Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Plays Well With Trains

I live near the Centerville Train Station in Fremont, and I often take a walk down to the station in the evenings around 8 PM or so. Partly this is because I do need to get out and walk -- doctor's orders -- and if I can't get a walk in during daylight hours, this is a walk in a well-lighted area, and the walk to and from the station is an appropriate length for me. But the main reason I go there is that I like trains, and there is an Amtrak Capitol Corridor train (#547) scheduled around 8:15. Because of the track configuration in this area, it also means there is usually at least one other train coming through around the same time. (Fremont-Centerville is on the longest siding between San Jose and Oakland, so dispatchers like to have trains meet here.)

As is my habit, when I walked there this evening after dinner, I watched the train come in from the east end of the platform, then walked up to the rear of the train as it made its station stop. The conductors are usually at the forward end of the train, and the platform is slightly curved at this point, so there's a bit of a gap and high step when exiting the train from the rear two cars. A woman with two small children, one in a baby carrier, was struggling to get out. I hustled over and helped her get off the train, holding her baby in its carrier until she could get herself and her luggage onto the platform. One of the conductors, seeing the woman's plight, had started to trot down, but seeing that all was well, he went back to the forward car. The conductors gave the "all aboard" and the doors slid shut.

Except that one door didn't. One unfortunate thing about the so-called "California cars" (so called because the state of California purchased them with Proposition 116 rail bond money for inter-city service within California) is that their doors are sticky. The system is smart enough to know that the doors haven't closed -- the conductor and engineer get red lights on their displays. I spotted that one half of the rear door on the next-to-last car in the train was only about one-quarter closed. I went over and pulled it shut -- this isn't the first time I've seen this, and the doors will generally shut if you encourage them a little bit. (I've done this from the inside as a passenger as well.)

The conductor, who, having seen that he didn't have the green light to go, had started to run back to fix the door, but seeing that I'd fixed it for him, hopped back aboard and waved his thanks to me and radioed a "highball" to the head end. ("Highball" is railroad jargon for "okay to go," derived from an early type of railroad signal in which a ball was hoisted high in the air on a rope to indicate a clear track.)

So that was a good deed for the day -- keeping the train running, well not on time because they were sixteen minutes late at that point, but at least running no later.

There is a small amount of risk in doing good turns like this. In today's environment, some people who try to help like this instead get in trouble because only Official People are allowed to be helpful. Indeed, volunteer helpers at the Martinez station were, as I understand it, officially banished from the property some years ago. But for now I'm going to keep being helpful if I can, and in this case I think the crew appreciated it.

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