Bad Track Record: Students struggle to navigate train schedules in campus commute

Bad Track Record: Students struggle to navigate train schedules in campus commute

CW | Jake Stevens

Camille Studebaker

With an umbrella in her mouth and the pouring rain pelting her entire body, Maggie Rickstad climbed a little metal scaffolding and shimmied across some bars. With a long drop below her, she had to jump.

Rickstad, a junior majoring in political science at The University of Alabama, found herself on top of a train car last year. Rickstad lived in the South10 apartment complex, located on 10th Avenue next to the train tracks. The train stopped outside her apartment, blocking her path to campus on the way to her class. She said her professors would not accept a train-related excuse as a reason to be late to their classes, so she decided to climb over to avoid being marked tardy.

“I’m sure this was breaking multiple laws, but I had no other option,” Rickstad said.

The pressure of getting to class, combined with the trains’ unpredictable stoppages near student housing, has caused students to break laws and risk their own safety in spontaneous games of chicken against massive locomotives.

Students that have recently moved into the houses and apartments south of the train tracks have become all too familiar with the frustration Rickstad experienced last year.

Last Thursday at around 10:30 a.m., the train stopped again for approximately 20 minutes, blocking off almost all access to campus for students living on the other side. Some students waited in long lines in their cars, while others decided to climb over the train like Rickstad had before. Braver students even made the choice to carry their bikes across the train as they climbed.

Alexis Strong, a sophomore with an undecided major living on Meador Drive, was stuck behind the train Thursday morning on her way to class. She left 40 minutes early for her first class of the day to try and find a good parking spot in advance. Strong said she has rarely been more frustrated.

Strong said she heard the train go by 10 minutes before she left her house, so she was certain it would be gone when she left for class. To her disappointment, the train was not gone; it was completely stopped.

“I was extra frustrated because I was doing my best to over-prepare,” Strong said. “I thought I’d have so much time to relax, find a spot and get to class on time because driving is so much faster than walking from Meador.”

She sat in her car for about 20 minutes watching students hop over the train. The whole time, she was extremely nervous that the train would start moving while they were climbing over it, she said.

“I understand their frustration, and I probably would’ve hopped it too if I hadn’t driven all the way to the train tracks already,” she said.

Ultimately, after debating her minimal options, she turned out of line, drove down 15th Street, went on McFarland and then exited onto University. She made it to class just in time.

Not only have students struggled with getting to class due to the train’s inconvenience, but they have also had to adjust to the loud sounds of the train at all hours of the day. The train comes infrequently throughout the day, leaving many frustrated when they are unable to prepare for the disturbances while they are attempting to study or get a good night’s sleep.

Strong said she wasn’t worried about the train when she decided to live on Meador, but on her first day of moving in, she heard the train and hoped it was not going to be that loud everyday. She said that she has never been awoken by the train, but it shakes her house and disturbs her when she is trying to rest for the night.

“It sounds like a door’s open in our house,” she said.

The number of students facing problems like Rickstad and Strong are only growing. Last fall, the university reported that it had enrolled a record 37,100 students, many of whom lived off-campus.

With the university’s growing student population and the expansion of student housing south of the tracks, the trains of Tuscaloosa are likely to remain issues for collegiate commuters for the foreseeable future.