A Backup Plan and a Thoughtful Conductor

I had a very important meeting this morning on East 41st Street in Midtown. I left my office on 125th Street and headed over to Lexington Avenue to catch the 4 or 5 subway down to Grand Central Terminal. When I got to the station, people were streaming out of there complaining that there were no trains running. Great. I’ve got to be downtown in half an hour and there’s no train service.

My options at that moment were to catch the bus over to the 2 and 3 at Lenox Avenue and ride down to Times Square and then take the 42nd Street Shuttle over to Grand Central. That didn’t seem to appealing given the speed of crosstown buses in Manhattan. The other idea was to catch a cab, which would cost $15 to $20, assuming I could find a cab at a time when everyone was looking for one. Moreover, I’d be contributing my tiny share to the congestion and automobile mayhem, pollution, and I’d be adding to the profits of someone who earns a living doing this every day. I felt that was even a worse option than the crosstown bus.

When times get tough, all kinds of ideas start coming out of the woodwork. I walked one block over to Park Avenue to try out an idea. Growing up in Fairfield County, Connecticut, I’d known that inbound trains stop at 125th Street to discharge passengers only. One isn’t allowed to ride the train between 125th Street and Grand Central Terminal. That’s what the subway is for. It’s conceptually the same as not being allowed to buy an Amtrak ticket from Stamford to New York because you’re supposed to ride Metro-North for that. I always thought the rationale for that was that local travelers would swamp the longer distance trains, and slow and annoy the longer distance passengers. But I had to at least give it a shot.

I walked into the train station at 125th & Park and asked the ticket agent, “There’s no service on the 4, 5 and 6. I know this may sound crazy, but is there any way I can buy a ticket to go downtown to Grand Central?” Using a commuter rail system that extends hundreds of miles into the suburbs is like using a 747 jumbo jet to go from J.F.K. to Newark. I figured there was no way this little gambit was going to work. But . . .

“You sure can,” he said, “for $4.25.”

“You got it,” I said while pulling out my wallet. “When’s the next train?”

“You’ve got eight minutes.”

It turns out that even though the Connecticut trains don’t allow within-city travel, other Metro-North trains do. By this point, an eight minute wait for a ten minute ride would put me in Midtown a bit late for the very important meeting. But I was happy to be in pretty good shape. But two minutes after I got to the platform, a New Haven-line train pulled into the station. A few of us who had been put out from the the subway walked onto it.

A conductor at the other end of the car pointed to us and called out: “No passengers, no passengers! You guys, off the train!”

So we walked off. But I spoke to him him through the window, “There’s no service on the 4, 5 or 6. You can’t cut us some slack?”

There’s no service? O.K., get on,” he said while opening the doors back up for us.

Schawing! It was a wonderful thing to have come across a thoughtful and considerate conductor. His supervisor might have given him a hard time for that, but thanks to him, I was on time for my meeting. The Metro-North ride was better than the subway, since I didn’t even have to stop at 86th Street or 59th Street, and I got a seat.

All this just goes to show how blessed New York is to have multiple rail services. Redundancy is usually considered a bad thing, but in this case, when one service goes down, a parallel one worked out quite nicely.

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3 Responses to A Backup Plan and a Thoughtful Conductor

  1. aaron says:

    Wow, you had a better conductor than the Amtrak schmuck who wouldn’t let me ride from Newark to Manhattan on a nearly empty train at 11pm on a weekend.

    But enough ripping on Amtrak!

    AD, I think this German service right below, would have really saved you when the subway went down…

    (Click the English Summary link)

    http://www.callabike.de/kundenbuchung/process.php?proc=index&f=500

  2. futurebird says:

    Yikes! that link about the busses freaked me out!

  3. AD says:

    Aaron N.: Wow, you’ve had some rough treatment from the good people over at Amtrak. Call a bike? That’s a great idea . . .

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