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Ridership on commuter rail exploding with fans for Patriots rally

A commuter rail conductor wearing Patriots jersey told the riders that the train was too full Tuesday.
A commuter rail conductor wearing Patriots jersey told the riders that the train was too full Tuesday. Jonathan Saltzman/Globe Staff

Like the Los Angeles Rams, the MBTA got blitzed by Patriots jerseys.

An onslaught of fans coming to the Super Bowl parade in Boston overwhelmed the commuter rail system Tuesday morning, despite dozens of extra trips and additional cars, filling trains to capacity long before they got to Boston and swelling ridership to double the normal daily commune.

In Attleboro, Salem, and other distant stations early in the morning, conductors yelled out to disappointed crowds that trains were already full — leaving regular commuters and Patriots fans alike stranded to wait for the next train. Or the next one. Or the one after that.


“Three trains have come through without letting any people on,” said Mansfield High School senior Alex Hill, 17, one of many students who skipped school to attend the parade. “No one went to Mansfield High School today. We’re all going to the parade.”

Keolis Commuter Services, which operates the commuter rail for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said it added more than two-dozen extra train trips throughout the day and extra coaches as well— or another 48,000 seats over the course of the day. Even so, trains were swamped by what T officials said was record ridership, about double the 127,000 trips of a typical day.

“We are seeing extraordinary ridership levels across the entire network, notably higher than seen for previous parades and almost certainly the highest ridership ever seen on the network,” said Keolis spokesman Tory Mazzola.

The parade crowd came a week after the MBTA presented new ridership counts showing weekday passenger traffic on the commuter rail has increased by more than 20 percent since 2012, causing overcrowding during some rush-hour rides even on normal days.

Kat Cornetta picks up the Newburyport/Rockport line every day in Salem, but on Tuesday she waited more than an hour before finally squeezing aboard a standing-room-only train around 9 a.m. That train then skipped the remaining stops en route to North Station.


She said future sports parades should only be held on weekends so they don’t interfere with regular commuters like her.

“It’s hard, because here I am packed on a train with people who get so much enjoyment from this. It means so much to them,” she said. “However, I really wish they could have them on the weekends. I understand the players have commitments, but there has to be a way they could work with them around those.”

City officials said they consider team availability and public safety logistics as they schedule a parade. In the past they have cited the athletes’ desire to quickly leave the area for the off-season.

For the return trip Tuesday afternoon after the parade, the MBTA and Keolis created queues outside the major train stations, organized by transit line, ushering them inside only when their trains arrived.

Though it did not provide crowd estimates, Boston police said the parade appeared to be the largest of the recent championship celebrations hosted in Boston. MBTA ridership also appeared to be higher than for the Red Sox World Series parade last October, the T said, with some riders suggesting the unseasonably warm weather —temperatures hit the 60s midday — played a role.

Hingham resident Michele Friedman, for example, brought her two young boys on a crowded ferry, where throngs of jubilant Patriots fans mingled with commuters in business attire who tried to concentrate on laptops.


“I think the weather actually made me do it,” she said. “And we’re excited to have them experience a little bit of sports history.”

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak recognized that the influx of Patriots fans had ensnared its daily commuters.

“These are extraordinary events. We are deploying as much equipment as we can muster,’’ Poftak said. “I know this is frustrating for folks to have their commute disrupted. But to the extent we can, we will get service to them as quickly as we can.”

Some of the deluge spread to the subway as well, with heavy crowding on the Red and Green lines about an hour before the parade. On the Blue Line, with trains already full at Wonderland, some riders booed their fellow Patriots fans when they tried to squeeze aboard further down the line.

Some transit service was additionally slowed by other issues. The Franklin line was severely delayed after a man was struck and killed during the morning commute. Authorities later said he was hit by one of the additional trains put into service Tuesday.

Transit activists used the overcrowding Tuesday to underscore their argument the T should run more frequent service on the commuter rail, as often as every 15 minutes. The T is studying the idea, but nothing is imminent.

“We envision a regional transit network for Metro Boston where it is never ‘definitely not the day to rely on public transportation,’ ” the advocacy group Transit Matters posted to Twitter.


Others said the T is not to blame for unusually high ridership — but wished officials wouldn’t recommend taking the train.

“You can’t build infrastructure for a singular day like today. You can’t count on a million people coming into the city every day,” said Keith Lavon of Waltham. “But if you have a system that can’t handle it, stop recommending it to people.”

Indeed, some riders were forced to seek other options Tuesday. Wearing a red Gronkowski jersey, Ernany Pirez, 18, of Mansfield, huddled at the Mansfield train station with two buddies wearing Brady shirts, scheming for a way get into Boston after being turned away from packed trains.

“We’re probably going to take an Uber and split the price,” he said.

John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.