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Monday, June 04, 2007

Back on track(s)....

I am in transit at the moment -- literally.

I'm aboard an Amtrak Northeast Corridor Regional train on my way from Back Bay Station, Boston to NY Penn Station for my first day of teaching a summer course at Baruch/CUNY.

It is a return to old haunts in two ways -- I taught at Baruch from 1988 to 1992 and this is my first real commute to NY by Amtrak for at least four years. I know to expect changes at Baruch since they formed a School of Public Affairs after I left and have been literally and physically "rebuilding" the place for the past 15 years. But what I did not expect were the changes I've experience on the commute thus far...

When I commuted regularly to work at Rutgers-Newark from my home on the Northshore (from 1997 to 2003) I typically took to the air (pre-9/11 days when it was somewhat affordable and convenient) or drove, and kept the "training" to a minimum. It just took too long and was not that dependable -- or inexpensive or convenient. Hopping on the commuter rail in the station located literally in my back yard, I'd head to North Station where I'd climb the steps of the elevated rail Green Line (part of the Boston subway T) (even with bags, since the elevator was often a non-option) and then transfer at another station to the Red Line (I think) and then sit and wait in South Station. All this was in an atmosphere not conducive to a good attitude since all around was the work of the Big Dig. Boston -- at least those parts I traversed -- was one big construction site, and there were days when you wondered if they should be issuing hard hats just to get around the transport infrastructure.

Well, it has been awhile, and my trek to the Amtrak station was much different. I felt like a modern Rip Van Winkle, having awoke to a transformed Boston after a long sleep. It is not that I have not been coming into Boston or going through by car, but this particular commuting path is one I've dreaded revisiting.

The train from the North Shore was as usual, although this AM the ten minute delay seemed to be an odd occurrence for the commuters and the crew was very apologetic -- something about a signal problem. The difference is that now there is a message board at the station flashing the news of the delay and the reason. Once on board it felt familiar.

Then we pull into North Station which has been transformed into something tolerable and clean. And there was the fact (noted in some earlier post) that the elevated line had been "depressed" and the streets were actually open to real sky light (although this morning it was pouring rain, so I suspect some folks would miss the cover...). But more important, the entry to the T subway lines was just a few steps from the station door, and the access was to both the Green and the Orange lines, which meant that I could easily make it the Back Bay Amtrak station (rather than South Station -- and a less crowded option) without having to haul my bags through a subway line switch.

As for the T line itself, they have definitely improved things. Not only has the North Station T-stop been completely renovated and access moved closer (now all that construction makes sense), but they have introduced a "CharlieCard" for paying the fare -- not necessarily a new idea for subway systems, but well done in Boston and much needed improvement. (The "Charlie" in Charlie Card, by the way, is in reference to "poor old Charlie" of political/folk song fame --see here for background).

The Back Bay Amtrak Station is as it was four years ago -- which, if nothing else, is well located for a trek to Starbucks for coffee while awaiting the train.

As for the Amtrak ride, so far okay. Train is pretty crowded this AM, and it took a request to get the crew to activate the 120v outlets so I don't have to worry about running out of battery power along the way. We are now approaching New London CT, and even more significant is that I now have the capacity to post this thanks to a modification of my mobile phone service that has me online while I am on the move. Which means that I can actually make productive use (I hope) of the three to four (often more) hours I will spend on the train. And which actually means I will not regard this weekly round trip as dead time and might actually enjoy it....

I hope.

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