Relief could be coming for Back Bay commuters weary of diesel fumes

The state Department of Transportation plans to start a $10 million ventilation project early next year at Back Bay Station.
The state Department of Transportation plans to start a $10 million ventilation project early next year at Back Bay Station.(Lane Turner/Globe staff/file 2015)

Relief could finally be on the way for commuters weary of exhaust spewing from the diesel-powered trains that travel through Back Bay Station every day.

The state Department of Transportation is expected to start work on a $10 million ventilation project early next year, spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said. Boston Properties, which plans a massive redevelopment of the station and the parking garage next door, with more than $30 million in improvements to the station’s concourse, will share the cost of the ventilation project equally with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, she said.

The nearly 1.3 million-square-foot redevelopment would include two residential towers on the Clarendon Street side and a 26-story office tower and new retail spaces on the Dartmouth Street side. Boston Properties, which owns the garage and 200 Clarendon nearby (formerly called the Hancock Tower) filed plans with the Boston Redevelopment Authority last week.


Goddard said in an e-mail that the ventilation project is being designed with two priorities: creating an air curtain to prevent exhaust from migrating from the track level up to the concourse, and improving the ventilation infrastructure at the track level.

She said it’s likely the project will be put out to bid in late summer or early fall.

For years, commuters have complained about air pollution from the trains in the station. Goddard said periodic testing of the air shows exhaust levels are within acceptable parameters, but the ventilation project is being “undertaken for the comfort of those who frequent Back Bay Station.”

Rafael Mares, a Conservation Law Foundation vice president who specializes in transportation issues, said he’s concerned about the health of train riders — not just their comfort. He said one problem is that there are no legal standards for indoor air quality for commuters.

“Back Bay is really the only station in the [commuter rail] system in an enclosed area like that,” Mares said.


“The relevant questions that the MBTA should ask are . . . what is the specific air flow in the station and how do we make sure that the passengers at the concourse level and on the platform, and [the people] in the new buildings that are constructed, are safe?

“The ideal way of dealing with an air quality issue like that is to have a ventilation system that disperses the air and ejects it from the station.”

The station also serves MBTA Orange Line subway trains.

Jon Chesto can be reached at