Saturday, October 17, 2009
Up-to-the-minute (?) news
The revelation in today's New York Times that commuter railroads around Manhattan cheat on their timekeeping is a shocker, shocker, shocker.
For years, says the Times, the 7:55 has been the 7:55. Now we discover that for years on secret employee timetables it has been the 7:56, simply to give sprinting commuters an extra minute to make the train.
This is dismaying. Train times used to be sacrosanct, a source of national pride. You could set your watch by the express as it departed the depot. Now the old Timex might be a full 60 seconds off, ruining all your careful calculations. That three-minute egg might in fact be a two-minute one; no wonder it's so runny.
On the other hand, there is always another hand, and it's not the one that counts off the seconds.
Amtrak (which admits it fudges on departure times but won't reveal which ones and where) shamelessly pads its arrival schedules.
The westbound California Zephyr is carded to depart Chicago Union Station at precisely 2 p.m., arriving in Naperville, the next stop, at 2:34 p.m. The eastbound Zephyr is scheduled to call at Naperville at 2:23 p.m., arriving at Chicago Union Station at 3:30 p.m.
Why the 19-minute disparity over those 28 miles?
That "slop" is built into the schedule to allow a train running late to "make up time." It doesn't, really. It can't run any faster than trackage rules allow. The only thing that's being made up is the "facts."
No need to bash the railroads for playing fast and loose with the truth about time. The airlines do the same thing.
At least in America, where close enough is good enough.