Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Bad Day For Trains, An Even Smaller World For Me

Yesterday was an all-around weird day for some Newark and NY Penn commuters.

It was a nice day. Unbelievably, my North East Corridor train arrived at the scheduled time at Newark Penn - something it rarely does - and I had enough time to walk leisurely to my next platform (rather than the usual sprint to try to catch the Raritan line before it leaves and doesn't return for a whole hour). However, yesterday, it wouldn't have made a difference if my NEC train had been half an hour late - the Raritan train wasn't even idle on the tracks. It wasn't there at all.

As usually-precious minutes ticked by, I wandered around the platform looking for the couple of coworkers from NY whom I routinely meet when on board the train - Sean Smith, our editorial assistant, and JoEllyn Marlow, our producer. I saw Sean first, said hello, and told him about a text message on my phone saying that the train was delayed between Cranford and Newark due to police activity. We weren't terribly surprised - it's pretty common that someone on the Raritan line doesn't want to pay the fare, and they do whatever they can (traincar hopping, picking up old tickets from the floor to use like a decoy, the "I lost it" excuse, etc). It happens probably once every month or so near enough for me to notice. But the situation was apparently a bit more serious this time.

Without a train in sight or any word on when it would arrive for boarding, I decided to run downstairs for a quick breakfast. When I returned, I found JoEllyn and sat with her until the train finally did show up a half hour late. Folks on board looked pretty peeved, probably too late for their regular connections in their commute to NY. Thankfully, there wasn't anything in particular that was pressing for us at the office, so we chatted away the time and got there eventually. When I got into my email, however, I had received an alarming notice:

NJ TRANSIT apologizes for the delay and inconvenience many of you experienced during this morning’s commute due to police activity in Mount Laurel.

At approximately 8:15 a.m., Mount Laurel police responded to a bomb threat involving the Conrail dispatch center responsible for controlling train movement on a portion of the Raritan Valley Line near Newark. The dispatch center was evacuated as a precaution, and service between Newark and Cranford was temporarily suspended.

Local police cleared the incident shortly after 9:00 a.m., and rail service was restored at 9:15 a.m. Several trains were delayed 30-60 minutes.

I had to shake my head in disbelief - this is very unusual, I think, for this area.

Other than the strange morning, it was a pretty regular work day - except to say that 'regular' for me (as of the past week or so) entails not actually putting in any real hours until the last interactive project is finalized, so like many others, I come in voluntarily to visit with each other, review work that might be used on show reels, and talk about (or animate on) new projects we're working on together. I'll get an hour here or there of paid work, but not much until that last interactive episode is finalized and ready for production.

Leaving work was nothing out of the ordinary - but once again, upon arriving at my next platform at Newark, things began to spin out of whack again. The computerized track information board started re-arranging entries, as it sometimes does when a train is delayed or another train arrives earlier than normal - but it kept rearranging them, and after only a minute or two, it stopped completely and every single train line reported, "DELAYED -- DELAYED -- DELAYED."

I was a little uneasy given the news I received that morning on the Raritan line, and this time it was all across the board. I wondered what might have caused this halt on all lines. Soon I heard a message come in on my cell phone, and felt a little relief at the news:

Rail Update: Trains in and out of New York Penn Station are subject to 60-90 minute delays due to disabled Amtrak train blocking one Hudson River Tunnel.

I was glad to know I shouldn't be letting my imagination run wild, but it was unfortunate to read about the 30-60 minute delay. I called my husband to let him know. Meanwhile, some nearby men waiting for the Amtrak to Harrisburg overheard me and were joking around, instant friends by situation it seemed. They joked about it being the crazy NJ Transit system, and although I would have liked to agree, I laughed and informed them that it was because of an Amtrak train, and they laughed and rolled their eyes. I mentioned my earlier troubles on the Raritan line, which prompted one of them to ask where I worked. When I told him Westfield, he looked surprised.

