What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

24 August 2011

I'll Meet You at the Station

I bet you all thought I forgot about my bus adventure, didn't you? Well, I'm here to tell you that I haven't forgotten, but for some reason our schedules got more tight, not less, once my internship finished, so we've had fewer trips than anticipated. Weird.

The train after we got off it.
Anyway! We've managed to get a few train rides in, one of which I live-tweeted the other day (I bet that was *lots* of fun for my followers). A bit of backstory: An urban rail line in Austin was approved by bond election quite some time ago, and was followed by delays, more expense than anticipated, and the sort of thing that makes taxpayers really frustrated. By the time we moved here last summer, it was up and running, but really empty most of the time. Now that it's been going about 18 months, ridership is up and the people who ride it regularly are agitating for service on weekends; meanwhile, people who don't live near enough to a station to get any benefit out of it are still complaining bitterly. Not without some justification, I suppose.

I missed all the controversy, though, being a recent arrival. So let me just skip straight to the fun bits. The downtown portion of the Red Line runs right next to the local bikeway, so I love it when I'm riding through just as the train is coming or going; the signal gates stop the traffic, but I get to keep going. Fantastic. There's a cool drawing on Wikipedia of Austin in 1873, and you can see the rail line on the east side of town. There is still a lot of old railing around over there, mostly paved over, but you can still see it. Kinda cool really. I often wonder, when riding along, if that's the sort of thing that I notice because I'm on my bike that I might miss if I were in a car. That was a bit of an aside, but the point is that the railway downtown still runs in more or less the same place as did in the illustration.

Waiting for the train.
The best thing about riding on the train is the little slices of life that you see in a hurry as they go by. There's a park that the train passes through that I want to go to, only because I've seen it so many times. (It's on two different bus routes, so it's a planned stop for the future.) There's a house right on the rail line that has a sign that reads "I ♥ Local", except it's a tomato instead of a heart. I love it. The bit where the train passes under the freeway feels like a tunnel but isn't. Dozens of backyards stand open to the train tracks (no privacy fence, or the fence is too short for the tall train), revealing their drying laundry, their toys, or just people enjoying the sunshine. We see them all for a couple of seconds and then move on. It's strange and totally normal at the same time.

Another funny thing about being on the train instead of watching it from atop my bicycle: the intersections click by so quickly. Really. We zoom through them, leaving them behind in one quick swoosh, so fast that it hardly feels like we've been there at all. But for the drivers who are waiting, it isn't quick. The signal jangles, the gates come down, and traffic waits. And waits. And waits. It has to be especially irritating at intersections near stations, because the train triggers the signal before it stops at the platform. So, anyone waiting at the intersection has to wait for people to load and unload before the train will finally pass and the traffic be free to flow again. I was on a bus a few months ago and saw a firetruck and ambulance get stuck that way, and of course the train driver doesn't know who is waiting and can't do much about it even if he or she did know. The operators don't control the signals. Some days I wonder: Do the same drivers get stuck at the train every day? It seems that they would, since people leave for work at about the same time every day, and the train runs on a fixed schedule.

When I'm on the train, I feel like there is so much to share about the experience. But really, it's transport. Point A to Point I, stopping at points B through H in between. A fun experience, but hard to describe.

Does your town have a train? Do you ever ride it? Do you ever get stuck at train signals?


Donna said...

I wish ours did. I'd have to ride it. That would be a cool way to people watch too.

Su said...

It is, indeed! Of course, while school was out it was a good way to see lots of families with kids, so the crowd has probably shifted in age a bit this week.