Cattle Car

I survive another crowded train ride from Trenton to Baltimore.

When my train finally arrived in beautiful Trenton, New Jersey, only an hour late, I heard an announcement on the platform. "We have received word that this train is standing room only." I have been on standing room trains before, but this was the first time they had actually warned us ahead of time. The doors opened, and due to some law of equilibrium or whatever, several people shot out onto the platform, landing at the feet of waiting passengers. I stepped over the ejected passengers, and saw people standing in the doorway. I waited for them to get out, but they didn't. That was where they were standing. I walked to the next car to see if I could have better luck there. I noticed an open floor area of almost one square foot, and got on the car, placed my backpack on the floor, and straddled my legs over it. The conductor then approached from the platform and told us that he needed to get on too. We somehow managed to free up some more space, and he grabbed on. He closed the door and leaned against it, knowing that he would be in for a ride when the door opened at the next station.

On the way to Philadelphia, there was absolutely no movement within the train. It was impossible. I was stuck next to a conductor in the vestibule. It got so hot that he actually slightly opened the exterior door—an action that is probably against about a thousand regulations. Stuffing passengers in the vestibule probably isn't safe either, so why would opening the door matter? As we approached Philly, he actually opened the door all the way and leaned out, telling us that it was the best part of his job. We told him he was lucky we didn't push him out. We did try to make the best of the situation. The conductor told us about one woman who put her luggage in a bucket, and had a seat on top of it. The entire setup cost about $5, and wherever she went, she had a seat. He thought it was a great idea, especially for Thanksgiving travelers. I look forward to that! We also had to help the conductor with the announcements. The phone was a full yard away from him, so we passed it from one side of the vestibule to the other so he could alert the passengers that it was almost time to "escape" the train in Philly.

We finally got to Philly, where those of us lucky enough to be in the vestibule had to step off and let the lucky passengers exit the overcrowded train. Nobody who was continuing past Philly even took their hands off the train, not because they wanted to try for a seat, but because they just wanted to get back on. After several minutes of waiting for people to climb to the exits, we were allowed back on. This time I actually made it to the inside of a car, and found a place in to put my bag in the overhead compartment!

I still had to stand all the way from Philly to Newark to Aberdeen to Baltimore, but at least it wasn't in the vestibule. Inside the car, I was in on all the excitement. I got to experience cell phone lady sitting next to me. I got to watch people sit and sleep. I got to see the reactions of the passengers when the train ran over something... we determined it was probably tree limbs. That was kinda scary, but also pretty cool since it added the "unknown" into the mix. Everyone on the train was entertained by Drunk Girl and Drunk Girl's Drunk Friends, who made one section of the car smell of alcohol. It was a hit when one of them suddenly got a bloody nose and giggled uncontrollably, spreading laughter at least three rows back to complete strangers.

Obviously, great value was assigned to seating inside, especially if the seating was in actual seats—not the floor. Of course all of the empty seats were already reserved by spouses in the restroom or café car, but it never hurt to ask. If Amtrak offered Internet access on their trains, floor space and seats would undoubtedly be sold on eBay by passengers who wanted to rent out their seats when they went to the restroom or café car, or even just to get something out of their bags. There price for a seat would probably be about 3 times the cost of a ticket. If the seller was smart, he or she could sell the seat before the conductor came around, and then stand in the vestibule where tickets are often not ripped.

One thing that did surprise me was the amount of foot traffic within the train after Philly. Where were all of these people going? Some were going to the café car and others to the restroom, but others seemed to just be out for a stroll, climbing over bodies and making me lean against one of the seats so they could get past. Some people passed me several times, but never had food with them or went to the restroom.

When we arrived in Baltimore, two seats opened up right in front of me. I almost took one, so I could take the train to Washington just to see what it was like to sit. I probably would have ended up selling it.

Fortunately, when I arrived at the station, there wasn't a long line for cabs. I got in and asked for Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus. The driver asked, "woinvadfbuiaobaoiyv 34th Street ;danoifbaidh?"

"Yes," I said.

Posted: Mon - November 3, 2003 at 12:38 AM