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Beverly Beckham

Train trip was no holiday

By Beverly Beckham
July 10, 2011

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It’s no big deal. We made it home. A little late, but in the big picture, it’s nothing to complain about.

But it is something worth noting.

Did we have a great time in Boston on July Fourth?

Yes.

Did our friends, who were visiting from Mobile, Ala., enjoy themselves?

Yes.

Were they impressed with the city, the weather, the teeming but well-behaved crowds?

It was all perfect.

And the train ride didn’t spoil it. But it was an eye-opener and another lesson in why so many people from the suburbs continue to drive into the city, despite traffic and accidents and unexpected delays and constant pleas to use public transportation.

We took the train from Canton Junction midafternoon on July Fourth, and though it was on time and clean and air conditioned, it wasn’t without its problems.

Canton Junction has two tracks going into Boston. You board some trains on Track B and some on Track D. A simple thing, really. But signs at the station are minimal and confusing, and people unfamiliar with the station often miss the train because they are waiting at the wrong track.

That’s what almost happened this time, too. A crowd was on Track D, asking one another, “Are we in the right place? Is this where the train comes?’’ when someone yelled from Track B to come there. Some 20 people raced up a steep flight of steps, crossed over the tracks, and hurried down some more steps. A few minutes later, the train lumbered into the station, on Track B.

On the way home, the crowd was quiet, nobody yelling or hurrying. People were hot and tired, crowded together, leaning anywhere, sitting, sighing, a lucky few standing in front of the only visible fan cooling Back Bay station.

The last train of the night was scheduled to leave at 11:50, but it was late. If there had been seats and a few more fans. If only the train station were like an airport, clean and comfortable, all would have been fine. It was, after all, only a 20-minute delay.

But all wasn’t fine because people were standing elbow to elbow, jammed together, watching a clock, waiting, waiting, waiting for the train, while a voice on a loudspeaker kept repeating, “Do not go down to the tracks. Do not go down to the tracks.’’

This was public transportation’s big chance to do it right. To get people to say to themselves, “I should take the train every day. This is easy. Why am I driving when I can sit back and relax?’’ July Fourth was public transportation’s opportunity to sell its product.

And they blew it.

Boston is a beautiful city. You take someone who has never seen the Public Garden, Faneuil Hall, the State House, Charles Street, the North End, Beacon Hill, Fenway Park, the Old North Church, the Charles River, and the newly renovated Seaport on a city tour and you see it all through their eyes. And you see why people travel from all over the world to visit here.

And here we live, a hop, skip and a jump away from what to the whole world is a kind of Oz, and unless it’s an occasion, we stay in the suburbs.

If Boston were easier to get to, if transportation were better, if trains were convenient, if we didn’t have to drive, we would be heading into the Seaport district for dinner on a Saturday night. Or to the North End. Or to the South End.

But as it stands now, we won’t.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at beckham@aol.com



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