Transit Adventures

A Boston and Downeaster to Exeter Day-Trip from Wickford Junction aboard MBTA Commuter Rail

For my one full day staying in Rhode Island on Local Trains to Boston and Vermont me and Robbie decided to park at the new Wickford Junction Station (so RIPTA buses serve his beach house) and take MBTA Commuter Rail to head into Boston for a day trip of Downeaster and MBTA Riding. I did look into using the multi-city trick and taking Amtrak but it would have cost more than double the $11 MBTA one-way fare. What sealed taking Commuter Rail is finding out that RIPTA is waving the $4 parking fee at the Wickford Junction Garage (this station is still new, waving fees here makes sense)

We get to Wickford Junction at 8:47 and park on the First level of the large and empty parking garage. A security guard says “Good Morning” from his office as we walk out to the platform. An outbound train (Wickford Junction lacks a yard) I photograph arriving at 8:52 and then I wander around a bit getting a photo essay. It’s a well designed station with direct platform access in two places to the second level of the 4 level parking garage. The only issue with the station is its on a full siding off the NEC ending at a bumper block (could RIPTA ever extend the T through Rhode Island and terminate it in Westerly or create a connection between Shore Line East and the MBTA offering continuous commuter rail service between New York and Boston)

We board the train of only old Comet IIs. Just one is open. At 9:10 a southbound Regional zooms by. We leave Wickford Junction at 9:12 slowly and switch onto the main line of the NEC picking up speed, taking the left hand track. We follow #403 and another unelectrified siding begins on the other side of the line with concrete ties. We pass a bike path as the NEC becomes two tracks again and go through the town of East Greenwhich.

  • 9:19 – A gilmspe of Naragansette Bay entering Warwick, passing tons of boats and marshlands
  • 9:21 – Pass the Crows Nest Restaurant along the water seeing the bay
  • 9:22 – Switch off the main line and onto another unelectrified siding, go under 113.
  • 9:24 – Now approaching and then now arriving TF Green Airport, as the automated announcements say.

At 9:25 we Pull into T.F. Green Airport, a single platform on a siding. one person is getting off. No one getting on. The station is nestled under a parking garage. We pull out at 9:26, I notice the station has a purple MBTA colored shelter. The siding continues as we pass a grave yard.

  • 9:29 – Switch back onto the NEC main line.
  • 9:30 – Enter Cranston and see I-95 off to the right. Then Providence as we go under I-95. We see the front of the train.

There is a siding/third track all the way between TF Green and Providence but were taking the Main Line because soon a freight train passes on this track. We slowly follow 6 and 10 as we come into Providence.

  • 9:36 – Finally switch onto the right end track.
  • 9:37 – Now approaching Providence.

As slowly go through Providence Place, a shopping mall as we arrive in Providence at 9:38. The train fills up, they open at least two more cars. We have a 7 minute stop. We finally leave on time at 9:45 and go back into the sunlight.

  • 9:48 – We come to a stop by the large yard briefly, maybe for an employee stop
  • 9:51 – We enter Pawtucket, will it ever be a stop again? We then pass the abandoned island platform and staircase of the former station.

We arrive in South Attleboro at 9:55. Everyone is waiting on the mini high and the rear door opens there plus luckily the trap to the low-level platform. We slowly leave the inbound platform.

  • 9:57 – Pass the junk/scrap yard of the day.
  • 10:00 – Pass another un-electrified yard

At 10:05 We Stop in Attleboro, same stopping pattern, we now get seat mates (we’ve taken consecutive windows), the seats are low enough to chat over. I notice the historic station is open 5:00am to 11:00am, we leave passing the line via Tauton that Amtrak’s Cape Codder used to go to and from Cape Cod and connecting from Attleboro to the Borne Bridge.

  • 10:09 – Switch onto the left hand track, its a slow ride through the woods.
  • 10:14 – My hunch is right were going slow to let Acela zoom by us (this is one of its fast high-speed zones).
  • 10:18 – Switch back onto the right hand track just before Mansfield, all low-level people walk back from in front of the station house. I’ve been there before but notice the doors to the waiting room (it was an early on Commuter Rail stop I visited for a reason, to get picked up.
  • 10:27 – Stop at Sharon as a southbound enters. It lacks a mini high platform.

