Train of fools stopped in its tracks

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New York

I have been watching this snowdrift for about an hour now. Sometimes it vanishes, as the swirling snow delivers what the New York weather forecasters keep talking about, the great blizzard of 1996. The blizzard, the worst in 70 years, blocked roads and airports, caused 23 deaths, and left thousands of people without any power.

Two hundred people have been stranded for hours on a metro train in Washington DC. Commerce, government and normal life has come to a stop. And so have I.

I am watching my drift through the window of my commuter train from Connecticut to New York's Grand Central station. I am now in the fourth hour of my journey. My wife had warned me and so had the television stations, so had the governors of every state between here and Kentucky: don't venture out unless you absolutely have to. So I'm an idiot, as much as the other hundred or so people sitting and standing in this carriage with me.

"This is the 8.30 express to New York," the conductor said as we left the last station two hours ago. There was a pause and he added: "Maybe."

So this is a reminder to all of us of the power of Mother Nature. Not just this train, but virtually every road, runway, railway track and suburban pavement has been swamped by a flowing ocean of white.

My train is moving suddenly, though in the wrong direction. But at least I will get a new drift to look at. Correction. We have stopped again.

Wrong again. We have shunted back to my same old drift. It is amazing to watch: it rises and falls like a wave as tiny particles of snow are blasted across its surface. Beyond it I can just see a tall apartment block looming forward and then disappearing again in the swirling blizzard.

We are somewhere in the Bronx, only 20 minutes away from Grand Central on a normal day. But then this is not normal. Earlier, I had seen the people of the Bronx venturing out on to their streets, some beginning the task of digging out their cars. A father and son found their old Chevrolet almost completely buried and began their work by scrambling on to the roof of the car to dig it out from the top down.

They had said on the television to use mass transit and preferably train if you were going to try to travel. Even that turns out to have been bad advice, as my train continues to shunt backwards and forwards, a few yards at a time, with no explanation as to what is going on.