Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee
kevin_standlee

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More Train Tales

Despite feeling not well at all, my high blood sugar reading this morning said, "You must go do some exercise of some sort." So I dragged myself out of the apartment and did a walk around the complex (1350 steps) then once more and down to the train station, intending to watch the afternoon Capitols go by. I took my 2m ham radio, tuned out-of-band to 160.74 MHz, which is the frequency used by Union Pacific for train operations in this area, so I could listen to the traffic. (I'm lucky that my radio is smart enough to realize that it's tuned outside of the licensed amateur band, so if I accidentally hit the transmit button, it simply displays OFF and doesn't transmit. The 2m ham band is just below the bands used by railroad operations in the USA and Canada.)

The northbound Capitol went by just a little late. I then walked down to the far end of platform 1 and around the corner, where I saw oncoming headlights. Slowly the train advanced. From radio traffic, I realized quickly that this was not the Capitol, train 733. It was the Coast Starlight, train 11, running about four hours late, and on the wrong track. Normally 11 is routed via the Coast Subdivision directly between Oakland and San Jose. Capitols travel via the Niles Subdivision so they can stop at Hayward and Fremont/Centerville. However, due to track maintenance and construction on the Coast sub, they'd routed 11 via the Niles sub.

Fremont is not a stop for the Starlight (which is unfortunate for me; I have to go to San Jose or Oakland to catch it), so the large passenger train (two locomotives, baggage car, dorm, three sleepers, parlor, diner, lounge, and I think four coaches) rolled right on by. There were several very unhappy people on the platform. Not being regular train riders and not knowing anything about how the trains run -- and because it was already past the scheduled time for 733 -- they assumed that any train that said "Amtrak" was their train, and they were agitated that it hadn't stopped for them. I explained to everyone, "No, that wasn't your train. That was the overnight train between Seattle and Los Angeles. Your train will be along in a few minutes," and pointed to the electronic displays predicting an arrival in about ten minutes.

Then I heard the dispatcher call a Union Pacific freight that I think must have been in the siding at Hayward. "UP [engine number], your time is finally come. Proceed on signal indication." Uh, oh. Based on where sidings are, that means 733 must not have even reached Hayward yet and was stuck behind that freight. Sure enough, the electronic display updated with a further delay and apology message.

A few minutes later, the UP freight slowly rumbled through. Due to the construction down the line, all trains were running at reduced speed, because they were going to have to hold at Newark and be flagged through the construction zone by the crews working there.

Meanwhile, I tried to reassure the people waiting for the train, most of whom were not the brightest bulbs in the box. Two of them had boarded the train at San Jose (off a bus from Stockton) and were trying to get to Great America. I guess nobody explained to them that Great America/Santa Clara is less than ten minutes from San Jose and is the first stop. There's hardly any point in even trying to settle in for that trip. Anyway, they didn't get off at Great America, and the conductor didn't catch up to them until they were already past it. He gave them back their tickets, told them to get off an the next stop, and ride back on the next train. I repeatedly reassured these people that they should get on the next train that stops, then the next time it stops and opens the doors get out.

The next fellow had come into the train station in San Jose and simply got on the next train that was leaving, because "all trains here go to San Francisco." I guess he didn't know there was anything except the San Jose-San Francisco Caltrain commuter rail service. Again, the conductor told him to get off and ride back.

In both their cases, this meant they got to spend several hours waiting at Centerville; there are only four Capitol trains each way each day.

Another person waiting on the platform was a man waiting for his wife. His wife called to tell him of another delay; 733 was backing up. I figured out what must have happened. Although Hayward is on a two-track section, there is only one platform -- Capitols always have to use the same track there. Normally 733 and eastbound counterpart 734 "cross" each other at Fremont, where there are two tracks and two platforms. Because 733 was so late, 734 was crossing it at the wrong place, and apparently the only way westbound 733 could make its station stop was for it to go into the platform-less siding, wait for 734 to come in, make its stop, and depart, then go past the station to the end of the siding, reverse, and back into the Hayward station so it could make its stop. All of this takes time. And the dispatcher had to let that UP freight get out of the Hayward siding, or else there would have been no way to get 733 and 734 around each other there.

733 finally arrived around 2:15, about an hour late. I watched it leave (and listened to its engineer talk to the foreman of the work gang at Newark). I see from the Amtrak web site that they must have sat for even longer, because it eventually arrived in San Jose at 3:40 -- 1 hour 50 minutes late. I wonder if those people going to Great America ever got there.

I then answered more questions from people arriving at the station for the next train to Sacramento (738), which wasn't scheduled for another hour-plus and was probably going to be later than that. I reassured her that trains for Sacramento arrive on Track 2 -- that's the other track; that is, the one that isn't on the station side. While there is one small sign and an occasional automated announcement that trains for Sacramento board on track 2, there is almost no indication of which track is track 2. There are just a couple of small (8 1/2 x 11) laminated sheets with a large bold "2" printed on them attached to the fence with zip-ties. This really isn't enough. They need much bigger, much more obvious signs. However, the Capitols don't have the funding to do it, and maybe not even the jurisdiction, as the station itself is owned by the City of Fremont. It's tempting to go print a much larger sign on poster paper -- maybe TRACK 2 and another saying TRAINS FOR SACRAMENTO BOARD HERE -- get it laminated, and attach it to the fence myself, and see if anyone takes it down.

Another jurisdiction issue: the Ticket Vending Machine inside the station is broken. The question is whether who is supposed to fix it: Amtrak national, Amtrak Capitol Corridor (managed by BART), or Fremont (station owner). Sigh.

I'm surprised people took me seriously, given that I hadn't shaved, was wearing a beat-up old cap, and a ConJose t-shirt. Yet one person asked me if I worked for Amtrak -- I carefully told her I did not -- but maybe carrying a radio made them think I was important. Shrug.

Anyway, having done my good turn for the day, I headed back home to collapse back onto the couch.
Tags: amtrak, trains
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