December 1, 2006

I hate the E train

There is probably no experience in Manhattan's subway system worse than taking the E line during morning rush hour. In the mornings at 8AM, I wait at the 42nd street station along with rows and rows of other passengers. The E train will usually come already packed from the people who got on at Penn Station one stop before. Yet no matter how full a subway train looks from the outside, the interior defies physics. I'm always amazed at how dozens of fresh passengers can somehow cram themselves into an already overflowing car that looks like it's about to split at the bolts.

Inside, standers are stabilized from the rocking movement of the train since their positions are locked in a perpetual game of Twister with the other passengers. If one person moves slightly, it will trigger a shockwave of shifting that can be felt at the other end of the car. If God forbid someone needs to get off the train at a stop, the careful equilibrium will be lost and the situation inside the car will degenerate until the crowd becomes a large undefined mass of arms, legs, newspapers, and briefcases...not unlike the swirling tornadoes of dust and limbs that depict brawls in gag cartoons. After a period of time, those who need to leave will have migrated from the inside to the outside through Brownian motion, and everyone else in the train is now in a completely different location than before and probably missing their wallets. We all sigh with relief for that tiny bit of free motion, before holding our breaths again to watch in horror as 40 new people rush in the doors to stuff the gap that was created when one person left.

This agonizing circus act will repeat itself for several more stops, with more passengers magically boarding at each stop despite us having run out of space long ago. Just before the train is about to reach critical mass and collapse into a star, we arrive at 53rd and Lexington. It's my stop, and apparently everyone else's. From riding the E train, I've learned that every single person in New York city works near 53rd and Lexington. Immediately the entire train will drain out to the station, leaving behind only two or three people, probably broken or unconscious. At the station, a new battle begins. This one is a battle for the escalators.

The 53rd street platform is shared by E trains arriving from both Queens and downtown, and they will frequently unload at the same time so it is not uncommon to have hundreds of passengers all together at once in underground station. Unlike most stations, we only have an exit at one end of the platform. It has two escalators and one set of stairs. However, because we're so far down underground, very few people take the stairs. Instead the huge crowd will step onto the escalator, four people at a time. The end result is one of the worst capacity bottlenecks ever. If any one escalator breaks, the delay increases exponentially. If both break, any operations managers in the crowd will typically have a stroke and die on the spot.

The return trip fortunately not as bad. No thanks to the E train of course but at least it's made somewhat bearable since taking the stairs down isn't so bad. Also, when going back, the herd is split into two groups. The first half gets off at 34th Street, the second group gets off at 14th. 34th is Penn Station so I can understand, but I still have no idea what's so special about 14th Street that could account for so many people leaving here.

Posted by Paranda at December 1, 2006 1:37 PM

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