Last night a southbound Frontrunner train broke down right in the narrows, stranding travelers in a remote area that couldn’t be reached by bus. To make matters worse, the heater apparently wasn’t working and the temperature dropped into the low single digits.
All public transit will have some delays — indeed car transit also has many delays — but this incident illustrates some of the problems with a public transit system in a car-centric place. Specifically, it shows what happens when there’s only one (transit-based) way to get around: everything grinds to a halt.
I’ve experienced many transit delays, breakdowns and even strikes in various cities. But in most of my own experiences when something breaks down people choose another route. It may take longer, but it beats sitting in a stopped train in eight degree weather. With Frontrunner however, a breakdown stops everything.
In this particular case a lot of the blame goes to the unusual geography and population distribution — the train really broke down in the worst possible place. Utah is also getting better and better when it comes to public transit. And of course, the bus was still running.
But the best thing to do in this situation would have been to drive a car, which is a shame because in places with more robust public transit periodic hiccups on a single line don’t necessarily render entire systems useless.