Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Making time on the Red Line

More pleasant weather and road conditions dictate that I drive a motorcycle as often as I can, but with the onset of winter I started commuting by T again. I'm not one to complain about the T. Having spent ten years in a small city where the buses ran every hour and walking from the north end to south end was just as quick if you didn't time it right, I appreciate Boston's frequent and convenient mass transit when it's running. I can think of some improvements but the system is far from the worst. I'm not in a rush to get to work anyway.

I find the T reasonably reliable even when other people don't. I like to take the train. For commuting purposes I head inbound in the morning from JFK/UMASS where the Red Line's Braintree and Ashmont branches converge. It's a good station with frequent service.

One of the quirks of JFK/UMASS when heading inbound is that you wait in the station for the sign board to notify you which platform will have the next inbound train. An arrow lights up pointing the way and a unique tone echoes off the ceramic marble tiles. A short, high pitched pulse means the next train will be on the Braintree side. A lingering ringing directs you to the Ashmont side to get downtown or beyond. The MBTA has installed a non-functioning lightboard over the sign that describes what these signals mean and tourists, who are always confused to begin with, are even more so without being able to read the hazy directions of the original signage.

Since the MBTA but up their lighboard, the signals have been misleading. The Braintree signal sounds (though the arrow doesn't light up) and passengers take the stairs to line up along the Braintree platform. Then the Ashmont train pulls into the station heading inbound. Some people rush up the stairs and through the station, which has slippery tile floors this time of year, to get to their destinations. Seasoned commuters stand thier ground, I am one of them, knowing the Braintree tracks will be occupied soon enough. I don't blame the people who try for the Ashmont option. That train is usually less crowded. Even if you don't get a seat, you aren't crushed together with commuters who have parked their cars in a multi-level, Quincy garage.

This morning ,the train stopped several times in mid-journey after departing JFK/UMASS. The cheerful conductor came on the overhead speakers to inform us of 'police activity' further down the line which was causing delays. No one grumbled in earshot of me. We were reading newspapers or books, or listening to headphones, or just staring meditatively into space. It was cold this morning and at least we were warm and reassured that we would be moving shortly. The commute was a bit longer than usual but it was pleasant nonetheless.

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