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video vérité sur le Corridor Capitole

By enelson
Tuesday, November 28th, 2006 at 11:23 am in Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), Transit vs. driving.

capitol-corridor-at-emeryvillesmall.jpgI was not about to be made into an example. That is, after all, what I make of myself on a more-or-less regular basis on this blog. Still, it was flattering to think that the public transit agency I choose to take to work each day would choose me as a representative of the average commuter.

It seems so long ago now, but it was only yesterday afternoon that Jim Allison, who does PR for BART called me to explain that he was working on a video in honor of the Capitol Corridor’s 15th birthday celebration and he’d like to use me as a subject. It was something like, we’d meet you at the Amtrak station and follow you to work, and interview you on the train. The video will no doubt highlight the consistent increases in ridership and this summer’s 50-percent increase in the number of trains.

In case you’re wondering why a BART spokesman would be flakking for a commuter railroad that competes in some places with BART, I’ll explain: The Corridor is run by a joint powers authority composed of transit agencies serving eight counties from Auburn to San Jose. One of those agencies, the Bay Area Rapid Transit district, provides administration for the Corridor, sharing its staff and office space overlooking Lake Merritt in Oakland.

As tickled as I was to receive such attention, I had to decline, citing the journalist’s credo that we are neither friend nor enemy of the people and entities we cover. I’m fairly certain that would rule out promotional videos.

Oh, how I wish the video camera crew had followed me home last night and joined me on the train this morning.

When I arrived at Jack London Station in Oakland, I learned right away from the light-up message boards that a mechanical problem had delayed my train 60 minutes. This, I could have told the videographers, was a positive development.
See, quite often, the boards tell us CC riders that the train will be arriving 20 minutes late, and then keep adding a few minutes to the arrival time until we abandon all hope. For the lost souls at unstaffed stations, like Berkeley and Richmond, the boards are the only source of information.

I thought about my new car-share membership, but decided that an hourly rental overnight would be an extravagant safety valve.

So I pedaled up to the local deli, got a $5 salad, returned to the station and made some phone calls. Again, I was worried that it might be too noisy to make my calls on the train, but my good fortune put me in a nice, quiet depot instead.

I also had time to prepare my script for the video: “As a Capitol Corridor commuter, I have plenty of time to catch up on news from home, read the newspaper and meditate on the state of America’s rail infrastructure.’’

And there was more good news: The train came only 59 minutes after its scheduled departure, beating the estimate. Had I been a betting man, I would have lost my shirt on that one.

No sooner than I had hung my bike and found a seat among the sullen faces of my fellow travelers, we heard an announcement that because of a “trespasser incident’’ involving a freight train, we would be waiting in Berkeley for 15 minutes. That’s code for a person (trespasser) getting hit by a train. Our stop there, plus another stop on the way to Richmond, shaved another 30 minutes off of Train No. 544’s on-time record.

But that, too, was a blessing. See, I had an early 1970s French film tucked into the DVD drive of my laptop, and the 89-minute delay would assure that I had to pay attention to the subtitles until the credits rolled.

The avant-garde film also put me in the mood for another chance to do some cinema vérité for the railroad: What is life, but a series of unscheduled delays, n’est pas?

This morning, I was greeted across the street from the Amtrak station by a fellow commuter, who saw me huffing and puffing on my bike and put my mind at rest: “No hurry, the train’s not coming until 8:25.’’

“It’s half an hour late?”

“That’s just the latest train. My train was supposed to leave at 7:15,’’ said the suit-and-tie guy as he made his way back to his car, probably for a very long trip down I-80.

I discovered at the station that the man’s train had, indeed been stuck behind freight traffic, but would be arriving just in time for me to catch this “early’’ train, which arrived only 15 minutes after my train had been scheduled. The station master announced that, to everyone’s good fortune, the second train would be arriving 10 minutes later and would be considerably less crowded.

Actually seeing the first train in front of me, I decided to brave the crowd.

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3 Responses to “video vérité sur le Corridor Capitole”

  1. Capricious Commuter Says:

    An addendum: I just spoke to Riki Rafner, who helps promote the Mineta Transportation Institute. She’s been reminding me that I need to talk to the institute’s director, Rod Diridon, about his trip to the Asia Rail International Congress in Hong Kong. What did he learn? “We are a third world country when it comes to modern, sustainable transportation systems.” He’s a member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which skews his viewpoint a bit, but, um, there may be something to this third-world thing when it comes to passenger rail service. An attorney who had decided to take the 7 a.m. train from Sacramento who shared a table with me said he’d been on some third-world railroads. “Why is it that I have to go through this in my own country,” he asked, “and when I go to Romania, everything works great?”

  2. Barbara Doheny Says:

    Just discovered your blog and really appreciate your comments on the Cap Corridor and local transit. I’m a way-late-comer to just cruising the internet, so never discovered until today that there were so many vocal commuters out there with similar experiences to mine!

    From 2000 to 2002, I took the CC every 2 – 3 weeks. My Dad was sick and my sister & I rotated giving Mom weekend respite. They lived in the Gold Country, so I took the full CC, SJ to Sac, then the Amtrak bus into the foothills. The CC was marvelous!! I can’t remember it ever being up to an hour late. What I do remember is that on Friday nights it usually needed a couple of extra cars to accommodate all the people! By the time we reached Martinez, it was SRO to the end of the line!

    The Amtrak bus was fine except when it snowed. Then, yes, we were talking 1 – 2 hours late. I once spent 3 hours in the snow at the newly renovated Colfax station, waiting for a snowed-in bus from Reno!! I kept opening my suitcase to add layers of clothing, and I think I drank 5 cups of coffee from the single restaurant that was still open after 6. The caffeine buzz helped me keep stamping my feet in the snow!!! Near the end of my wait, a cruiser pulled into the parking lot and sat there for 45 min. I don’t know if the cop was watching me, concerned I would get frostbite, or just doing paperwork, but it stayed there till I left. Since I was totally alone in the dark, I was grateful for this kindness.

    I really love the comments from all the commuters, and the issues you bring up are exactly what really happens on the daily slog. Thanks for your work!! I feel like I am not alone, and really, riding the rails or buses in the Bay Area can be a lonely experience. In the South Bay there is a real disdain for bus riders. I generally keep it quiet at work that I commute. Being a bus rider is definitely a mark of weirdness around here, in the car-happy suburbs. But commuting has kept my little household afloat and still anchored to the community in which I grew up, so I am grateful for the VTA, (though sometimes it makes me grit my teeth!).

    Anyway, God bless and keep on blogging :) :)

  3. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Wow, Barbara. Thanks for sharing your experience. You’ ve inspired me to do another post about my recent experience driving in the snow. I’m surprised to hear your co-workers would look askance at a bus commuter. What sort of place do you work, a car dealer? I’ve found my co-workers very sympathetic. Many of them take transit whenever possible, but a car is such a necessity for a reporter that it’s not easy to go without. In fact, one big beef people have with us moving to a new location this spring is that it won’t be convenient to BART and the only bus comes along ever half-hour.

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