Labor Day Week continued…
Part of the misery of work in the U.S. is commuting in a country of 325 million trying to use infrastructure (highways, railroad tracks, bridges, tunnels) that was built for a country of 150 million.
This summer I was amazed that a guy at a party admitted to being an executive for the company that runs the universally hated commuter rail system here in the Boston area.
When they’re on schedule, our trains run every hour or two during off-peaks times and usually no more frequently than every 30 minutes at rush hour. This renders the commuter rail more or less useless except for those who can plan their lives to the minute.
I asked Could the trains run every 15 minutes as they do in Moscow? [Subway lines in Moscow run every minute on weekdays, every two minutes on weekends, but commuter rail is less frequent.]
The answer was “no” because the MBTA uses super heavy rolling stock, more like what you’d see on a freight train, and the tracks would be quickly destroyed by such frequent usage. The difference is easy to see if you go to England, for example, where the long-distance “trains” look to an American eye more like subway cars.
Why couldn’t we buy these lighter vehicles here? “I don’t know,” he responded, “but I think there are political connections involved with the rolling stock manufacturer.”
Why were the prices so high and yet the system was always losing money? “Unions,” was the answer. The company that runs the train is French. How could our unions be less efficient than workers in France? “It is on a completely different scale,” the international executive responded. “I have never seen a group of workers as unproductive as American union members.”
We have structural problems here in Boston as well. Because North Station and South Station aren’t connected, trains can’t be scheduled to keep rolling through a station. They have to back up after reaching downtown Boston. The $15 billion Big Dig project didn’t connect the stations. “Take long view, build N-S Rail Link” suggests that we redo the Big Dig so as to accomplish this goal.