Hundreds of excited riders showed up on a dark, chilly Monday morning to catch the first trains at the long-awaited opening of the Green Line Extension’s Medford branch.
A nearly overflowing E Line train pulled away from College Avenue Station, also referred to as Medford/Tufts, at 4:52 a.m.
MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak joined GLX program manager John Dalton and Somerville Mayor Katjana Ballantyne outside the station shortly after 4:30 a.m. At that time, more than 200 were gathered in the area, Dalton said.
”We’re going to need more trains,” Poftak quipped.
By the time officials arrived, the crowd was overflowing off the sidewalk, as Tufts University students, transit advocates, and longtime commuters pushed for a spot closest to the gate. Attendees cheered as they poured through the gate, some singing “Happy birthday, dear Green Line” as they wound down the stairs.
The Medford branch, part of the $2.3 billion Green Line Extension, stops at College Avenue, Ball Square, Magoun Square, Gilman Square, and East Somerville stations. It is anticipated to carry riders on more than 50,000 trips each day and give commuters as far as Tufts University an easier conduit into downtown Boston.
The line was originally slated to open in December 2021, then pushed to late November this year, before Poftak announced the Dec. 12 opening date last month.
As riders waited anxiously for workers to unlock the front gate, Vera Choi, a first-year student at Tufts, stood wrapped in a blanket and scarf to beat the below-freezing temperatures.
”I’m not cold at all, I’m super comfy,” she said. “I stayed up [all night]. I was working on a project anyway.”
Plans for her first real trip on the new line? “Chinatown,” she said, without hesitation.
Bedford resident Greg Carpenter, who nestled into a stairwell on the the first train, said the crowd reminded him of Fat Tuesday in New Orleans.
”We were at the front of the crush,” Carpenter said. “The last time I experienced that was in Mardi Gras.”
One T worker said the crowd “looked like a Bruins game.”
Tufts first-year Ethan Essner, among the very first riders, managed to secure a window seat. He said he first heard about the Green Line Extension when he was touring the campus.
“It’ll probably be ready when I get to school,” Essner remembered thinking. “And it’s finally here. It’s pretty amazing.”
Governor Charlie Baker stepped off a new Green Line train onto the Medford/Tufts platform shortly after 10 a.m. for a green ribbon-cutting, joined by state and local officials and MBTA leaders.
“I go back a long time with this project,” Baker said, recalling conversations he was a part of in the 1990s.
Baker, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, Mayors Ballantyne of Somerville and Breanna Lungo-Koehn of Medford, and top T officials — some wearing green coats or ties — gave remarks inside Tufts’ Joyce Cummings Center, just across the tracks from the station.
Baker — who had just attended the dedication of a T maintenance facility to former Representative Mike Capuano, who helped secure a needed $1 billion for GLX — emphasized the importance, and challenge, of securing funding for the extension. He called Capuano’s work a key reason development was able to continue in the face of financial gridlock more than a decade ago.
”You can’t build a project like this on good intentions and words,” Baker said. “You need dollars.”
Warren praised the extension, saying it would provide transit access “that we’ve needed for more than half a century.”
She tempered her celebration with calls for additional extensions — that don’t take decades to complete — and an electrified commuter rail.
“We need a T that is cleaned up and runs on time. And yes, Orange Line, I’m looking at you,” Warren said.
A very large crowd of enthusiastic people lined up for the gates to open at Medford/Tufts GLX Station to wait for that first train ride. The @TuftsUniversity Jumbos were well represented! @katjballantyne @SomervilleCity @MBTA #GLX pic.twitter.com/RskhcguPQe— Joseph A. Curtatone (@JoeCurtatone) December 12, 2022
Markey called the extension a key step toward “a Green New Deal future in Greater Boston,” and said he would continue pursuing robust funding for the MBTA in Washington, while reemphasizing his push to make the state’s transit free.
“A transportation vision without funding is a hallucination,” Markey said.
Ballantyne called the extension’s development a “monumental effort.” She criticized the state’s previous focus on highway and road development, which she said has wiped out local jobs, displaced families, and increased pollution around the region.
In an interview, Lungo-Koehn said the next step in Green Line expansion is to complete an environmental impact study on continued development, including the potential extension of service to Route 16 — part of the original GLX promise. “The further the better,” she said.
“I’m going to stay positive and hope that this is reliable for all, and it’s a transportation mode that people can depend on from now into the future,” Lungo-Koehn said.
Cambridge native Miles Taylor, who runs a transit blog dedicated to riding every T line in the state, came back to town from Philadelphia just to see the new branch running.
“This is probably one of the best transit extensions you could do in any city in the country,” Taylor said. “I think it’s going to do really well.”
Taylor said he rode the first train and was visiting each stop on the extension, giving ratings based on amenities, accessibility, and comfort. He scored the Medford/Tufts station a 7 out of 10.
At Ball Square Station, Ballantyne, Lungo-Koehn, and Somerville city workers welcomed commuters for the morning rush with buttons commemorating the openings of individual stations, along with a live jazz band.
A handful of organizers carried signs and distributed fliers calling on lawmakers to create more affordable housing and institute rent control around the extension.
Nicole Eigbrett, with the Community Action Agency of Somerville, said the group has seen a large uptick in renters being priced out of the area.
“Ironically those are the communities that GLX was intended to serve,” she said. “No one’s hiding the fact that the Green Line is increasing property value.”
In an interview, Baker said the MBTA’s decision to make the Green Line Extension a standalone effort, with its own dedicated staff, and bringing the budget back under control were turning points for the project.
“We said, the T should worry about what I would describe as the blocking and tackling,” Baker said, meaning focusing on the basics. “We’re gonna put this in a separate little unit and basically bring somebody in who’s done this before.”
That person was Dalton, the program manager who helmed the project from 2016 onward.
“This thing is expected to carry about 50,000 trips a day, that’s a lot,” he said. “And it speaks to some extent to the fact that it is a project that was worthy of federal support, and it was worthy of getting done.”
Taylor Dolven of the Globe staff contributed to this report.