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Vast numbers of protesters flocking to Common overwhelmed MBTA

Emily Tuohey for the Boston Globe

Crowds at the Woodland MBTA stop Saturday morning.

By and Globe Staff  

Protesters headed to the Boston Women’s March on Boston Common Saturday morning overwhelmed parts of the MBTA subway and commuter rail, which ran extra trains in the morning to offset delays, and then ramped up to weeknight rush-hour service in the afternoon.

“It was equivalent to a Boston College football game and a Red Sox game hitting at the same moment, and it was bigger than anything we see typically on July 4 or New Year’s Eve,” said MBTA Chief Administrator and Acting General Manager Brian Shortsleeve at an afternoon press conference. “The MBTA was all hands on deck.”

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Transit officials were planning for 70,000 people to ride rapid transit, commuter rail, and bus lines, Shortsleeve said, but the march far exceeded that number, though a final count will not be available next week. Between 135,000 and 150,000 people descended on Boston to protest President Donald Trump, according to a spokeswoman for Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Many commuters spent the morning anxious that they would miss the march entirely.

“I’m wondering why, since Marty Walsh said everyone should take the T, I’m wondering why that wasn’t communicated to the MBTA,” said commuter Diane Johnson, who tried and failed to get on the commuter rail in Natick. “Because this is way out in Natick, and there are many more stops to Boston, so I’m wondering if more people are driving in, which is what Mayor Walsh wanted to avoid. We’re driving in now.”

Laurel Fleming, 50, of West Roxbury said she thought she had planned her commute to the Women’s March “really well.”

“We got to the Chestnut Hill station at 9:45 a.m.,” said Fleming, who is bringing her two daughters, ages 13 and 7, to their first political demonstrations. She spoke from a trolley on the Green Line, where she had headed away from the city to Riverside, in hopes there would be room on an inbound train farther away from Park Street. She had watched five trains pass her at Chestnut Hill before deciding to go out and “circle back.”

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Apparently, she wasn’t the only rider who had that idea.

“If they knew that there was this volume of people anticipating to go into the city of Boston they should have doubled the amount of trains,” Fleming said. “Knowing the volume of people coming in, this is ridiculous.”

Some riders did praise the MBTA on social media. “Kudos Boston MBTA staff for all the patience and smiles organizing public transport for the crowd of marchers!” wrote one person on Twitter. In some stations, riders were allowed through the gates without paying to lighten the crowds, and some on social media sent their thanks.

The T stationed extra transit police officers throughout the system to help facilitate the crowds, Shortsleeve said, and on Saturday afternoon the system was running at “peak capacity” -- typically reserved for weekday rush hour, when the T moves 400,000. The transit authority added express buses between Copley Square and Riverside and extra cars on the commuter rail too, Shortsleeve said.

“The trains are packed. We had a huge crunch this morning,” he said. “The stations have been extremely busy. In many cases we’ve opened the gates just from a safety standpoint to move people through. So I’d encourage everyone to take a deep breath, proceed through the stations slowly.”


Globe correspondents John Hilliard and Amanda Burke contributed to this report Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @evanmallen
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at eric.moskowitz@globe.com
Follow him on Twitter @GlobeMoskowitz