We pick up more speed go over the Canton Viaduct and arrive Canton Junction at 10:32 for no one. It’s a station with multiple tracks and a huge overpass with ramps up to the overpasses.
Next is Route 128 and we stop at 10:38, passing about half of the very long platform before stopping. The conductor collects our seat checks as our speed increases, passing the CSX Train yard.

  • 10:41 – Bypass Readville, a stop with NEC platforms but no service from the Providence/Stonington lines, just the Farimount and Franklin lines
  • 10:43 – Stop at Hyde Park for no one.
  • We pick up speed getting towards Boston before slowly down a bit.
  • 10:47 – Enter the trench ROW on a left hand track. The orange line begins. Sitting on the left I really can’t see the stop names.
  • We stop in Ruggles in front of an orange line map and names above a very out of date map.

We arrive at Back Bay at 10:55 and get off and I make a point of using the exit with a high exit turnstile at the northern end of the platforms. I also make a point of getting a photo of the ends of the platforms in the open air. We then walk the block into Back Bay Station itself.

Robbie has never ridden the Downeaster and although Downeaster tickets just from Boston aren’t that cheep at $16 one-way. We still decide to make a round-trip up to Exeter. On the way back we’ll get off in Haverhill and have 18 minutes before a Commuter Train leaves back into Boston. We take T-Orange line up to North Station, getting off at about 11:15, 20 minutes before Downeaster Train #683. The signs say the track is still TBA although there is a Downeaster trainset sitting on Track 8. People are sitting, some stand in line and some going through the automatic doors out to the platform. We hear the fake computer generated flip-flip 10 minutes before track 8 actually posts on the LED departure board and the stops list to Portland (without states) actually posts.

We board and leave on time at 11:35. There is a family going up to the beach and confused about tickets. One of the kids got charged as an adult. The conductor is patient and chatty with them.
We leave South Station crossing the river and passing the MBTA railway yard. There doing work on a footbridge as we take the Lowell Line out of Boston. It’s an open trench.

  • 11:44 – First grade crossing and bypass West Medford with a simple low-level platform. A southbound commuter train passes new Rotem cars.
  • 11:46 – Pass Wedgemere with a high-level platform.
  • 11:47 – Winchester Center with a rusting platform. We pick up speed, heading north. The area is mainly industrial.
  • 11:50 – Mashawum

At 11:52 we come to our first stop at Anderson RTC. The platform is empty, we barely make a full stop, were on time.
We pick up speed and continue past woods. Then a car was and slow down.

  • 11:56 – pass Wilmington and switch onto the Wildcat Branch in the middle of the station across from the normal Lowell-bound platform. The Wildcat Branch is a slow single track
  • 11:58 – Pass a pond and houses that I bet weren’t too happy when the Downeaster began and much more service started running on the Wildcat Branch. The view is houses and trees we continue north
  • 12:01 – Switch onto the Haverhill Line. I hear the bridgeplate bang.
  • 12:03 – Pass a distribution center and I can feel the click-clack of jointed rail. There a bunch of wooden ties stacked up and a train yard as we slow down past a siding.
  • 12:04 – Cross a bridge over a tiny river where construction is clearly going on. See some lilly pads In a pond, pass houses and regain a little speed.
  • 12:08– Pass St Augustine Cemetery
  • 12:09 – Andover with a mini-high
  • 12:10– An old station, can’t tell if its still open, will ride the commuter train down here.
  • 12:12 – pass a rail yard and the various overgrown branches of Lawrence that we stay south of
  • 12:15 – Bypass Lawrence that looks abandoned, with a low-level island platform, where is the station? A southbound commuter train passes. Then we pass a modern high level platform by a parking garage that is the actual current Lawrence Station!
  • 12:17 – We pick up speed again but this is not the nice smooth NEC, there a bunch of trees. We follow a river, passing trees
  • 12:23 – pass a train yard and the Branford Station on the edge of it. It’s parking lot is relatively empty. We then pass a former depot now a laundromat.

We go over a river into Haverhill we arrive at the station at 12:26, 4 minutes late. A few people board, the conductor says the trains are all running 20 minutes late due to track work. I think we will be retuning straight to Boston since a 17 minute connection to the commuter rail leaving at 2:40 (the plan to Wyoming Hill to the bus to the Orange Line) won’t work.

  • 12:31 – Pass a building that says MBTA Commuter Rail and continue north onto regular PanAm Railways trackage
  • 12:35 – A water tower for Painston New Hampshire. We continue through the woods.

