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‘It’s always late’: Eng hears directly from Lynn riders weeks into the return of direct commuter rail service

MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng handed out Valentine's Day candy to commuters onboard an early train from Lynn to North Station. Eng and other officials gathered at the interim station, which opened late last year, to celebrate the return of direct service to the suburban community.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

LYNN — Eric Morales had never seen the temporary commuter rail platform as packed as it was Tuesday morning.

A student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Morales has been taking the Newburyport/Rockport Line from Lynn since the MBTA opened a temporary commuter rail platform there more than seven weeks ago. The platform came after more than a year without direct service from Lynn, during which time commuters traveling south to Boston by train had to first take a shuttle north to Swampscott.

On Tuesday morning Morales could hardly find room to stand, as state and local officials crowded the platform for a belated celebration of the new stop. The group — including Phillip Eng, the T’s general manager; Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll; and Transportation Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt — had just finished speaking to reporters about the temporary platform, commemorating its early opening as a chain of riders weaved through them.

As the general manager walked up and down the train’s aisles, handing out heart-shaped candies and pins for Valentine’s Day, he fielded questions, criticism, and gratitude from dozens of riders. Though some commuters appeared confused about why officials were celebrating the platform nearly two months after it opened, most said they were grateful for the return of service, which came nine months earlier than initially planned. The T announced the accelerated timeline in October.

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“I’m really happy to be able to be here today with everyone,” Eng told reporters on the platform earlier that morning, “seeing how good the ridership is, and seeing just how important it is to the folks that use it.”

Eng peered up the rails when the 8:39 a.m. train to North Station still had not arrived by 8:41.

Commuter rail passenger Ruth Carrera of Lynn gets a hand from train conductor Ed Zerofski at the Lynn inbound temporary Commuter Rail platform.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“Is it coming?” Eng asked no one in particular.

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“It’s always late, like five minutes,” Morales said. “[But] it’s better than taking the Blue Line.”

Morales said the train has never been more than 15 minutes late, and direct service from Lynn makes the hourlong commute to school far easier than it was before the platform opened. As they stepped onto the train, delayed by about four minutes, Morales spoke with Eng about issues on the Red Line, adding that he was hopeful the latest closure would help speed those trains.

“We’re on it right now,” Eng told him.

Hildreth Curran, who spoke to the Globe when she braved frigid rain on the first day of restored service in December, said she and her neighbors have been “pretty happy” with the stop so far.

“It’s nice not having to go all the way up to Swampscott,” Curran said. “It’s just so much more convenient.”

She suggested, however, that the platform would benefit from additional trash cans. Curran said she mentioned that to workers days earlier, but on Tuesday, she was able to bring her complaint straight to Eng.

At North Station, after riding the commuter rail from Lynn (left to right), MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng, Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, and Secretary Monica Tibbits-Nutt shared a little bit of LOVE at a Valentine's Day sign.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

As Curran boarded the 7:34 a.m. train, Lieutenant Governor Driscoll disembarked from the next car over, having boarded in Salem. She joined Eng, Tibbits-Nutt, state Senator Brendan Crighton, and a handful of MBTA and city officials on the platform steps.

“This is more than just about a platform,” Driscoll told reporters. “We know what train service means to a community. ... It is lifeblood in terms of getting where you need to be on a daily basis.”

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Driscoll praised Eng and his team’s work to open the station far ahead of schedule and said she hopes “we can find other ways to break through these challenges” elsewhere on the T. The MBTA partly managed to expedite the opening by using leftover bridge decks as platforms.

Eng called the opening a team effort and said without the governor’s support, “we’d probably be standing here in September.”

Crighton, who chairs the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Transportation, thanked Eng and Governor Maura Healey’s administration for bringing a sense of urgency and creative solutions to the project as soon as they got involved.

“When you as a T rider lose service, we should have viable, robust options in place at the time of that loss of service,” Crighton said. “When you take away a train station from a city of over 100,000, it does a great deal of damage, but this administration stepped up.”

In an interview, Crighton, who represents Lynn, said riders in his district are happy with the new platform, but he emphasized that it is just a temporary solution. The MBTA abruptly closed Lynn’s commuter rail station in October 2022, citing safety issues and “potential station deterioration.” The agency has not said when it plans to open a new, permanent station.

“We’re not losing sight that just a few blocks away, we have a major investment that we need to make,” Crighton said. “But this helps carry us over.”

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A one-way trip from Lynn to North Station costs $7 — nearly three times the cost of a subway ride on the T. Crighton said for many in Lynn, that cost remains an impediment, but he is hopeful that the agency will soon begin to offer means-tested fares for low-income riders.

In the meantime, riders have their own suggestions, big and small, on how to improve the temporary experience.

Lynn resident Sylvia Cabral spoke to Eng about poor lighting near the interim platform as they stepped off the train at North Station.

The Lynn station’s parking lot is on the inbound side, and getting there from the outbound platform means walking off MBTA property and under an unlit overpass, Cabral said. After work, when the sun may already have set, crossing that dim passageway can feel dangerous for some commuters, she said.

“Safety’s really important,” Cabral said in an interview. “I don’t really feel like I would be attacked, but you never know.”

Eng nodded as she spoke. Then, like many from Lynn, he set off for work downtown. All told, the ride took a little over 25 minutes.


Daniel Kool can be reached at daniel.kool@globe.com. Follow him @dekool01.