Don’t Mess with the Metra

February 19, 2010 at 8:40 am (Uncategorized) (, , )


Before I get started, I just want to say that this post should have appeared yesterday.  However, due to a gross malfunction on wordpress.com, it did not.  So here it is now in all of its glory, and I apologize for the delay.

You may or may not know that I take the Metra train to work every morning.  Chicago is a plethora of public transportation and there are many ways for me to get around since I live sans car.  There are buses and the L (short for elevated train – basically an above ground subway) as well as the actual commuter train which is the Metra.  The Metra is a really nice ride (I usually sit up top, which I find sort of fun) though it is a bit more pricey than the other modes of transit.  However, it works out nicely because the station I get dropped off at is directly across a parking lot from my office.  In short, I use the train just about every day.

There aren’t many rules on the Metra but the ones they do have are important.  You know, no standing too close to the tracks, no smoking and no loud talking on your cell phone (this last one gets ignored all too often).  You can pretty much do anything else you’d like – chat, read, get drunk.  I’ve seen some interesting things on the train but last week I saw something that was actually quite disturbing and it reminded me of Rule #1 – keep back from the tracks.  Last week in general was a bad one for the Metra, as two women were killed in separate accidents.  One was in a car and I think she got stuck on the tracks and the other was a woman who was trying to beat the train and didn’t make it.  The latter was actually on the line I ride on and caused some delays, although it happened a bit north of where I was.  These incidents prompted us regular commuters to commiserate with one another about the stupidity of trying to outrun a huge, fast-moving hunk of steel that can’t exactly stop on a dime.  Obviously these deaths were a tragedy but they could have been avoided, as far as I can tell.  I heard some stories about close calls others had seen and was grateful I’ve never witnessed anything myself.  The next morning though, that all changed (don’t worry, no one dies in this story).

This is the train station I get picked up in the morning.  Notice the crappy little shelter, which leaks and provides absolutely zero protection for the 25 or so people that sometimes have to wait an additional 30 minutes on a freezing cold platform when the train is late.  Not that I’m bitter or anything.  Anyway, I was standing here one morning last week and chatting with a few of my train buddies as it was about to pull into the station.  In case you’ve never ridden one, the train makes all kinds of noise, flashes a bunch of lights, shakes the platform and typically sounds a loud and obnoxious horn.  It’s very noticeable when it’s approaching, and anyone within a block radius of the thing will pick up their pace if they’re trying to catch it.  Normally this isn’t an issue, as most people who ride my train walk (or run) up the stairs on the side the doors open on, so there’s no crossing of the tracks involved.  Last week, though, a woman was running down the other side with a small child in tow.  She was yanking her by the hand while she tried to make her way to the crossing platform (you can only cross the tracks in one area, the rest is separated by a fence).  Every one of us on the other side was urging the woman to stop, because she was cutting it DAMN close.  We all tensed up and held our breaths as she dashed across the platform with literally inches to spare.

The conductor of the train was NOT happy.  It was really a foolish thing for the woman to do, especially when there’s ice and snow on the tracks.  One wrong move and she and her child would have been human pancakes.  The conductor had literally laid on his horn the entire time he was pulling in and he stopped before the edge of the platform.  He wouldn’t let anyone on the train until the other conductor-ticket taker guys walked around and found the woman, presumably to give her a much deserved verbal tongue lashing.

Trust me, I know how much it sucks when you miss your train by mere seconds and have to wait for another one.  I’m sure she had someplace very important to be too.  Still doesn’t make it worth it.  Anytime there’s a battle between a train and a mere mortal, the train will always win.  That’s why you don’t mess with the Metra.

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