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The virtue of patience

September 28, 2016

A few weeks ago during a marathon in Lehigh Valley, a freight train interrupted the race, which caused many runners not to qualify for the Boston Marathon. News outlets showed photos of the frustrated runners literally stopped in their tracks, passing time by running in place waiting for the train cars to pass. Several runners actually jumped over the tracks between cars of the slow-moving freight train, which could have had a terrible outcome for these inpatient runners. Race organizers had contacted Norfolk Southern Railroad to insure that there would be no trains on the move during the race. Needless to say, the communication broke down somewhere. There has been no official word from the organizers of the Boston Marathon if an exception will be made to allow an adjustment on the time of these unlucky runners as they patiently wait for an answer.

Murphy’s Law has taught us that what can go wrong will go wrong, often at the most inconvenient time. New Jersey Transit often runs into similar issues, not necessarily caused by scheduling interference with the freight lines that operate and actually own the tracks. The Port Jervis line has a unique situation where the tracks are owned by Norfolk Southern Railway. The rail line between Suffern, NY and Port Jervis, NY is actually leased and maintained by Metro-North Railroad, which is the same Metro-North that operates on the east side of the Hudson River. Metro-North then leases the train cars, locomotive engines and staff from New Jersey Transit. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen to blame when something does go wrong.

The commuters don’t really care who is to blame; they just want to get to work or home depending on the direction they are going. Riders on the Port Jervis line traverse through some of the most rural and remote countryside found in the Metro-North line. Mother Nature is one of the biggest culprits causing delays. If a tree falls over the tracks, the delay could be hours by the time help arrives. Physical access to much of the line is very limited. Communication is also limited at times because of lack of access to telephone carriers. Engineers and conductors often carry two phones as a backup and have been known to ask passengers if anyone has service of another carrier when things go wrong. If an animal such as a deer jumps in front of the train and gets hit, it is all over for the deer. Issues come from a deer strike in the form of pressure hoses coming undone. Engineers will stop the train if a bear is on the tracks, since hitting a 300-pound bear could have some dire consequences for both the bear and the train.