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Commuter rail beats car in race from Boston to Lynn

Item Writer-at-Large Steve Krause, left, and Editorial Page Editor Thor Jourgensen engage in some friendly banter at 4:45 in front of the Old State House in Boston before the start of their race back to Central Square in Lynn, with Krause taking his car and Jourgensen relying on the T and Commuter Rail. (Spenser R. Hasak)

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BOSTON AND LYNN — It seemed like a simple proposition: Try to find the quickest way to commute from Boston to Lynn in the face of ongoing construction on the Tobin Bridge. Three days and $183.75 later, we felt a little differently.

Last Friday’s experiment pitting two Item/ reporters and photographer Spenser Hasak in a friendly competition ended with Thor Jourgensen reaching Central Square by commuter rail at 5:41 p.m. — 10 minutes before Steve Krause and Hasak rolled into the square following their trek across the Tobin.

We’ve all heard the endless dire warnings about the two-year project to shore up the Chelsea Viaduct (which is civil engineer-speak for the elevated highway that runs through Chelsea to the Tobin Bridge).

We all heard it and figured that venturing home from Boston via the bridge would see us reach Lynn sometime the next day.

Our first stab at the commuter competition abruptly derailed last Wednesday with a flat tire and a call to AAA after three adults failed to remove the tire from its wheel.

A second attempt on Friday got off to a promising start in the shadow (actually, it was overcast Friday afternoon) of the Old State House.

The gauntlet was dropped at 4:45 p.m. Thor joined the steadily-growing stream of commuters striding with intent to North Station and nearby subway stations.

Steve and Spenser walked back to the parking garage at 75 State Street and discovered that for the half hour it took to park, exit from the garage, have Spenser shoot the pictures of Steve and Thor in front of the spire of the Old State House, and then return, it cost $20 (Wednesday’s fiasco cost $42).

Anyway, after we parted ways at the Old State House, Thor walked into North Station at 4:56 p.m. and navigated the growing crowd of commuters to a ticket window where a helpful sales clerk sold him a one-way ticket on the 5:15 p.m. train to Newburyport for $6.75 and confirmed the train stopped in Lynn.

A few minutes wait allowed time to fondly recall the days when the Iron Horse served beverages to train-bound passengers or people heading to the Boston Garden.

While Thor was luxuriating at North Station, Steve and Spenser exited the 75 State Street parking garage at 4:53 p.m. and immediately encountered a wall of cars on State Street heading up to Government Center. The bottleneck eased after they passed City Hall, and it was relatively smooth sailing to Causeway Street, past the Garden, and onto the North Washington Street bridge — except for one light that kept them pretty much frozen in the same spot for almost 15 minutes.

Thor boarded the train at 5:08 p.m. It left North Station at 5:15 p.m. on the dot and the Tobin Bridge came into view at 5:21 p.m., giving rise to a mental image of Steve and Spenser inching along on the span.

Actually, they were “footing” along. The driving was — as the traffic reports say — sluggish. But it wasn’t horrible. At no time were they sitting still and having that surrealistic experience of feeling the bridge sway back and forth. They were moving, albeit slowly.

All along the outbound side of the bridge, which was where the construction project was to begin last Monday, there were signs warning of lane closures. But once you got over the bridge and onto the actual part of the highway that leads to Chelsea, there were no cones and no lane closures. There wasn’t even a hint of any construction despite all kinds of warnings about “work the next four miles.”

The ride beyond the bridge and all the way into Revere was traffic-free. You could have closed your eyes and imagined it was Sunday morning.

Thor’s train pulled in to Chelsea at 5:25 p.m. and Steve reached Lynn 10 minutes later. A quick stride down the long Central Square platform and out to Union Street brought Jourgensen to the clock in the median at 5:41 p.m.

By 5:41, Steve and Spenser were crossing the General Edwards Bridge. They’d breezed down the Revere Beach Parkway, navigated Bell Circle beautifully and quickly, and continued down the Lynnway to Central Square, where they clocked in at 5:51 — only 10 minutes later than the commuter rail.

In an interesting side note, Thor’s wife, Mary, a weekday Lynn-to-Boston commuter, drove away from the corner of North Washington and Causeway streets at 4:30 p.m., and rolled into Central Square 47 minutes later after commuting through the Callahan Tunnel.

Bottom line: For whatever reason, Friday afternoon traffic out of Boston and onto the North Shore wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d have thought. As noted, there was only a 10-minute difference between commuter rail and car.

So, let’s rate this one a toss-up. At least for now.

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