On the Wednesday after Labor Day, two Globe reporters set out in Scituate for the morning commute to Boston — one by car and the other by train. While it took a full 97 minutes for correspondent Johanna Seltz to drive to South Station, Globe South Editor L. Kim Tan breezed in by rail in less than an hour. Here are their first-person accounts:
Relaxing on the train, enjoying the sights
If I had to get to Boston’s Financial District by 9 a.m. from the South Shore, I’d take the train. It’s a comfortable and fairly dependable way to commute; when we looked for a house to buy 15 years ago, we chose one near the Greenbush commuter-rail stop, then still on the MBTA’s drawing board.
As it turned out, because I don’t have to be in Boston by 9 and I have parking at work, I continued to drive and only used Greenbush for the first time the Wednesday after Labor Day — with happy result. Of course, one uneventful weekday morning ride in late summer does not define the commute through the year; I think of the dreadful experiences we reported last winter of passengers waiting for trains delayed by snow and ice, or trains that never showed at all. Compared with those, mine was a soothing breeze.
7:10 a.m. The biggest stress in commuting by rail is getting to the station on time and finding parking. Knowing there’s plenty of space at Greenbush Station, the end of the line in Scituate, and having registered my car the previous day with PayByPhone — the preferred method of paying for parking at commuter rail stations now — I left the house with time to spare. It’s an easy drive; I know the roads, and there’s not much traffic.
7:40 a.m. The upper level of the carriage I chose was near-empty when I hopped on; by 7:49, fewer than 10 passengers had settled in, including a determined-looking man carrying a 20-ounce cup of coffee.
7:50 a.m. The train left on schedule, picking up speed as it sliced through a long, blurry curtain of trees.
7:56 a.m. The helpful conductor asked whether I’d like to pay for a single or round trip to South Station. It’s $9.25 one way, and double that for a return; he explained there would be a $3 surcharge if I did not buy the outbound ticket at South Station and had to pay onboard later.
7:58. a.m. Arrived at North Scituate. Among those who got in my train car was a man in a tie toting a laptop, which he immediately opened. Unlike in those Economy seats on planes these days, there is room in front of you to accommodate your device — even my industrial-size Dell. About 20 passengers in the car now.
8:05 a.m. An older gentleman in a dark suit and blue shirt got on at Cohasset and sat next to me. He had a copy of The New York Times, and I thought if I took the same train as him every day and we sat together again, I might have asked to borrow his paper.
8:08 a.m. We pulled into Nantasket Junction, just after passing a pickup and several cars stopped at a railroad crossing. We would see many more such crossings before South Station.
8:13 a.m. We emerged from a long (expensive) tunnel and stopped at West Hingham, alongside the South Shore Country Club’s ninth hole. The fairway glistened with dew, and there were no golfers on the grass. About 35 people in the car now.
8:17 a.m. Many were waiting to board at East Weymouth, and a few more scurried up to the platform as we pulled in.
8:22. a.m. At Weymouth Landing/East Braintree, two women and three men got in and looked for seats. One man chose to stand as we pulled out. The tracks diverged, and I could see traffic on Route 3 before we passed Home Depot on the left and went under the parking garage at the T’s Quincy Adams Station. We were zooming along now, parallel to the Burgin Parkway.
8:33 a.m. We picked up many more passengers at Quincy Center. The standing man was still standing. The dapper gentleman opened his Times. We were riding high above Quincy, passing the Ocean State Job Lot and, soon, across the Neponset River.
8:40 a.m. The Prudential and the formerly named Hancock towers came into view in the distance. We blew past Savin Hill and JFK/UMass, and soon I caught a glimpse of the Southeast Expressway near the Mass. Ave. exit, looking not as clogged as I had expected. I was thinking we might get to South Station early, but the train slowed. Then slowed some more. As we crept through the sprawling train yard, I wondered whether my colleague driving from Greenbush would arrive before me.
‘The biggest stress in commuting by rail is getting to the station on time and finding parking.’
8:48 a.m. The doors have opened a minute ahead of schedule. It would take us another 6 minutes to make our way out to Atlantic Avenue, and beyond.
But it’s a beautiful morning, and I can get used to this.
— L. Kim Tan
In rush-hour contest, my Chevy van loses
So much for the story of the tortoise and the hare. My steady but slow red Chevy van didn’t come close to beating the far swifter commuter rail behemoth in our race from Greenbush Station in Scituate to Boston’s South Station.
At exactly 7:50 a.m. on Sept. 9, I hit the gas in the Greenbush lot, make the light at the Driftway and sail through the rotary at Route 3A to snake over to Route 123. Two minutes gone.
I’m doing 40 miles per hour as I sail along Route 123, sipping my small coffee Coolatta and feeling cocky.
At 8:02 a.m., after a short drive on Route 53, I slip onto Route 3 and get the big van up to 60. The temperature outside is heating up, but my air conditioner is working and victory seems assured.
Until I get to Hingham.
Just past Exit 14, at 8:07 a.m., traffic grinds to a crawl. I’m in the middle lane going 10 miles per hour.
As we creep along, I notice a white Jeep sporting the motto “Life is Good.” I’m not so sure. The traffic is clogging all three lanes (including the breakdown lane, in use during peak hours), and we aren’t going anywhere, good or bad.
Since there’s not much driving to do, I look at my fellow commuters. Every car, including an eco-friendly Toyota Prius, has only one person in it. So much for carpooling. And, when did people stop buying cars of color? I’m in a sea of black, grey, white, and silver vehicles.
There are surprisingly few bumper stickers, too, other than the ubiquitous stick figure family decals. Thank goodness for the nonmarathoner in a tiny car who has proudly posted an oval marked with the numbers 0.0.
At 8:16 a.m., I’m still between Weymouth and Hingham when a sign appears on the left: “Next train to Boston leaves at 9:23. Take Exit 16 to Weymouth Landing,” it says, as if to mock me. If only.
Farther, but not much, down the road, another joker of a sign announces that we are in a work zone and “fines for speeding will be doubled.” Just beyond is a notice that it will take 12 minutes to go the next 5 miles.
At Exit 17, Union Street in Braintree, the traffic suddenly speeds up to 40 miles per hour, and for a moment I feel like I’m flying. A very brief moment.
I can see the infamous Braintree Split ahead where cars go to the right for Boston and the left for Route 128/Interstate 95. A sign on the right says “Heavy Traffic.” Du’uh. It also says “8 miles, 43 minutes to Exit 20.”
At 8:40 a.m., I’m at the split and going 10 m.p.h. The speed limit is 50.
The HOV lane is packed — where did all those more-than-one-person cars come from? — and moving nicely. None of the other lanes are.
I listen for the second time to a radio feature on an English muffin bakery that — no suspense any longer — grills rather than bakes its product. I’m getting hungry. And bored. And glad I ordered a small drink and not a large.
Another sign: “4 miles 14 minutes to Exit 20.” As I inch past, it changes and says “4 miles 12 minutes.” A good sign! But, why am I still going 2 m.p.h.?
At 9:15 a.m., the Boston skyline appears.
Traffic finally loosens at the Mass. Ave. exit. I hit the Exit 20 ramp for South Station going 45 m.p.h. at 9:24 am.
Finally, I pull into South Station at 9:27 a.m. I’ve gone 28 miles in 1 hour and 37 minutes. The Greenbush train is long come and gone back toward Scituate.
— Johanna SeltzL. Kim Tan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.