For a new rider on the commuter rail, one of the most basic questions is “where do I stand” to wait for the train? There are long areas astride the tracks for boarding and disembarking. The areas typically are long enough to accommodate a maximum-length train of six or maybe even more cars, at eighty-five feet apiece. That’s more than 500 feet, or well more than a football field — endzones and all. In other words, it’s a lot of space to cover. And there is only one of me, the rider.
The question of where on the platform to wait is all the more pressing because the midday trains only open a few doors. There may be 12 doors to the train but rest assured only two of those doors will open — the doors where the MBCR conductors are located. The same train generally will follow the same practice … but different trains apparently follow different practices. Some trains board passengers on the leading cars, while other trains board passengers on the trailing cars.
How can a rider predict where on the platform the train will stop and which doors will open? The easy answer is that you should stand with the other riders. But that only works if you are slow to arrive at the station and time the train closely. As you can see there are no riders in this picture of Mishawum/Woburn station a few minutes prior to the arrival of a Boston-bound train.
How about standing on the elevated platform? The MBCR and MBTA have made handicap accessibility a priority, so more boarding is conducted from the platform in recent years. However, clearly not all elevated platforms are in use. You can see the picture above was taken from an elevated platform that was in a state of disrepair and not the correct choice. The train did not board from the elevated platform.
In fact, riders boarded on the far end of the Woburn/Mishawum stop, and that only was clear when the usual riders began gathering in that area just moments before the train arrived. There has to be a better way to help riders who are unfamiliar with a train or a station.
And it turns out that the MBCR already has the solution, in the form of the sign to the left posted at the Needham Junction station. Call it obvious (or brilliant) but it is a hurtling leap forward in communications with riders. Stand where the sign says to go and you will be alright. Now if we could just get these signs at all of the stations!