We arrive in Exeter, New Hampshire at 12:47, 5 minutes late. As we get ready to leave I ask the conductor and am told the four Midday Downeaster trains are all running 20-30 minutes late because of trackwork. I also ask why the bridgeplate has No Freeport written all over it in sharpie and and am told that this bridgeplate is shorter than most and the high-platform at Freeport is extra far back.

I get my photos of this low/high platform and learn that the old station house is now a convenience store with an odd selection and a Quik-Trak machine inside it! I sadly don’t discretely get a picture of the Quik-Trak Machine inside the store.

We take a walk and find a surprisingly good Chinese Restaurant for lunch. I’m tracking the train and it has lost quite a bit of time. The app still says 2:39 for Haverhill and I am a bit optimistic about maybe making our connection to the 2:40 Commuter train. I haven’t bothered to call to change our eTickets.

Downeaster train #684 arrives at 2:20. It is led by a P42 and I notice another P42 at the back, pull-pull mode! There must be issues with a cabbage. What happens if you have a bike reservation? The conductors I realize are the same set as on the Downeaster Shuttle a couple weekends ago. There are two teenage boys standing on the platform waiting to board. I see Amtrak’s new ridiculous 16+ only policy first hand. He asks them if their 16, they say yes. Next comes do you have ID, they say No (and don’t have a parent with them) and they get denied boarding. This new policy needs to be changed, I was taking the subway alone at age 11 to 12 and went alone cross-country (I brought my passport for ID purposes) at 16. It should be between parent and kid, not up to Amtrak’s authority.

The conductor comes and before he scans our tickets I explain what we’re trying to do. We get a flat out “No your not going to make it” He then offers to scan our current tickets and sell us Haverhill to Boston tickets. I say I just assume call knowing it will be cheaper and the fact you can’t earn AGR points twice from the same train. The priority line is up to its strange tricks I call and end up in the normal queue and am told the wait time is 36 minutes. I have Robert call the same number on the back of my Select+ Card and be gets through with through with the usual swiftness. We then hit a cell phone dead zone and get disconnected before the transaction is completed! We call back don’t wait in any bit of a queue and $8.80 later and just saying the security codes on the back of our credit cards luckily, we don’t have to reveal our numbers to the entire car. I really like that this is all Amtrak requires!

We arrive in Haverhill at 2:42, just missing our MBTA Commuter rail train that Im tracking and were going to get stuck behind later I wonder. The conductor comes and thanks us for calling and changing our tickets. He doesn’t bother to scan, are names coming up on his device as EXR-BOS not to Haverhill.

  • 2:45 – We pass the MBTA Commuter train we wanted to take in the Bradford Station. We pick up speed passing it. At least we won’t be stuck behind it, a fear of mine.
  • 2:53 – Pass Lawrence on the same way off beyond the platform track. A crowd is waiting for their train. We slow down, the slow track through the former station.
  • 2:57 – Slowly go through the yard to leave Lawrence behind. We regain speed, out of the yard limits.
  • 3:03 – Pass Balardville, the platform leads to an abandoned track with a mini-high for actual boarding.
  • 3:08 – We switch off the Haverhill Line onto the Wildcat Branch running parallel to it before curving away.
  • 3:10– At Wilmington we join the Lowell Branch and pick up speed.

At 3:15 we arrive at the high level platform of Aderson/Woburn. 18 minutes to Boston around 3:35.

  • 3:18-Washrum that looks abandoned
  • 3:21-Winchester
  • 3:22-Wedgemere
  • 3:23-A northbound commuter rail passes.
  • 3:24-West Medford
  • 3:32-Get the arriving in a few moments and slowly cross the bridge entering.

We arrive back in North Station on Track 8, the same track we departed from. The train is in pull-pull mode with the two P42s (don’t know what would happen if you brought a bike with no Cabbage for it) and we don’t pull fully in as push-mode trains do so the exhaust fume is exposed to the open air.

At that point we have two hours before our train back to Wickford Junction (there is a 5:40 to 7:26 or a 8:10 to 9:55 that is the only Wickford Junction evening train). Time for a little bit of MBTA Railfanning. We decide to start on the Orange Line and take it north to Sullivan Square, another train is two minutes behind and we take it to Wellington. We double back to State and take the Blue Line out to Airport (no one says a word) and continue one more stop to Wood Island.

