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The train guy and Amtrak schedules

One of my college classmates was someone I’ll call “Train Guy.” He hailed from the Northeast, where mass transit makes sense–or at least more sense than it does here in the Midwest.

Some people memorize baseball statistics. Train Guy, by contrast, had the Amtrak schedule committed to memory. When a train rolled through town, just a few blocks from campus, he could tell you where it came from, where it was going, and the approximate time it was supposed to pull into the station five stops down the line.

When I lived in the western suburbs of Chicago, I became something of a train guy myself, using the Metra system. Metra is based on the 19th-century model of funneling traffic from the suburbs to downtown. Fortunately, it worked for me, since I worked downtown, but I vaguely remember something along the lines that only 5 percent of all trips in the Chicago area are done by Metra.

And no wonder. Mass transit is seldom helpful for suburb-to-suburb trips, and equally important, it operates on its own schedule, not those of its passengers. If you happen to live in a very densely populated area (Tokyo, Manhattan, or at the least, portions of Chicago), the bus or train will come by frequently enough to be of some value. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or more, for the next train or bus. And you’ll have to be like Train Guy, committing someone else’s schedule to memory.

By contrast, if you want to travel from A to B in your car, you can leave at 7am, 7:01am, 7:02am, 7:03am, and so on. No need to fine-tune your life to someone else’s dictates.

First published by the Detroit News: