Monday, June 23, 2008

I Have Not Fallen Off a Moving Train... Yet.

I loathe NJ Transit, our statewide embarrassment and financial sinkhole of a mass-transit system — for their trains' unfailing ability to arrive five minutes late, their abysmal service and obnoxious staff, and recently, their conviction that I'm going to fall out of a moving train unless I'm five-point restrained in their industrial-springy seats with some dude's newspaper tickling the back of my head. For at least the past twenty years, you used to be able to stand in the vestibule between trains during the ride — not that you'd want to, or anything, but it beats the dreaded middle seats, and the vestibule smells like train, instead of pee. NJ Transit would leave the doors open and everything, and this was even back when I was a kid, and even though the eighties had childproof bottles and childproof doors, there was nothing but common sense keeping us children from jumping off the train, adventure-style.

Cut to today, when now you can't ride in the vestibule at all — again, not that you'd necessarily want to — but, and I'm sure this was a coincidence, but there was an article in the Times about NJ Transit train doors opening before the vehicle has come to a full and complete stop. This can be dangerous:

“I typically stand between the cars, and it could be very dangerous because people could be leaning against the door,” said Neil McGrath, who commutes between Princeton and New York. “It’s kind of dodgy. You could easily get thrown out of the door.”

To highlight the danger posed by devil-possessed train doors, the Times article includes this tenebrous photo of a lady who was standing nearby a train door as it opened. I'm amazed she survived.

The real problem with NJ Transit, aside from their lack of maintenance capacity, is that they're total dickweeds about it, almost like it's our fault. The morning conductor, who is otherwise okay, basically took a "because I said so" approach to dealing with passengers who missed their vestibule rides (and if you have to stand, the vestibule gives you a lot more room than the train car aisle does), and a fair number of them complained. "If you don't like it, take it up with NJ Transit headquarters," he P.A'ed, like that's just what people need in the morning; we have an entire day to look forward to middle management passing the buck.

But today's evening conductor was a risible asshole about clearing the vestibule; he literally said, "I will not move this train until everybody is inside the cars!" Dude, you're not our second-grade teacher, okay? Shut up and get us home, Public Servant! If it's that big a deal, how about sticking a few more cars on the train... problem solved.

Considering the difficulty I'm having Googling incidents of lucid adults falling out of a moving train (the first news article dates back to 1896), I sense that the danger here is greatly exaggerated. Certainly it's not greater than the thousand people a year killed by flying coach. Don't see anybody quite so eager to take up that cause.