NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I was always the kind of worker who’d arrive at the office a little early and would stay a little late. Doing a few extra things at work was my idea of doing a good job.
At Descente, I couldn’t. As soon as the clock stuck five, I needed to punch out to get to Grand Central on time. The 17-block walk from Madison and 57th Street to the station at Park and 42nd took about 20 minutes. No stopping. A brisk pace. The 5:24 was my train home.
After a long day of work a local train home seemed impossibility slow. You were painfully aware of every stop. The dwell time, as passengers got on and off at the smaller stations, seemed to take forever. Meanwhile, the 5:24 was the ultimate express. After leaving Grand Central, it bypassed 125th Street in Harlem, where most trains took on additional passengers. It also skipped Stamford, usually the first stop for other express trains. The 5:24’s first stop was Fairfield, 56-miles down the line. The 1-hour 8-minute ride was the fastest possible way to get home. Each afternoon we’d whoosh by dozens of stations and pass hundreds of cars backed up on I-95. Miss it, and I’d be stuck on the 5:36, a local that picked and poked its way down the line. It was almost worth it to get some dinner in New York and take the 5:45, an express that would pass the local before reaching Connecticut.
The 5:24 wasn’t a good run for everyone. Only one conductor was assigned to the 5-car train. There was a long time until the first stop to collect all the tickets, and the work fell to the one trainman who didn’t have enough union seniority to get off the run. The train would be outbound for nearly a half-hour before the beleaguered conductor would reach me at the front window of the front car.
But the 5:24 was awful for the inexperienced or careless riders who accidentally got on the wrong train. Every night you’d see last minute passengers running down the platform as the conductor called out his final ‘all aboard.’ Some actually wanted the 5:27 local to New Rochelle on the adjacent track. A passenger getting on the wrong train, especially at rush hour, was fairly common. A wrong rider would usually get off at 125th Street and catch the right train there. But the 5:24 didn’t stop at 125th. They’d watch hopelessly as dozens of stations passed by. Sometimes the train crew would radio the dispatcher, asking if they could let the lost rider off at Fordham. It usually wasn’t an option, as the 5:24 was usually operating on the middle express tracks away from the station’s elevated platform. The price for being wrong was a train ride that took you an hour out of your way, then having to catch another train back. At least the beleaguered conductor wouldn’t collect the ticket. He’d already done enough of that.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau