--it was just us stuck out there.

Their original plan seemed to be to get the broken train to Palo Alto and leave it there, operating single track all night, I supposed. The pusher train I was on was supposed to back up to get around it. Passengers were advised to get off and cross over to the SB platform where another NB train would probably arrive sooner than the one we were on would be able to make that move.

By the time we reached PA, the plans had changed--the whole double-length train would run express to SF, anyone wanting to get to a destination closer than that needed to get off and wait for a following train.

Probably the best thing to do, really--just get the disabled the train off of the line.

A few suggestions to CalTrain:

  • Trains shouldn't break down!
  • If they're going to, maybe you should stash an extra engine somewhere at the middle of the line, like Redwood Junction.
  • Creative solutions like coupling up trains are fine, but maybe need to be rehearsed a bit more!
  • It a train's going to be stuck for an hour or more, why not stop another one next to it, and let passengers walk over (carefully!).

CalTrain passengers are a polite bunch, it seems. Most people took it pretty well. Only at the end did a few of the "I'm mad and I'm going to let everyone know it" types that you expect to see and hear in transit delays start to make their presence known.

I got off at Palo Alto and made the rest of my trip home by dependable, two-wheeled transportation.

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