See America on a train

I’ve begun taking the train to work. I didn’t really have any preconceived notions of who I’d be riding with. What I’ve noticed is that my fellow riders are a decent cross-section of society. I haven’t seen anyone who is obviously super-rich, but other than that, pretty much everyone is represented.

We’ve got people in business suits,¬†people in muscle shirts and tattoos, old people, kids, handicapped, college students, military personnel, groups of young mothers, families, couples…you name it. The points at which they get on and off may be somewhat predictable, but not as often as you might think.

It’s a great place for people-watching.

I’m impressed by the manners I’ve seen so far. There are spots near the doors intended for the elderly and handicapped. Signs ask you to give up those seats if one of the designated groups gets on. Those are often some of the last seats to fill up, and people do yield those seats. People generally try to make room for one another, apologize for jostling one another (on a busy train!), and generally try to be kind.

The train itself runs through a wide variety of cityscape and, frankly, reminds me of a dream I had once where I was riding on a train or ship or something through places neither of them should go. My ride begins out in the suburbs and uses existing railroad lines (not the same tracks, as they replaced the old ones, but it follows the same path).

At some point, however, we have to punch our way through places where the tracks didn’t go, and suddenly we’re running alongside existing streets, then running ON the streets. In some places there are specific rail-only lanes. Sometimes the trains and cars share the only lane. It’s a bizarre system, designed to save money over an elevated or underground system, and I understand now why I would regularly hear of train vs. auto accidents on the news. When trains and autos share the same road it’s only a matter of time.

It works pretty well for me. I drive to my local station, which takes maybe ten minutes, and get off the train half a block from my work. Sometime in the next year they’ll complete an extension to the line and my starting point will move even closer, taking me maybe three minutes to get there (it’ll probably mess up the schedule, too, but we’ll deal with that when the time comes).

So far the only downside is that I haven’t been able to take full advantage of being able to sit and let someone else do the driving. I get motion sickness. The first time I rode the train I got a seat facing backward, and got so sick I had to get off before my stop to recover a bit before proceeding on to work.

Ever since then I’ve made sure I get forward-facing seats and I’ve been fine. But I can’t read or do anything else that keeps my eyes off where we’re going for any length of time. I can still listen to my mp3 player, but that’s about it. I’m hoping in time I’ll get my “train legs” and perhaps be able to read, but that may be awhile.

But with gas prices what they are, I can’t complain. So far I’ve had to buy normal tickets, because my monthly pass doesn’t kick in until October (I’m writing this in September), but it’s still cost me about the same as for the gas I would have spent driving. Once the monthly pass begins I’ll be saving about a third–more than that, really, since my company subsidizes the cost of the pass. I’ll have paid for the pass by halfway through the second week of the month. With food prices going up, we can use that savings.

I think I’ll enjoy riding the train to work. I can’t recommend it for everyone because the system is still fairly sparse on coverage. I couldn’t have made it to my old workplace in anything less than an hour and a half one way, and needed the train and two buses to get there. I’m adding about ten minutes to length of my old commute and traveling a shorter distance now (though traffic out of downtown being what it is, there are days when I may actually getting home more quickly on the train). I’m losing some flexibility, but so far that hasn’t been a problem.

Already I’m getting fairly used to the route. The first few days it seemed such a long trip. Now it feels fairly short, and I can generally tell where we are just looking out the window. I used to pay attention to the speaker announcing each stop. Not anymore. I know where we are. It’s only a matter of time until riding the train is a s dull and monotonous as driving the freeways had become.

But for now there’s still a little bit of that little kid in me that still thinks it’s cool. I’m riding on a train!

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