17 November 2014

I Heart Trains

I love trains.

At the Oak Park stop on the CTA’s Green Line, my tense, concave shoulders, sheltering my chest from the winter’s wind, have surrendered and fallen as a westbound BNSF freight train rushed by behind me and an eastbound el train trudged up in front of me. 

I love intracity public transportation systems like the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) and London's underground as well as international passenger service like Thalys, particularly from Amsterdam's Schiphol to Brussel's Midi. 

In the spring of 2010, I was finishing up an eight-month, sixteen-hundred-mile transition from Tapa back to Chicago at the spartan residences of the Irving Park YMCA. My grant writer job at Saint Anthony Hospital had me on the CTA's Blue Line at around 6:45 every weekday morning. My it’s-way-too-early scowl relaxed into a low-key, that’s-nice grin every time the northwest-bound Metra commuter train from the Loop and the southeast-bound Metra train from the suburbs glided pass each other and stopped at the Irving Park station while, at about the same time, six southbound lanes of the Kennedy Expressway away, my southeast-bound el train clattered alongside the Irving Park platform.

In 2011, the CTA put its new 5000 series rail cars on the Pink Line, the line that took me to my office after the Blue Line dropped me off beneath the Thompson Center in the Loop. Like many of the trains of the London underground, the 5000 series had aisle-facing seats. Unlike the trains of the underground, the seats in the CTA's new cars were not wide enough for us Chicagoans to sit our big butts on. Moreover, when you sat, you sat a crotch-level of the standing passengers.

Recently, on an outbound Pink Line train ("from the Loop") at about 7 a.m., there were more seats than passengers, and we civilly populated every other seat down the length of the train as well as conveniently sat kitty-corner from the rider facing us. Unfortunately, it was a different story on an inbound train ("toward the Loop") around 5 p.m., especially when the train pulled out of the Polk Street station on the University of Illinois campus. The good thing about winter coats, though, is that they cover everyone's crotches. So, although I was sitting down when the train got to Polk, I had just a column of black, waterproof polyester to stare at as if it were the dark sky over the Near West Side.

A lot of suburban commuters board at Polk Street, and they are a bit apprehensive about squeezing into a seat in between two passengers of color from the Southwest Side. Those that are affiliated with STEM departments at the university do a better job at calculating with a quick glance how successful they will be at backing their buttocks up into a seat. Others, generally the university's medical center patients, announce their intent to sit by shuffling down the aisle to a vacant seat, stare at it, turn 180 degrees to give passengers on either side time to lean away or scoot over, and then plop down.

On the 5000-series cars, unless you are in the seats next to the emergency exits at both ends of the car, there is really nowhere to scoot or lean to give a fellow sitting passenger a little more room. Once nicely packed in, contiguous passengers, shoulder to shoulder, sway left and right in unison to the stops and starts of the train with only independent head and hand movements possible.
In addition, the backpacks, briefcases, and Lululemon totes of passengers who do sit down have no protection on the floor from the pivoting footwear of the standing passengers, unlike if they were nestled between their legs in the conventional forward/rear-facing seats.

The only thing I like about the 5000-series cars is the digital clock at both ends. I don't have to try to snake my hand into a pants or coat pocket to see if I am still on schedule after the train has been stopped, waiting for signal clearance.

Which trains have you seen? 
Above: Amtrak, Springfield.
Below: Metra, Chicagoland. METRO Rail, Houston. Tram, Tallinn (in front of church). Old locomotive, Tapa. Estonian Rail freight train, Tapa. Estonian Rail, Tapa (with logs). Estonian passenger train, Tallinn. Estonian passenger train, Tapa (at night). Commuter train, Czech Republic? High speed Finnish passenger train, to Helsinki. Could be another Finnish train. Metro, The Hague. Commuter train to Hamburg, Germany.