Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Sprinter: Back on Track

[This is the long-delayed "sequel" to an earlier post, Introducing the Sprinter, published on July 3, 2013.]

A year ago at this time, I was impatiently anticipating the return of commuter train service to North County. I missed the convenience of riding the Sprinter when I traveled between cities. I especially hated riding a much too overcrowded bus to Escondido at 6:30 a.m. every Wednesday.

Why was I anticipating the return of the Sprinter?

On March 8, 2013, North County Transit District (NCTD) shut down the trains due to a problem with the braking system. The shutdown caused serious transportation problems for thousands of people (including me), many of whom (but not including me) depend on the train to get to work or school every day.

Of course The-Powers-That-Be (TPTB) still had to move all those people.

In order to do that, TPTB leased luxury commercial coaches that ran about every fifteen minutes during peak periods. The plush buses really didn’t have much leg room, but the seats were comfortable. And passengers didn’t risk life and limb stumbling over baby carriages, walkers, and personal shopping carts on the way to their seats because those items were stored in a separate compartment under the passenger section.

About a month into the shutdown, TPTB phased out the use of the commercial coaches. For a short time, several rickety buses brought in from Los Angeles helped to move commuters. A fellow passenger claimed that the L.A. buses dated back to the sixties. I didn't doubt it. Every time the drivers hit the brakes, something fell off those buses.

And then the L.A. buses disappeared. After that, what seemed like a half-zillion passengers were stuffed into NCTD buses operating on the most popular regular routes and two newly created Sprinter Shuttle express bus routes. Riding on one of those shuttle buses was like being trapped in a traveling sardine can.

The system remained shut down for over two months. After the repairs were completed, several agencies had to inspect the braking system, the tracks, the signals, and who knows what else before the Sprinter could start hauling people again.

On May 17, 2013, I noticed that the yellow boarding platforms were down. They had been pulled up when the Sprinter shut down. I figured that was a good sign. And it was. The Sprinter was back on track the next day.

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