Looking on the bright side of one commuter-rail delay

Bonesaw notes the T sent out an advisory that the 6:44 a.m. train out of Rockport would be 10-20 minutes late "due to heavy ridership."

OK, so he then goes on to report that when he got on the train, "there's less people than average." Proof.

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    There is no 6:44 Newburyport

    There is no 6:44 Newburyport train. There's a 6:30 and a 7:00, though, and the 6:30 was less busy than the rest of the week, as is typical for Friday mornings.

    The alert was for the 6:44 from Rockport.

    There was also an alert for the 7:00 Newburyport train.

    They probably had mechanical issues or something and, I'm typical T fashion, put out an alert for something completely different.

    Real reason

    Following the thread of replies to the T's tweet, it turns out that the real reason for the delay is that a conductor didn't show up. That's inexcusable, but I am amazed that the T actually responded to tweets!

    Why 2 trains could be delayed

    I ride the Newburyport/Rockport line frequently and I know that the trains share tracks. One delayed train can delay the whole line in both directions. The lack of equipment is a giant problem, but the T's employee culture can be a problem too and one that could be solved (not that I'm holding my breath).

    Leave without the conductor

    How necessary is a conductor on a morning commuter train? Everybody, or almost everybody, will have a pass so not the end of the world if nobody is there to collect fares. Not many tourists at that hour so little need to provide travel information, which most people can get now on their phones anyway. Seems better than screwing up the commute for dozens if not hundreds of people.

    Yeah, I know, there's probably something in the union contract or an arcane federal rail regulation preventing it but if it's an occasional thing then just say it was a mix up. "Oops, sorry, didn't realize the conductor wasn't on the train!".

    Wrong

    At least on the single level coaches, nearly any person who's reasonably able-bodied can operate the traps. You open the door first and then put your foot on a button in the floor, this causes the trap to raise up and exposes the stairs. I seriously doubt that the Rotem cars are set up any differently.

    On short-staffed trains, MBCR has apparently had problems in the past with some passengers operating the traps themselves to exit from un-staffed doorways. This is the reason that a) the robo-announcements now include an 'only leave the train where there is a crewmember' admonishment and b) most of the coaches have "only board or leave a train at a staffed door" decals in the vestibules and on the outside at the doors.

    Some people may think this seems silly (after all, commuter trains in the US have dealt with low level platforms since they first began operating), but the reason for these regulations and procedures is simple - to minimize the chances of a train leaving a station while somebody is still boarding or de-training. And this has happened in the past, resulting in injury to people.

    Huh?

    If you're outside the train, then you can't open the door or put your foot on the button. Unless you nearly haul yourself up, which most people probably can't even do, nor would bother to do.

    My bad

    I was thinking about people on the train trying to get off at stations. You're absolutely right, there is no practical way for a person on the ground at a low-level platform to open the traps (unless they break the seals and operate the "emergency access only" levers on the outside of the cars).

    Without the conductor, who is

    Without the conductor, who is going to open the doors and traps at each station? Who is going to radio to the engineer that the train's clear to move? Who is going to radio dispatch if necessary? What if there's an emergency?

    Conductors do a lot nore than just collect fares.

    And yes, federal regulations do require them, primarily because it just isn't safe to send a thousand-ton hunk of metal speeding down a ribbon of steel at 70 mph, carrying upwards of 500 people, with only one employee on board. Hardly arcane.

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    I am "they"

    And I meant leave without the conductor who didn't show up, which, assuming there are multiple conductors on the train which has always been my experience, meant the train would not operate without a conductor, just one less than usual, which doesn't seem like a huge deal to me.

    One conductor on a six or seven car train

    means only one boarding/detraining point at stations where the platforms are ground-level. Two conductors on the same train mean two boarding/detraining points, etc. etc.. More boarding points reduces dwell time on trains, which improves on-time performance.

    But once again, by abandoning the time honored practice in passenger railroading known as the "extra board", where employees are available to cover situations like unexpected crew absences, MBCR and the MBTA prove once again that pleasing the accountants is a far higher priority than providing proper and adequate customer service to their passengers.

    19th century operating practices

    And yes, federal regulations do require them, primarily because it just isn't safe to send a thousand-ton hunk of metal speeding down a ribbon of steel at 70 mph, carrying upwards of 500 people, with only one employee on board. Hardly arcane.

    This is a moronic excuse. Trains are regularly sent "speeding down a ribbon of steel" with upwards of 500 people (upwards of 1000 people!) with only one employee on board.

    They're called subway trains.

    And in other countries, they're called trains.

    The FRA is stuck in the 19th century, using old-timey railroading practices that don't make sense in the modern world which has tremendous advances in automation and extremely high labor costs.

    If you want costs to be lowered on the commuter rail, and better service, then we need reform.

    (Yes, currently the traps need to be opened, but that's because of another backwards technical issue: lack of level boarding. On routes with full level boarding, there is no job for the conductor anymore).

    Pretty necessary

    How necessary is a conductor on a morning commuter train? Everybody, or almost everybody, will have a pass so not the end of the world if nobody is there to collect fares. Not many tourists at that hour so little need to provide travel information, which most people can get now on their phones anyway. Seems better than screwing up the commute for dozens if not hundreds of people.

    Considering that, on North American railroads at least, it is the conductor who is wholly responsible for operating the train, it's necessary. The conductor acts as boss and doles out the orders to the assistant conductors, engineer, etc. I'm pretty sure that the train cannot even move with being told to by a conductor.

    The Lowell Line crapped out too...

    I was on the 6:55am from Anderson Woburn which died upon making it to Winchester. We ended up 50 minutes late while the 6:51 out of Lowell shoved us in, with the 6:46 from Haverhill and the 7:18 from Lowell all stuck behind us. And from the T'lerts, something gave up the ghost out of Fitchburg too.

    Can't wait until it's snowing...

    T-Alerts are virtually useless

    I'm half-way convinced there is no human involved; the computer is set to send out random alerts at regular intervals because
    of course something must be delayed.

    My favorite so far; I was on a 558 last month which wound up on the Turnpike when it wasn't supposed to be (not the
    first time, or even the second, that particular bus has gotten lost while I was one it), meaning it had skipped all
    but the very first stop. While the driver was trying to figure out how to get us off the Pike before winding up down town
    I got an alert saying the bus was experiencing "minor delays due to traffic". In the T's defense; since the driver had
    no way to report in while driving I guess management had no way of knowing that their bus had actually disappeared...