After driving back and forth to work in New Haven since July 2003, I’ve been commuting by train for four months now. The following is an objective document of my experiences thus far, in hopes of better informing the decisions of those who might be contemplating such a change to their daily routine. I should mention that this evaluation is from a decidedly Yale-centric perspective. Your mileage may vary. I’m also going to jump quickly from one thought to another, so bear with me.
The obvious primary benefit, to most, will be the freedom from having to compete with rush hour traffic on Interstate 95; this is especially important during the winter months, when snow often makes a bad situation even worse. You also save on gasoline, since you’re not driving as much. Normal wear and tear on your vehicle is reduced for the same reason. A monthly train pass, when purchased using pretax savings to receive a discount (a Yale benefit), is often far less expensive than monthly parking fees, especially on Yale’s medical campus. The majority of shoreline train stations offer free parking, so if you live too far away to walk or bike to them, you likely won’t be paying to leave your vehicle there during business hours. Yale offers numerous and frequent free shuttle options to and from the State Street and Union Stations. Shoreline East’s service is generally very reliable, even during this brutal winter, especially when compared to Metro North. In unexpected situations where there is an appropriate need, riders are offered a guaranteed ride home program, facilitated by a local taxi company; this compensates for the loss of “mobile autonomy” that comes with taking the train. Many riders enjoy the personal relaxation time afforded them by train commuting, taking advantage by reading (as I do), catching up on email, or grabbing a quick nap. Cellular providers’ voice and data coverage of the Shoreline East route appears to be reasonably good, with at least one unfortunate dead zone for most in the area of Hoadley Neck. You should check your own provider’s coverage map to be sure. Finally, there’s the intangible benefit of knowing that you’re doing something good for the environment, by keeping one more pollution-emitting vehicle off the road.
Being on a fixed commuting schedule set by someone else can be a bit jarring at first. It reminded me of being back in elementary school, and taking the bus. You are adding a bit of extra time on both ends of your commute, particularly on those infrequent occasions when the train is late. Walking to your job from State Street or Union Station (or taking a shuttle) also adds some extra time, and every once in a while a shuttle will be too full to accommodate any additional passengers. The bottom line is that you will probably have to leave your home a bit earlier, and arrive back home a bit later, than if you were driving. You may also have to make special arrangements with your supervisor depending on which train home you wish to catch. The Shoreline East train departing Union Station at 5:10pm requires most folks to leave their offices prior to 5pm in order to get there in time. If you do elect to walk, you may want to take into consideration the route you may have to take. The most efficient route can sometimes take you through a potentially unsafe neighborhood, and you should plan accordingly. Although Shoreline East’s service is generally reliable as I mentioned previously, those rare times when a train is significantly delayed or cancelled can be a source of major headaches; this is part of the sacrifice of personal convenience you make when taking the train. Lastly, during peak periods in the holiday season, Shoreline East trains can be plagued with occasional overcrowding by non-commuters. The aforementioned relaxation factor is usually negated during such rides.
I continue to enjoy commuting by train, finding that the positives have outweighed the negatives. Since my perspective thus far is limited to the colder months, I look forward to a time when I can leisurely walk or bike to my local station instead of driving there. I expect my appreciation for train commuting will only increase when that time comes.