Friday, June 12, 2009

My First Commuter Rail Adventure

I live in Newton, just outside Boston. I normally drive into town and can be anywhere in about 20 minutes. In the evenings or on weekends you can sometimes luck out and find a meter to park at or many parking lots have reduced rates to about $10. During the day though, parking is going to run about $25 or more. So if I meet someone in town for lunch i usually drive to a T stop in Newton (that's the subway, even though it's above ground here), walk a few blocks to the station and take the train in. I used to live in walking distance of a T station which was really nice but now I can only walk to a bus stop or commuter rail station.

I wanted to do some shopping in town and decided to try the commuter rail for the first time in 21 years of living here. Conveniently it's just one stop to Back Bay station. That costs $4.25 one way or $8.50 round trip; such a deal. But it's just a 15 minute ride vs. the T which would be closer to 30 and involve more walking. The big difference is the T runs every 15 minutes or so, the commuter rail really just runs during commuting times. It's useless if I want to go into town for an evening (there are no weekday inbound trains at my stop after 2:45pm).

IMG_0112 1.jpgSo today I checked the schedules and walked down to the station. Station is perhaps too nice a word though it was...adequate. It's right next to the Mass Pike and is a long walk down some very old wooden stairs to a long platform on just one side of the tracks. Way down the platform is some dilapidated covered seating. Separating the station from the pike is a wood fence, a chain link fence, and some wood slats tied to the chain link fence. The picture on the right shows that the wood is, in fact, rusting. Nothing about this station or the train is handicapped accessible.

There's no place to buy a ticket, but you can pay cash on the train. Many T stations now have machines to let you buy a ticket or refill your Charlie Card (a stored value card for the T), but you can't use a Charlie Card on the commuter rail. Back bay station will sell you a ticket and print it a (confusingly named) charlie ticket; there's a $1 (off-peak) or $2 (peak) fee for buying on the train when you get on at a station that sells tickets.

I got downtown and did the shopping I wanted to do. I also wandered around the Copley Square Farmers Market. I thought it would be bigger than the ones we have in Newton but it wasn't. Nice enough though.

I had lunch at Douzo. I had the sushi lunch special, 4 pieces nigiri (shrimp, salmon, yellow tail, tuna) and one roll (I choose sweet potato) for just under $10. It was delicious. With drink it came to $13.92. I paid with a $20 bill and got six $1 bills in change. I would have left the 8¢ anyway but I think it's rude not to give it to me. I was also never asked if I wanted a drink refill. So yummy food and weak service (I sat at the bar).

The Back Bay station gets trains from the T (subway), Commuter Rail and Amtrak. The T has it's own tracks but it looks like the Commuter Rail and Amtrak share tracks. There are electric signs above the tracks showing what looked like the next three trains but I didn't see my train listed. I had gotten there 15 mins early so maybe it wasn't posted yet. I asked one of the attendants and he told me track 1 or 3 which was the same platform. I went down there and first thought there was a fire. It was smoky and smelled, though it was probably just diesel fumes. They were just hanging in the air even though I could see outside. Way down the platform was one scrolling electric sign. It was describing a train on track 1 but there was no train on track 1.

After about 10 minutes an announcement came on that said my train on was track 7. So I walked up and over and down the stairs to track 7. I checked, the electric sign still didn't list my train, at least by any terms that I recognized as my train. This platform was more outside and the air was much clearer, even though it was next to a tunnel on the Mass Pick, separated by only a chain link fence. Outside also means all the benches were covered in bird shit. I stood and my train came and went right by me. Apparently there was much more to the platform and I had walked down to the far end. I had to walk far into the station to get on the train. I still saw no signs explaining what train it was.

As I got on a sign on the car said it was WiFi equipped. I didn't check if it worked but my iPhone seemed to have 3G coverage the whole trip. There were a few people using laptops but that doesn't mean much. The man I sat next to was reading a photocopy of a magazine article. Very old school.

All in all, not bad for $8.50. The T would have been $3.40 but would have taken more than twice as long. I can take a bus to a T stop which I might try, the bus is another 85¢ but I think I can get a free transfer for using the Charlie Card, maybe only on the way back.

Their website has the most confusing explanations for the various passes. To get to the city I want to go from Zone 1 to Zone 1A but apparently I don't want an "interzone pass" but just a regular "pass". I probably should have figured this out since the regular pass is more than twice as expensive as the interzone pass. I could instead get a 12 ride ticket for a savings of 25¢ a ride. I loved this notice: "We apologize for any confusion this section may have caused. As is the case throughout this e-commerce portion of the new website, these 12-ride Commuter Rail Tickets are for the period beginning January 1, 2007." It might be time to take that down, or if not, then they definitely want to reword it.


Greg said...

It seems that you did not abstain from eating seafood during your shopping adventure...

Howard said...

I did not. :)

The Dad said...

Well, in regards to the commuter rail, I believe it was Ferris Bueller who once said, "I don't even have a piece of shit. I have to envy yours." Pittsburgh could definitely use a commuter rail, especially headed north of the city, but I'm sure I won't see one between now and retirement.

I'm surprised to be reading this about the commuter rail granted I've never experienced it, but the T is sure great...I would have thought the Com Rail would have been managed by the same team with similar resources. Obviously not.