Bound for Philadelphia

Volume 6, Issue 127; 07 Dec 2003

Waiting in train stations is a lot like waiting in airports, except the architecture is more interesting.

I like train travel. I like the sounds and the motion and the scenery.

Moon over Connecticut
Moon over Connecticut

Waiting in train stations is a lot like waiting in airports, except the architecture is more interesting.

Union Station
Union Station

Weariness is the universal expression of travellers stranded between where they started and where they want to be.

In a modern waiting area, the executive set fiddle with their PDAs; a fair number of them sport antennas, no doubt allowing them to reach across the globe. Most of the rest fiddle sporadically with their mobile phones. Over by the public access terminal, a young man holds open his laptop, reading aloud an email address to his travelling companion as she hunts-and-pecks it into the awkwardly sloped, industrial keyboard. The geeky set are no doubt a lot more comfortable in lounges with WiFi, into which category Union Station in New Haven does not, alas, fall.

Architecture is on my mind as I travel towards XML 2003, so let’s consider for a moment the architecture of a rail network.

With the exception of an occasional siding and the brief spurts of parallelism that manifest at major stations, rail is an almost exclusively serial network, wouldn’t you agree? I imagine that the scheduling algorithm that determines how and when a train gets from point A to point B must be quite sophisticated, especially when weather conditions and breakdowns introduce random delays. But my intuition suggests that it isn’t chaotic, trains don’t suddenly pass each other or choose to go a different route. The scheduler makes its decisions and at that point the arrival and departure times are all fully determined.

So explain to me why every delay in New Haven is updated at half-hour intervals? By that, I mean that a train is listed as 30 minutes late, then 20 minutes later as an hour late, and a half-hour later as 90 minutes late, etc. Serial breakdowns and delays are certainly possible, but on every train?

Delayed
Delayed

I expect, somewhat cynically, that they do it avoid losing customers. They know that if they told us straight up that the train was going to be three and a half hours late, some people would return their tickets and make other arrangements.

But teasing passengers with outright lies is pretty shabby treatment. Shame on you, Amtrak!

My train, which was only 30 minutes, an hour, 90 minutes, two hours late, did finally arrive and depart. It is whisking me along as I type. Power on the train, for things like the lights and heat, has been pretty sporadic and the consumer outlets have no power at all, so I’m typing away on my PalmLest I appear to be engaging in outright lies myself, let me confess. The picture of my little keyboard setup that I took on the train didn’t come out, so I recreated it this morning in my hotel room..

Palm
Palm

I’ve heard that folks have written books with Graffiti, but I wouldn’t enjoy doing it. This little external keyboard is a lot nicer. This is how I get most of my “travel journals” written, at least the vacation ones.

Miles to go before I sleep. I wonder where the dining car is?

See you in Philly!