Starts & Stops

What’s the deal with South Station’s closed staircase?

Riders transferring between the Red or Silver lines and the commuter rail or Amtrak will have to use the staircase that takes people outside the front entrance of South Station.
Riders transferring between the Red or Silver lines and the commuter rail or Amtrak will have to use the staircase that takes people outside the front entrance of South Station.Credit: (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

We humans are creatures of habit. And when our habits, however minor, are interrupted — well, we send angry e-mails.

A temporarily closed stairway between the South Station commuter rail terminal and the Red and Silver line platforms has prompted ire among commuters, many of whom say they received little to no advance warning that their transfer between transit modes would require them to take the outdoor stairs from Feb. 1 to March 31.

“Main internal stairs and escalator closed for nearly two months??? In winter? Are they crazy??” wrote long-time commuter rail rider Joe A. of Norwood.

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Julia Tanen, spokeswoman for Equity Office, the company that holds a 30-year lease for the commercial space in South Station, said construction crews were forced to close the stairwell in order to install a new escalator between the subway fare gates and the station atrium.

Signs have been posted to guide commuters to the alternate stairway, and the MBTA has posted staff to assist travelers during rush hour.

The new escalator is part of a package of improvements that will be coming to South Station: Along with the recent debut of Starbucks and Tavern in the Square (which opened Monday), workers are installing a two-story CVS pharmacy and a decidedly more upscale set of bathrooms.

“The bathrooms will be more modernized, more of an airport-quality bathroom, rather than what they are now, which — well, we know what they are now,” Tanen said.

But the promise of South Station’s forthcoming metamorphosis didn’t stop commuters from expressing consternation about the stair closure. The trek up an alternate stairway and an extra 12 seconds spent outdoors wasn’t the end of the world, they admitted — but it was annoying just the same.

The grumbles streamed from Twitter.

Mark Reagan of Norwell said in an e-mail that the alternate route into the South Station atrium has mostly affected his evening commute.

“At rush hour in the evening, if you are rushing for a train you might as well forget about making your train,” Reagan said. “The mass of people trying to get up the small stairway to the surface is crazy.”

Reagan said he first heard about the imminent closure on Jan. 31, and wished he’d had more of a heads-up.

“Seems like more than a days notice would have been nice for people who use the commuter rail and the subway from South Station,” Reagan said.

Tanen insisted that commuters have known for months that South Station is undergoing a major renovation, and she’s right — for months, news articles and signs inside of the station have alerted travelers to coming station improvements.

But what about notice that the stairway would be closed? Few seemed to hear about it before the Friday preceding the closure. The Equity Office notice about the detour dates back to Jan. 24, about a week before the stairs closed up.

Tanen said officials had known for some time that closing the stairway temporarily would be necessary, but weren’t sure how quickly construction would proceed and didn’t know exactly when they would need to begin detouring commuters.

“We didn’t know how long it would be before we got to the point where we were working on the stairs,” Tanen said. “Sometimes closures like this are just an unavoidable side effect from doing a wonderful construction project.”

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