Cawley: Commuter rail needs to get on the right track

I had heard taking the commuter rail to Boston was distressing, but there’s nothing like experiencing something first-hand. 

Last summer, I took the train from Lynn into Boston for the first time and the detractors weren’t wrong. The service was pretty poor compared to what I’m used to. 

I grew up an hour outside of New York City, in Connecticut, and unsurprisingly, found myself taking the train from nearby Brewster into the city every chance I had. 

For those who haven’t had that experience, it’s hard to describe the feeling of getting off the train at the bustling, historic Grand Central Terminal, and then stepping outside into the heart of New York City. It almost leaves you awestruck because it’s like stepping into a different world. 

Getting there is easy. There’s plenty of parking at the station and a kiosk to pay for a ticket to board the train. The only stress is getting there on time so you don’t miss the train. But if you do, unlike here, another one is not far behind. 

That’s how a commuter rail is supposed to work. The difference between taking the train into Boston vs. New York City is like night and day. 

I have lived in Lynn for four years, but took the train into Boston for the first time a couple of months ago when a friend from back home came to visit. 

Driving, as I had been able to do each other time I visited, wouldn’t have made sense because of the length of the day-trip — hours of parking can quickly become unreasonably expensive — and how many different areas we were planning to visit. 

When I suggested the train for our trip, I thought the experience would be easy. I could park at The Item‘s office and we could walk over to Central Square to the commuter rail station. 

But signs of trouble immediately became apparent. 

I was baffled when I got to the station. There was nowhere to purchase a ticket. I had to stop a woman walking by, who informed me that Lynn didn’t have a kiosk and I had to buy one on the train. 

The next challenge came after getting to the North Station in Boston, getting outside and realizing we were nowhere near any of our planned destinations for the day. 

After choosing the seemingly more efficient option of public transportation to get into Boston, we spent most of our day navigating the subway system, which we had to use each time we wanted to go to one of our planned stops.  

That doesn’t exactly scream ease and efficiency. It wasn’t inexpensive either, when you consider the two cities are only 20 minutes apart by train. 

It’s easy to read about and disregard arguments that the commuter rail line here is outdated and doesn’t work properly. Until I boarded the train here, I didn’t realize how far behind the system actually is. 

But don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s for that matter. Go anywhere else, board a train into a major city and the experience will speak for itself. 


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