One of the appealing things to moving down here from New Jersey was the fact that I would be able to use mass transit. After years of white-knuckled stop-and-go driving on I-80 I was looking forward to sitting and letting someone else do the “driving”. (It turns out I-270 down here is just as bad, as I discovered during my first weeks here before I got my train pass.)
In order to get from home to work and back, I need to rely on two mass transit agencies: MARC Train service from the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and the Metro rail run by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). For the price of a few tanks of gasoline, I get a monthly pass for unlimited rides for both the MARC and Metro.
Most of the time it works well. The Metro runs trains every few minutes, so as long as I give myself enough time to reach my connection I can get to and from work with a minimum of waiting and, usually, get to work on time. It can be tricky in the afternoons, because I have to leave right on time in order to get to the Metro station to catch the right train. Unfortunately, Metro doesn’t run all of its trains to the end of the line, and while it only takes 10 minutes to get from my Metro stop to my connecting stop (barring any issues, which are common) I might have to wait upwards of 10 minutes for a train to arrive. That means I have to pad at least twenty minutes plus walking time to my departure time.
Every once in a while the whole thing breaks down. Like yesterday.
I should have known things weren’t going to go according to plan when I saw the freight train sitting in the station. The MARC service is co-operated by CSX (the freight railroad) and Amtrak. Very often MARC trains are delayed or need to switch tracks because of a freight train. This freight train, I’ve learned today, was stopped because the crew had reached their 12-hour work limit and was waiting for a new crew. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that my train would be loading on a different track, which means at least a few minutes delay.
I get up to the platform and it’s crowded, although not unusually so for a Monday. My train’s official arrival time isn’t for a few minutes. Then comes the announcement: The Frederick train before mine is forty to forty-five minutes late.
Ugh. The Brunswick line has a spur to Frederick. I can’t take that train because, well, I don’t want to go to Frederick.
So, we all wait. The Brunswick train should be right after. We hope.
The Frederick train arrives. Fifty minutes late. A lot of people get on. Those of us who stay stare down the track for the light of the next locomotive. Time passes. Ten minutes. Twenty.
Ah-ha! There’s a light. We get ready for our train.
Unfortunately, it’s another freight. Eighty cars or so. Okay, keep waiting.
Fifteen minutes pass. Hey! Another light. We get ready. It’s moving painfully slowly.
It’s an Amtrak train. It stops; takes on passengers. A few people who commute to Martinsburg, West Virginia decide to pony up for Amtrak tickets and board. The rest of us, still on the platform, can now see multiple lights down the track. The trains are lined up like airliners coming in to Newark Airport.
A few minutes later the next train arrives. It is going to…Frederick.
I wait some more. Finally, at least an hour after it was supposed to arrive, is my train. I board, collapse in my seat, and relax for the ride home.
My cell phone (which sucks, by the way; stay away from the Motorola V400) has a dead battery, so there’s no way to call home. I have loads of work to do and could have stayed late to get some of it done. Had I known how badly my commute was going to be fubar’d I would have. What a mess.
A message from MTA this morning indicates that things were screwed up all over yesterday, including completely cancelling a train. Mostly because CSX just decided to block that track rather than have the crew go past 12 hours or, goodness forfend, stop at a more convenient place before their 12 hours were up.
Usually, it all works just fine. But when it breaks down, and I have no other option, it’s a real bear.