When it’s functioning, the thing I love about the Red Line is how mindless it is. I have my phone, my earbuds, my coffee, and unless someone near me has a startling case of B.O., I can be in my own little world for 50 to 55 minutes, more or less.
But Tuesday morning, the Red Line was not functioning. Not by a long shot. A train derailment at JFK/UMass Station upended the morning commute for thousands of Bostonians, people who were just trying to get to work or school or wherever, and failing miserably. People who, on a warm and rainy June morning, had the audacity to think the trains might run on time. Or at all.
The Red Line announcements began innocuously enough. The trip, at about 6:15 a.m. from Ashmont to Fields Corner, had been uneventful. Then . . . nothing. The train didn’t move. The driver said we were experiencing a “slight delay.” Five minutes became fifteen. The “delay” became an “emergency situation at JFK.” Minutes later, the “emergency” was a “derailment on the Braintree side,” followed by a vague explanation about power being shut down or transferred or something.
Then, finally, at 6:42 a.m. the words we all dreaded: “We’re not going to be moving, folks.” Audible groans. Muttering. The grabbing of bags and backpacks followed by hasty exits.
In these moments, it’s comforting to think there’s a plan that will swiftly be put into action. But that wasn’t how it felt Tuesday morning, as hundreds of passengers spilled out of the Fields Corner Station in search of alternate transportation. Some hearty souls popped open umbrellas and slogged out of the station up to Dorchester Avenue, hoping to find a bus. But plenty of displaced passengers just milled around, unsure where to go next.
A single T employee in a yellow vest helpfully told us there were “no trains coming.” Buses, he said, waving inconclusively, were “that way.”
But which way? By 7:09 a.m., no shuttles had arrived. A few minutes later, one bus on its way to Fenway rumbled past. Two very motivated guys ran after it. No one else budged. At 7:17 a.m., a single shuttle bound for JFK rolled up Dot Ave., but it was already so packed, no one else could squeeze in. The crowd, many of whom were now drenched and understandably frustrated, started to get testy.
“Why do I pay for a pass if I can’t even get on?” one guy shouted at the bus driver.
Out of nowhere, a trio of MBTA employees appeared and waved the crowd out of the street and back onto the sidewalk. One, in a neon green T jacket and hood like the Gorton’s fisherman, held a walkie talkie. “We’ve got about 300 people,” she said, surveying the crowd. She was wearing slides.
Another shuttle passed, completely full. Another. And another.
Shannon Accardi, wearing a now-damp blue T-shirt, stared at the Lyft app on her phone. By 7:25 a.m., Lyft was charging $45 for a shared ride from Fields Corner to JFK — 1.9 miles. “It’s $58 if you want to take it alone,” she said. It would keep climbing from there.
Accardi was trying to get to Downtown Crossing. I asked what would happen now that she was late for work.
“We won’t be penalized,” she said, “especially if there are no trains running either way.”
Things didn’t move much faster once we managed to wedge ourselves onto a shuttle. Traffic was backed up throughout Dorchester, slowing progress to a crawl.
One young woman looked into the crowded bus, shook her head, and started walking. She made the right choice. How long did it take that shuttle to get to JFK and then to Broadway? About 95 minutes by my count, maybe a little more. I can only imagine how long it took the woman who was pushing her toddler in a stroller to get onto a shuttle and arrive at her destination.
By the time we got to Broadway, people looked dazed. Some of us had been on this trek for hours, and it was only 9:20 a.m. The lucky ones still had enough phone battery to play Candy Crush or see what Chrissy Teigen was up to on Instagram. But anyone who needed to catch a flight, or find a bathroom, or meet with their child’s teacher, or punch a time clock was in very sad shape indeed.
More than three hours after the Red Line derailed, the MBTA staffers at Broadway sounded as if they were still making it up on the fly. As we got off the shuttle, I heard one T guy yell to another: “What should we do with this bus? Send it to Ashmont?”
At 9:40 a.m., around four hours after I left my house this morning, I finally arrived at the Globe. And since then, I’ve found myself wondering: If the T doesn’t seem to have much of a plan for when the system grinds to halt, how can they expect tens of thousands of commuters to come up with one?