The East Coast guide to commuting

Scarborough, N.Y. station
This photo shows the Scarborough, N.Y. train station on the Hudson River, 35 miles north of New York City, submitted by commuter Sherry Henly. Commuters are lining up for the 8:12 a.m. train to Grand Central Station. "Every day it is the same people, waiting at the same spot on the platform for the same car, and often the same seat," Henly said.
Photo courtesy of Sherry Henly

To mark the beginning of Northstar commuter rail service, MPR's Public Insight Network consulted some expert commuters -- people on the East Coast -- for their advice on what Minnesota riders can expect. Here' what they say.


  • *Know the schedule like you know your name.

  • *Always arrive at least 30 minutes before the train arrives in order to buy a coffee or park the car.

  • *Avoid carrying too many bags.

  • *Wear good, comfortable shoes.

  • *Be sure to communicate with your boss, and make him/her aware that you are sometimes subject to the mercy of public transportation.

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  • *Always offer your seat to the elderly, infirm, or pregnant women.

  • *Out of consideration for other commuters, take your backpack off and keep it down toward the floor around your knees.

  • *You will find yourself privy to intimate details of some loud phone talkers' lives -- legal, marital, personal. You will hear it all. During off-peak commuting, it may sound like a high school cafeteria.

  • *Though you Minnesotans, unused to the elbow-to-elbow life of the East Coast, may be tempted to toss down your briefcase or backpack to create a little breathing room between you and your seatmate, it's a no-go. Prepare to be closer to a stranger than you are to your spouse.

  • *Be very careful about holding doors open for passengers running late. It could cost you a limb or anything else that you might value.


  • *Take delays, unscheduled stops and rude passengers in stride; there are worse things in life. In this economy, be glad that you a have job to commute to!

  • *You can remain aloof from your neighbors in your closed bubble of a car. On the train, however, when you are seated across from someone for an hour, you can't ignore them completely. Don't be fooled -- no matter how blase they appear, they are watching you too.

  • *The train breaks down. Everyone gets grumpy. Try smiling about it -- you might lift the mood of the whole car.

  • *Be flexible and be able to roll with the punches.

  • *Embrace your inner comedian.


  • *My train ride is my personal time. Major reading gets done here, studying, writing. It is like bonus time.

  • *Most people do not want to talk to you (especially in the morning), so bring a book, newspaper or magazine.

  • *You can make friends on the train, especially on the commute home. I am currently doing contract training work since my position was eliminated last year, and my train buddies check in on me regularly to make sure I am doing all right.

  • *Have a book of short stories on hand. Always.

  • *The first day I took the train, I had a conversation with a religious sister who told me to say the rosary on the train for those who were in my car. She said it was the best use of my time. She was right, and I do.

  • *Longtime commuters have specific seats and cars they like to ride in. This is because we all have "train friends."

  • *All of those New Yorker magazine articles and classic novels you've been meaning to read for years -- pull them out of storage and line them up. Something about being forced to remain in a small chaotic space (and survive it) makes it so easy and enjoyable to focus and completely lose myself in a long article or a challenging novel.


  • *There are glitches in the scheduling of the trains.

  • *The system breaks down.

  • *You come to like the train.

Submitted by these commuters, who travel regularly on the routes indicated.

  • Jan Davis, Cos Cob, Conn. to New York City

  • Patricia Esgate, Tarrytown, N.Y. to New York City

  • Sherry Henley, Scarsborough, N.Y. to New York City

  • Liz Hobson, Nyack, N.Y. to New York City

  • Leah Holmes, Providence, R.I. to Boston

  • Jonathan Katz, Newton, Mass. to Gloucester, Mass.

  • Richard Kruger, Mansfield, Mass. to Boston

  • Lynn Larrison, Ronkonkoma, N.Y. to New York City

  • Deborah Lee, Wellesley, Mass. to Boston

  • Linda Pilgrim, Upper West Side to Lower East Side

  • Susan Rivers, Providence, R.I. to Boston

  • Charles Saydah, Nanuet, N.Y. to Hackensack, N.J.

  • Rob Seitz, New Rochelle, N.Y. to New York City

  • Leticia Velazquez, Long Island, N.Y. to New York City

  • Richard Williams, Larchmont, N.Y. to New York City