Rail trip from Kingston shows MBTA’s ‘scheduling anomalies’
Bill Gregoire grabbed the train schedule from his wife when he noticed a familiar body of water emerging outside the window of his commuter rail train to Boston.
"Where's this going now? To the Plymouth stop?" he asked, searching through the timetable. "That's ridiculous. That can't be right."
Gregoire had just driven several miles north from his home in West Plymouth to the Kingston stop to catch the 10:05 a.m. train. But now, instead of heading straight toward Boston, the train was heading south, back to Plymouth.
While there, the train would idle on the tracks before it eventually departed for the Hub at 10:48 a.m. — a full 43 minutes after the couple first left Kingston.
"If there's a way to make anything slower, the MBTA will figure it out," he said.
The Kingston train is an example of several "scheduling anomalies" that Keolis, the company that runs the commuter rail, hopes to address when it issues a new schedule sometime soon, according to Keolis spokesman Mac Daniel.
T officials are scheduled to talk about revised schedules at a meeting Monday. Daniel did not specify, however, whether the anomalous Kingston-to-Boston train would be addressed.
Daniel said the 10:05 a.m train runs such a strange schedule because the Plymouth and Kingston stations aren't connected by one straight track: The Old Colony Line forks so that each station is at the end of a branch.
Three Boston-bound trains a day start in Kingston then go to Plymouth before heading to Boston. The others are at 1:35 and 7:23 p.m. Each train travels to the "Seaside Interlocking," the rail area where the Plymouth and Kingston branches meet. The train backs up on the other track to get to the Plymouth station, where it picks up more passengers before continuing to Boston.
Daniel said it made more financial sense to combine the two stations into one trip, instead of sending extra Boston-bound trains from each branch.
Unless it is changed, the 10:05 train will continue to present travelers with a baffling set of steps to go from Kingston to Boston.
Those steps start on Route 3 northbound, where a flashing highway sign attempts to lure city-bound motorists into taking the commuter rail instead, by proclaiming that the next train to Boston leaves Kingston at 10:05 A.M.
The sign doesn't note that the train will take double the time it normally takes to drive. Pity the customers who follow the electronic sign from Route 3, only to find they'll be waiting on a train for nearly 40 minutes before finally heading to Boston.
While his train idled in Kingston, Gregoire flicked the schedule he had been studying, unable to believe such an anomaly wouldn't be made clearer. His wife, Donna, had assumed the schedule had contained a typo.
"They ought to mark that somehow," he said.
Because it's so inefficient, and runs after the morning rush hour, the 10:05 Kingston train to Boston does not attract many commuters. On a sunny Wednesday morning, only about 10 people boarded the train. They were mostly retirees and their vacationing relatives, heading to the Harvard Art Museum, the Freedom Trail, or some other leisurely activity.
Lee Drugan, who drove to Kingston from the Cape with her husband, Richard, to catch the train into Boston, began dealing playing cards almost as soon as they sat down on the upper deck.
But when she heard they wouldn't arrive in Boston until about 11:45, her eyes widened. And like Gregoire, she grabbed the train schedule to make sure it wasn't a mistake.
"So the 8:37 gets in at 9:34, which is about an hour, and this one gets in at 11:45," she mumbled, squinting at the schedule. "Wow. So, that's . . . wow. That's almost two hours? Am I right? 10:05? 11:46?''
Her husband shook his head. "That's not right, is it?"
But it was; and she puzzled over the question for a bit longer. "Why does it take longer?"
Daniel acknowledged that it is a strange schedule. What makes more sense, he said, would be to take the 10:48 a.m. train from Plymouth after taking the bus from the Kingston stop, which has a better parking lot and is only about 10 minutes away.
None of that is made very clear to the passengers who hop onto the train in Kingston.
Robert McQuay, a West Virginian visitor seated across the aisle, tried to explain that the train dips back to Plymouth, where he was staying with his wife. Like Gregoire, he had also driven to the Kingston station from Plymouth because it would make more sense to park there.
But even McQuay did not quite understand why they would make such a schedule — "Economic reasons?" he mused. And he should know: He used to make his living driving a freight train.
His wife, Jean, laughed. "We just assumed that's how they did things around here," she said.
That's the attitude Jamie Pleffner, a Chatham resident, has taken. Pleffner, who took the train to go to a medical appointment, said she doesn't take it if she's in a rush.
The first time she took the train, she and her fellow passengers just kept looking at their watches and sighing. Now, she comes prepared with a book and some patience; though she's still missing the point of why it operates that way.
"I'm just guessing it's some sort of schedule adjustment?" she said. "I just don't understand the logic."