Platform Anxiety; where to wait for the train?

Where on this platform do I stand?

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.

Walk this way to board the train

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!

Google Maps Adds Boston Transit Routes

It just became a little little easier to figure out if you can get there from here on the MBTA. Google Maps rolled out a new service that allows users to map directions on buses and trains operated by the MBTA.  The visual aspects of the Google service are a little easier to use; the map is easier to see and to manipulate.  On the other hand, there still are some quirks to work out … fares aren’t listed, which is an important consideration for many trips … the system doesn’t seamlessly recognize the names of transit stations the way the MBTA’s system does … and Google is more tolerant of transfers and plodding travel times than is the MBTA.  And some of Google’s selections clearly are not the best routes.  For example, for directions from South Station to Needham Center station (just west of Route 128) departing at 2 pm today, Google’s first choice is an hour-long, two-transfer odyssey; if instead you set the clock to arrive at 3:06pm (the time that leisurely trip is scheduled to arrive), Google’s first choice becomes more sensible 40 minute railroad trip.  Hmmmm…. 40 minutes and no transfers in a reasonably comfortable railcar or 1 hour and two transfers on the subway, trolley, and bus … not a tough choice, at least when the fare is unknown.  On the other hand I guess all of the routes are in the list.  And, of course, it would help if the route data was cleaned up a bit.

Kudos to Luke Bornheimer and the “Put the MBTA on Google Maps” Facebook group for influencing the T and Google to make this happen.

[eds. note:  After this was posted, Google adjusted the way that it selects routes; the original post contained another link that now is outdated]