"I built the new building out there a few years ago, in the downtown area," he claimed. I wasn't exactly sure which building was new, since I'm fairly new there myself. He said it was for Salon Visage, and I instantly realized which one he was talking about. "That's right next door to us, on North Avenue - they have the big glass windows and a big screen tv you can see from the street."

He looked a little confused, asking, "Well, where do you work then?" I tried to describe the building we worked in, on the second floor, with the large parking lot out front, brick face and white siding exterior, with a clock on it. "And a gazebo on top?" he asked, with the answer of course being yes.

"I built that gazebo," he said. "I helped build that building! That was supposed to be for Visage - they were going to move next door." I had to laugh - we get calls all the time for hair appointments because apparently the phone companies thought the move happened too - but something must have changed at the last minute. I told him I thought that some lawyers might have worked there before us, but that our company had the building since sometime last summer, and that I had worked there just over a year. When he asked what I did, I was all too excited to tell him that we were a small but growing commercial shop that got to work with Sesame Street this past year, producing the new cg-animated show, "Abby's Flying Fairy School." He had a wife and three kids, ages 4, 5, and I think 7, waiting for him at home. He seemed like he couldn't wait to tell them.

Suddenly my train arrived, and I said goodbye to them and wished them well. I had lost all sense of time and couldn't say exactly how long my wait had been, but unfortunately I'm sure they were stuck there longer. I boarded the very crowded train and was surprised to get a seat - I asked to squeeze in on a four-seat section, which is sometimes uncomfortable since passengers in those sections sit knee-to-knee, but the two men I was sitting with there were very friendly. It's funny that however inconvenienced people are when these train problems occur, most people seem more approachable and friendly despite their troubles.

It was because of this that we struck up a conversation - one of them happened to be Indian, and of course I talked about Naveen and our time at Purdue - and his eyes lit up. His son is majoring in Electrical Engineering at Purdue and is hoping to go on to get his Master's degree there. He mentioned that his younger son (in 10th grade) wants to go to John Hopkins, which they are all in favor of since there are no doctors in their family, but he joked that he might have to take three jobs to put his son through school there.

We continued talking about our families a bit - and when he heard ours lived in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he was surprised and asked if we might know a Jyotir Reddy, a renowned doctor in that area - and I smiled, pretty certain that she is a family friend of the Nattams. I felt even more certain when he mentioned she had just been involved in the founding of a new Hindu temple in Fort Wayne, and I think the celebration of its opening occured the weekend we were home for Zander's birthday. He became friends with her because he was involved in the founding of a temple in South Jersey (I think probably this one), and I believe he said she was there and wanted to involve the same priest, perhaps for groundbreaking ceremonies or something. As we were leaving the train (he parks at my station but lives in North Brunswick), he got to meet Naveen and we chatted a little more. Unfortunately, tired as I was, I somehow did not think to take a moment to write down his name, but at least earlier when he said he would talk to Jyotir, I asked him to mention that he met the youngest Nattam son and his wife.

So that was my day yesterday - a very strange one indeed. I am staying home today to catch up on some personal work, and got sidetracked for a little while in wanting to write about yesterday's experience. Today I got this message in my inbox:

NJ TRANSIT apologizes for the significant delay and inconvenience many of you experienced last night.

At approximately 6:35 p.m., Amtrak Train 137 became disabled just outside of New York Penn Station, unfortunately blocking access to the North Tube under the Hudson River. Until the disabled train could be moved, all NJ TRANSIT and Amtrak trains in both directions were forced to share the single-track South Tube for service in and out of New York Penn Station. This caused delays to all trains ranging from 30-90 minutes throughout the remainder of the evening peak period and into the late evening.

To provide customers with an alternate travel option during the disruption, we established cross-honoring on NJ TRANSIT bus service out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

At approximately 9 p.m., the North Tube was returned to service and normal operations resumed using both tunnels. Residual delays affected service until about 11 p.m.

I also got an alert on my phone that there is a 20-minute delay on the Raritan line again, around Union station. I wonder what wonders I might have encountered this morning if I had been there!

Hope you have a good one - so far as I've heard, "AFFS: Pinocchio Process" re-ran today - let me know if you heard differently!

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