Finding the Outdoors on a Mass Transit Train

Anyone who rides New Jersey Transit trains regularly, or reads the news, knows that there are problems with this mass transportation system. Recently, my family and I rode the trains into New York City to visit Bryant Park, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, and Times Square. A day later, I read an article by titled, “It’s a new year, but this hasn’t changed.  NJ Transit’s unhappy commuters face cancellations, overcrowding.”

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

My purpose here is not to rail on NJ Transit (pun intended) and I certainly don’t blame the employees who drive the trains, manage the tickets, and deal with the unhappy riders. Our ride turned out to be one of the best NJ Transit train rides I have experienced.  It was a holiday and the trains seemed less crowded on our trip. Also, the weather was unseasonably mild, many of the folks riding were families without an urgency to get to an office by a certain time, and, for the first time, I was riding the train with my family.

Recently, I happened to meet a New Jersey Transit engineer.  Unlike the engineer in the Polar Express movie, the fellow I met had many years of experience, was serious about his responsibilities, simply loves driving trains, and, while he does have encounters with white-tailed deer, he never has to stop the train for herds of caribou or drive over an ice-covered lake (see the movie).

Catching a train to NYC

We were discussing trains and then, without warning, he shifted the conversation to his outdoor interests. As it turns out, this engineer has hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and to the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, studies constellations at night, and frequents a raptor conservation sanctuary that is on my “must visit” list.

As we discussed his Mt. Washington hike, I mentioned that I had ridden on the Cog Railway and that I was able to sit outside of the lead car going up the steep mountain. The engineer’s eyes lit up, he smiled, and responded, “I did that too!”  Of course, he then educated me on the history of the Cog Railway, the engine used on that train and more fun facts.

Photo courtesy of The Mount Washington Cog Railway

If you are one of the many NJ Transit commuters who will likely be impacted by continued delays and overcrowding, there is one approach to manage the situation. Sorry, no one expects the relatively new Executive Director of NJ Transit to fix the problems in the near term. 

So, riders can arrive early, choose a relaxing playlist on their smartphones, smile at the people that are just trying to get from one place to another, ponder some of their favorite outdoors adventures, and plan a new one.  Who knows, the train you are riding just might be driven by an engineer who loves trains and the great OutdoorZ with equal zeal!

Leftover New Year’s Eve confetti at Times Square

Read more about Charlie Anderson.

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