Things to do while waiting for Livingston trains

If you live on Livingston’s north side, pretty much a third of your life is spent waiting for trains — a third for work, a third for sleeping, and the rest for sitting in your car at the Fifth Street crossing waiting for mile-long trains to pass by.

People who live on Livingston’s south side have no idea of the aggravation and loss of time. Sure, they get a taste of it with an occasional timid visit to the north, but you have to live in El Norte to truly experience the pulling-out-your-hair craziness of trying to get to work, only to be hit with the highly punctual 8 O’Clock Train, or trying to get home, only to be cut off by the equally punctual 5 O’Clock Train.

Or trains. Sometimes it’s not just one train, it’s two. Just as one lumbering behemoth passes and you think you have a shot at crossing, you hear the horn blast of a second one. And sometimes, there’s even three trains on the tracks at once. There are stories of people being shipped to psychiatric wards after a third train.

And rushing down Front Street to the B Street underpass won’t do you any good, because everyone else has the same idea, and in 30 seconds that area looks like rush hour on the Santa Monica Freeway. If you’re an unlucky sap on Front Street trying to get into the North Main Street flow going under the underpass, you’re completely at the mercy of a motorist in that line to let you in with a compassionate wave of the hand — that is, if the line is moving at all.

But we digress. Since a third crossing proposed at the intersection of Front Street and Star Road won’t be built for another 150 years by the closest estimates, let us explore ways to make use of all that time waiting at the Fifth Street crossing:

• Tailgate parties. Set up lawn chairs, barbecue some brats and break open some cold ones, sharing the fun with folks from neighboring cars. No need to fear a police citation for public nuisance, because they can’t reach you.

• Card games. Every north-side car should carry a folding card table and several packs of cards as standard trunk gear. When the trains hit Fifth, whip out the table, invite fellow stranded motorists over, and get some serious games going. There’ll be plenty of time.

• Read past city proposals for a new railroad crossing. If tailgate parties and card games aren’t your thing, there’s lots of good reading in those documents. But you have to like the fantasy genre. Get out your folding chair and dive into the make-believe world of overpasses and underpasses, dueling engineers and elevated approaches. What a way to pass the time.

• Get a suntan. Put a blanket on the grass between ground squirrel burrows along the tracks, and soak in the rays. But be careful — it takes so long for the crossing to finally open up that you could get seriously sunburned. 

Eventually, cut off from the rest of the world, the north side will become its own town called North Livingston. It will have its own police force, fire department, hospital and grocery stores. An enterprising North Livingston City Council could build a back road to join the interstate somewhere before the Bozeman Pass and say goodbye to the Fifth Street crossing forever.


Dwight Harriman may be reached at