Train Travel Trouble

Delays are part of life, but this past week was ridiculous.

First, on Thursday I needed to make it out to Montgomery Hills for a game at 6:30pm, which meant leaving straight from work and Metroing it from Ballston VA to Metro Center, then switching lines and taking the Red Line to Forest Glen Metro, then walking to the fields. Yeah, I know, its quite the commute. So I figure I leave work right at 530pm and hop on the train, and should get there within, let’s say, 45 min to and hour. The Orange Line train pulls into the station, and I get on, and settle into the seat for a ride. I hear garbled over the speaker there are some delays, so I settle into my seat, switch on the IPod, and wait for my arrival at Metro Center. I began to doze off, which I figured was fine, since my body is conditoned to wake up after five stops anyway…

Suddenly I wake up, have a strange feeling, and glance around. Where are we, I wonder? I check my watch. 6:05pm. So it has been half an hour? We must be close…Ballston? That sign says Ballston? That can’t be right. Yup, it is. We were in the train for 30 minutes without moving, or the doors opening to let people off. We hadn’t gone anywhere.

No one really knew what the deal was, but finally a few minutes later the train started movng. But then it stopped. And started. And stopped. The train took 10 minutes between stops, which meant close to 6:40 pm, an hour after I got into the Metro, I was only in Rossyln, still in VA. And my game was supposed to start at 6:30 pm. The girl next to me, sensing the plight of those around her who were crammed, impatient, and slightly claustrophobic, gave up her seat, saying she was “was only two stops away anyways”. Yeah, and that will still take half an hour, I thought to myself. But I was tired of sitting, too, and if I could have moved out of my seat I would have given it up earlier. I used the opportunity to free myself and stand up as the girl gave up her seat and I gave mine up as well.

Every stop that we arrived at had scores of people waiting to get on a crowded train, clearly unaware until they arrived on the platforms that their commute home was going to get much longer. I realized it would take forever until I made it to Metro Center, so when we arrived at Farragut West I fought my way through the mass and out of my car, and exited the station so I could walk across the street and transfer to the Red Line via Farragut North. The trains, I noticed, were completely empty, most likely because everyne was stuck on the Orange Line. So finally I was on my way, at around 7pm, to a 6:30 game.

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Forest Glen Walkway

The Metro station I got out at was Forest Glen, which has to be one of the strangest stations in the system. It does not share a platform with the other direction; rather there is an expanse of about 100 ft dividing the two sides (for economical reasons). In addition, the Metro is so far underground at that point (60 meters) that there are no escalators – merely six freight elevators that travel at high speeds. Finally, once at street level, you walk down a long corridor with multiple exit opportunities, from stairs to the side to the ‘kiss and ride’ parking lot. What I find most weird though, is waiting for the next train. As usual, it was eerily empty with just me and a few others waiting for the train back to DC. Because of the depth, it is uncommonly cool as well. But when the next train is about to arrive, there is groan that comes through the tunnel, then a whoosh of air bursts through at a steady stream for a few seconds because of the air displacement at such depths. All the lights hanging overhead shudder as well, adding to the effect. Kinda feels like that train station scene in The Matrix, and I am waiting, trapped between the real world and some alternate reality.

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Staring down the Forest Glen Metro

I was going home for the weekend, and since my parents decided that they wanted to see me so much, they offerd to pay for the train ride up, since this would be faster and convenient. Instead, while Amtrak left on time ( a miracle in itself) we paused somewhere between Baltimore and Wilmington.

I was going home for the weekend, and since my parents decided that they wanted to see me so much, they offered to pay for the train ride, since this would be faster and convenient. I am not a big fan of Amtrak (who really is?), especially since that time I headed down from CT to Philly to meet up with friends for a Jack Johnson/Ben Harper concert, and the train lost its engine on the New Jersey border outside NYC, and we lost electricity and air conditioning, were trapped still for three hours, they gave away all the food from the Cafe Car but quickly ran out, people passed out from heat exhaustion, the PA had to announce “Is there a doctor on board?” (never a good sign), and we eventually were pushed by another train into the next stop, only to disembark and have to wait for two more Amtrak trains to pass before we could board one. I made it to Philly in time for the concert, but I did swear off Amtrak for several years.

But I gave it a shot again last weekend. Although Amtrak managed to leave on time (a miracle in itself), we paused somewhere between Baltimore and Wilmington. The announcement came over the PA system that there were “weather” issues, and we would be delayed. I looked out my window and it was near perfect outside. Are they kidding me? We ended up staying where we were for an hour. Meanwhile, I saw trains, including other Amtrak ones, barrel past us on the track, while we were stuck somewhere in Delaware. And they would continue coming up with lame, nonsensical excuses, like “When the next train goes South, we will go North.” (I swear I am not making this up). And then when the train did finally start, we creeped along at a 5 mph pace all the way through to NYC. I should have arrived home at 8:27 pm; instead, I arrived at 11 pm. My mom had created a homecoming meal for me, and I had to eat it alone, reheated. Thanks Amtrak.

Things did not fare better on the return trip. I rushed out of my house to get to the train station on time, only to discover that the display indicated a 60 minute delay for my train…of course. Luckily my parents were still around since they dropped me off, so we took a scenic tour of the neighborhood. We drove to the public beach down near Shippan Point in Stamford, bought ice creams and tossed a frisbee. I realized that the Stamford beach was quite nice, although definitely a less swanky setup than the one in Greenwich, which is a park as well. In addition, I noticed how almost exclusively dominated the beach was by Latinos. The neighborhoods by the water are some of the most expensive real easte in the city, so I expected a more diverse crowd…I am not sure where everyone else goes, or maybe they avoid the beach altogether.

We headed back to the station after 45 minutes, and even though it should have arrived by now, and although the delay still read as an hour, it would be another 20 minutes before the train arrived. So I got back into DC over an hour late as well. Which meant for $222 roundtrip, it took me as long as it would have taking Chinatown Bus ($35 roundtrip) and Metro North ($16 roundtrip). Granted, there was no promise Chinatown bus lines would have worked out perfectly either, since their airconditioning could conveniently “not work” or I could have been caught in their turf wars, but for that price difference its worth the risk…

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