Sunday, February 02, 2014

An open letter to my passengers

Dear Passengers,

Please put the pitchfork and lanterns down.
 I come in peace

First, let me explain that the train crews are on your side.  We are not the enemy… We really do want your trains to be on time…really we do.  But there are these things called signals, speed limits and speed restrictions, and we have to adhere to them…it’s the law.  And now we have these pesky Federal Railroad Administration agents looking over our shoulders, and they’re in “Deep Dive” and there’s no sign of them coming up for air.  Besides, we hate to be late for our coffee breaks…  It makes us cranky.
They say the foundation of every great railroad starts at the track bed, and ours has fallen into disrepair.  Some years back, someone thought it would be a great idea to replace wooden railroad ties, which had been in place since the Lincoln Administration, with newfangled concrete ties.  The idea was that concrete would last forever and would be virtually maintenance free.  Well, as it turns out, forever meant 10 years. Without proper drainage concrete ties dissolve like Alka Seltzer tablets in a 10 ounce glass of water, and before you can say “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” the concrete melted into mud holes.  Soon the ride into Grand Central became more frightening than “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”...and this is the basis of our current problems. 

 You can’t blame train crews for the bad track bed… can you? 
You want to talk train cleanliness?  Yep, we’re all for that too, especially when we have cockroaches the size of Smart Cars crawling into our railroad bags.  “They” say they can’t dump the toilets or give the trains a thorough cleaning since the turn times are too tight.  Yeah…we’re not buying that excuse either.  If Jet Blue can clean a jumbo jet on tarmac in Newark, I’m pretty sure a car cleaner can spot mop an M8 car in Grand Central.

Communication?  I know this has always been a big point of contention, but your conductor can only inform you if he/she has been informed…and with the advent of Twitter and social media, the riding public is way ahead of us.  For instance, I learned about the derailment in Bridgeport from a passenger a good five minutes before I heard about it on the railroad radio. But communication is a two way street...and sometimes you folks just don’t listen.  Here is a transcript of a conversation I had with a passenger last Thursday night just after I finished making announcements that the whole railroad had been shut down and that there would be an indefinite delay:
Passenger: Conductor, can I get on another train?
Me: No, sorry the whole railroad is shut down.

Passenger: Then can I get on a train going in the opposite direction?

Me: No, sorry, no trains moving, indefinite delay.

Passenger: So... how long will it be?

Me: Indefinite delay...meaning we don't know how long.

Passenger: I KNOW what indefinite means.

So, as enjoyable as it is to verbally berate your conductor, or however thrilling it is to give the finger to your engineer when he pulls into your station 15 minutes late, remember…WE’RE NOT THE PROBLEM!  Could we apologize for the delays a little more frequently?  Sure we could!  Could we be a little more pleasant? Certainly!  But remember, we’re human too folks, and you are far from the first or last person that day to growl at us…call us hurtful names… or refuse to pay for this “terrible service.”  In addition to this, we have our regular cast of drunks, fare beaters, and deviants (some are even fellow employees).  As humans, we may get defensive or become apathetic and shut down.  We need to work on that.

Here’s what I propose for incoming Metro North President Joe Giulietti:

Dear Joe,
I know we don’t know each other very well, but you always struck me as a very nice guy.  I remember that your cat and my cat came from the same litter, so that means we’re practically related, so I hope you listen to the following suggestions:

First, I would like you to propose a “Quality of Life Initiative" like Rudy Giuliani did in NYC.  A lot of our problems have to deal with perception, so treat the trains like 42nd Street AND CLEAN THEM UP! I'm far from a neat nick, but even I'm disgusted by the condition of our trains. The floors are filthy, the bathrooms haven't been dumped and they're without toilet paper. Too many cars have roaches crawling around, so treat the roaches like Rudy treated the peep shows...make them disappear.
Second, with all these new cars...why are there still seating shortages? Even Bloomberg put seating in Time Square....and that's "The crossroads of the world."

Third: Communicate-Communicate-Communicate! It's like pulling teeth to get information out of the RTC's sometimes (i.e. Where is our connection?') How can we do our "Community Policing," if we're not informed? Even the passengers know more than we least they have Twitter to tip them off.
Fourth: Whatever happened to car inspectors actually inspecting trains before departure? I know they used to do it...doesn't seem like it happens anymore. Like they say...if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.
Yours truly,

So you see commuters, we train crew members really do care.  Now if you’d only put the pitchforks down!!!