People wait for Trains. Trains don’t wait for People.

Train Watch

“People Wait for Trains. Trains don’t Wait for People.”

Even as a small child, my father taught me well to be early to everything. Through my life I have assumed that this is a sign of respect to always be on time. Over the years, I’ve observed many who weren’t taught as well as me and seem to operate in a different time zone. Though it doesn’t seem to matter if someone is late to church, a ball game, or a family gathering, it makes a big difference when arriving late for any public transportation, including trains.

In fact, trains invented strict time schedules more than anything in our recent history. They had to for safety’s sake when many different trains were sharing the same track.

Back in the day… every town or city, large or small kept their own time, based in some way on the position of the sun at high noon and proudly displayed on something public, such as a church clock or in the jewelers display window. So one city may have said that the official time is 10:00am, and a town down the road fifty miles says at that same moment that the time is only 9:55am. This system worked just fine because with the slow mode of travel, time was such a relative thing.

When trains came along, with ever increasing speeds, and the need to time their travel with other trains using the same track, this less than formal time keeping system began to show it’s weakness. As the circle of travel continually expanded, the railroad dispatchers needed to keep a correspondingly expanding table of reference of the dozens (and then hundreds) of time zones, as they managed the train schedules. With the new communication technology of telegraph (usually ran along the railroad track), all of these many time zones needed to be referenced in real time.

The railroad’s solution was to implement standardized time zones. Of course you are familiar with these time zones because we still use them today.

So starting way back then, trains are always striving to run on time. Early on, a late train caused accidents. Now days it causes missed appointments and commitments for both people and products.

My morning commuter run is full of people depending on me to get them to work on time. Most of these people are lined up at the station platform before the train arrives. Of course there are always a few who are scrambling to the platform after the train stops. If I can, I’ll delay just a few extra seconds, but my mandate is to keep the train on time. Because of the hundreds who arrived on time and depend on me to get them to their destination on time, I can’t wait for the late comer. I think Star Trek’s Spock would say it this way. “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few.” So though it appears heartless and cruel to depart the station when a late comer is scrambling to make the train but is too far off, I am thinking, “Be kind to those on time.”

As my train is rolling out of the station, occasionally I’ll see in my mirror, someone running up and banging on a passenger door, expecting it to open on the run. It’s not like the old time movies with the drama of someone running to jump on the train while it is picking up steam. Now days the doors are locked before the train can move so once it is moving the drama is left behind at the station. Unless of course a passenger on the train is asleep or other wise distracted and is too slow getting off at his stop. The frustration is palatable as they pound on the door from inside while the station begins to move away. The next stop in the next town is now his only choice.

The experienced traveler (and commuter) avoids these anxieties with a readily available schedule and a good watch. Of course back in the day, the train engineer needed a good quality watch that kept time in sic with the dispatcher and all the other trains. Back then the quality, and corresponding accuracy, was measured by its jewels. The officially approved Railroad Watch had at least 19 and as high as 30 jewels in its mechanism. Soon “Railway Time Keepers” were marketed to the general traveling public. These fake imitations were cheap watches that weren’t jeweled. They looked like the real McCoy, but were less accurate. So the savvy traveler cushioned his departure time to compensate.

Even though most watches today are much more accurate then the best of yesteryear, our fast paced lives are filled with unexpected delays. We frequently miss calculate how long it takes to go and do the things of our lives. So like the wise Old Timers, we need to cushion our schedules to compensate.

The one rule that is as applicable today as in the early days of railroads is that people wait for trains. Trains don’t wait for people.

I know that many times a person is running late because of unforeseen delays. Weather, traffic, or numerable personal problems can easily mar the best planned “Just in time” scheduling. The only fool proof answer is to plan to wait for the train a little bit.

As train engineers, and other railroad workers, we wait for trains more than anyone. For the trains to run on time, we must be there early every time.

I live 45 miles from where I report to work. Regardless of how I get to work, I have to leave early enough to be there on time even in the worst case scenario. For me, because of train schedules, that means if I ride the train to work, I generally arrive an hour early… and wait. If I drive, to compensate for unexpected traffic and weather, I arrive about 30 minutes early… and wait. (Waiting is great writing time for me.)

During the course of my work shift, I am frequently waiting on the train. After the required pre-pullout inspection, I wait for the prescribed time to pull out onto the mainline. At each station I watch my pocket watch (because I’m old fashioned that way) until the exact departure time. At our terminal stations (the end of the line each way) I wait for the exact time my train begins its next run back the other direction. When another train is late arriving at our meeting point (the short double track where we can pass each other), I wait. If there are problems along our alignment, with switches, crossings, mechanical problems with other trains, etc… I wait.

So everyone involved, (passengers, rail workers, cars and pedestrians at crossings), end up waiting for trains. Of course our goal is to keep that wait to a minimum. But if people didn’t try to make trains wait for them, everyone would have to wait a lot less.

Years ago, I observed a wise Greyhound bus driver counseling a young man who had arrived late. “You will have a lot fewer problems in your travels if you will just learn to be a little bit early.”

What I’ve taught my children applies to trains:

“If you’re early, you’re on time.

If you’re on time, you’re late,

And if you’re late you’re forgotten.”

So it’s true that people wait for trains, but trains don’t wait for people. But ironically, as they watch the train pulling out of the station, the people who try making trains wait for them; end up waiting the longest because they now have to wait for the next train.

7 thoughts on “People wait for Trains. Trains don’t wait for People.”

  1. A BAND of commuters were gathered at the railway station when the station master’s voice came over the loud speaker. The commuters braced themselves. Would this be the usual announcement about a delay? “Because of circumstances beyond our control,” the station master intoned, “the seven o’clock train is running on time today.”

  2. The British commuter hopped on a train in London and told the conductor he was going to Doncaster. “We don’t stop at Doncaster on Wednesdays” said the conductor. “But tell you what, mate. We slow down at Doncaster to go through the junction. I’ll open the door and you hop off. Mind you though, we’re going fast. Hit the ground running so you don’t get pulled in by the train’s wake.” At Doncaster, the door opened, and the commuter hit the ground running. He was running so fast that his momentum carried him forward to the car ahead. There, another conductor opened the door, pull him on and as the train resumed speed said, “You’re might lucky, mate. This train doesn’t stop at Doncaster on Wednesdays.”

  3. The reason most poeple are LATE is that they depend on OTHER people and we can seldom control other people…in fact trying to compensate for other people …undependable people…sick people…careless people…accident proned people… lazy people…LATE people…and everyone else causes us to spend most of our LIFE worrying about meeting commitments.. I recently told a man I would have a car to him…when the programmed key wouldn’t start the car an entire scenario unfolded with six people involved…me…my ride to drop it off, the owner, the new car dealer, the service manager, the programmer, a guy with the KEY to the computer cabinet, and the supplier of programmable KEY blanks, and their delivery man whose wife was headed for the hospital to deliver their fifth child… Needless to say…the car arrived LATE…

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