To finish we take the Blue Line to Government Center and take a recently repainted Type 7 one stop to Park Street. To finish we take a Red Line train one stop to Charles/MGH where we make a train driver go ballistic at us (horn flashing lights) screaming you can’t take pictures. None of the two MBTA inspectors come up to yell at us who have definitely witnessed our photo stop.

We get off the Red Line at South Station at 5:16 and walk into the station. The first stop is the MBTA ticket counter where I ask for two tickets to Wickford Junction. The agents response is “All the way to Wickford, you have to pay on board.” The MBTA ticket office computers haven’t been reprogrammed to sell Zone 10 tickets? Ridiculous. I wonder about TF Green, the only stop in Zone 9.

Then we head up to the ClubAcela. It’s a different agent who thinks we don’t belong there and asks me for my ID (a first) as he types away at his computer and asks for Roberts name, just like with my grandmother a few weekends ago. Never when I’ve brought guests into the New York or Philly Clubs. With the last Acela already departed I think were the only passengers inside, there are also the usual Amtrak employees. We then relax in the Club and I buy two tickets via credit card using the mobile app for both of us. You can activate two tickets at once but doing just one is defiantly easier and less confusing since using two at once requires a confusing going between screens. I also realize that they activate for an hour and a half although the ride to Wickford is longer than that at nearly two hours. Hopefully having an expired ticket won’t be a problem.

We leave at 5:41 for a slow ride along I-90 to Back Bay clearly behind another train. I’ve told the agent where were going but he’s non-responsive in telling us our track assignment in advance. Luckily the commuter trains are listed with the Amtrak trains on the station departure boards.

Ten minutes before track 6 flashes. We go out and pass a crew of maybe 5 conductors who are all required to manually open the traps and the doors at the low-level platforms of our train. It’s nearly all BiLevels but none of the new Rotem Cars (Do they have outlets?). We find a set of seats.

We enter Back Bay at 5:46 with a Worchester Line train entering its separate set of tracks and low-level platform at the same time. We triple-up, the sign of a crowded train. There is someone hogging all 3 seats behind us. Not good.

We arrive in Ruggels at 5:52 to a train of single levels passing us and another train arriving across the platform from us. We leave at 5:53 time for the express run.

  • 5:57 – Bypass Forest Hills only on the Needham branch.
  • 6:00 – Bypass Hyde Park as the conductor comes. He confirms that TF Green Airport and Wickford Junction aren’t available at the ticket office and wishes they were, charging someone behind us just the $11 fare. We don’t get seat checks. I guess RIPTA hasn’t paid to upgrade the MBTA Fare Software.
  • 6:02 – Zoom through Route 128 at good speed! No Amtrak trains do this. Two northbound MBTA trains have now passed us.
  • 6:05 – Canton Junction.

We enter Sharon with two conductors announcing and then the automated announcement announcing Sharon to exit only at a door attended by a crew member. We stop at 6:08, many doors opening. The Acela zooms by while were stopped shaking the windows a little bit and finally leave at 6:10. Large crowds passing by few doors. It makes me miss NJT with automated doors on all its cars even at low-level platforms.

At 6:18, now arriving Mansfield, please exit the train only at a door attended by a crew member. We stop in front of an awful looking high-level platform. We watch the line of commuters again using the street underpass to switch platforms and return to their cars. We leave at 6:21.
6:26 – Northbound Commuter train passes
We arrive in Attleboro at 6:29 I realize the platforms are completely offset on the NEC with three tracks here. We leave at 6:31.
6:35 – Now approaching South Attleboro as the line becomes two tracks again.
At 6:37 we arrive in South Attleboro, our car is at the mini-high. I’ll need to remember on my next rush hour trip to sit in the back to no get off at the mini high. We leave at 6:38.
6:41 – Abandoned Pawtucket with a the decaying low-level island platforms.
6:43-Follow I-95 south a LED sign has the travel time to the CT State Line, 41 minutes. We pass the MBTA yard with one train in it.
We arrive in Providence at 6:48 the Amtrak screen says 819 none MBTA, guess Wickford Junction isn’t in the stations Information system yet. It’s the fastest stop. We leave at 6:49, some passengers board as we keep following I-95 out of town.
6:53– Pass that junkyard
At 6:57 we switch into the siding 3 track for TF Green Airport. We stop at 6:59 and leave at 7:01.
7:04 – Acela zooms by
7:09-The just terminating northbound train passes as we arrive.
We arrive back at Wickford Junction at 7:12. A parking lot attendant is holding the door for us into the structure welcoming us back. I get some final photos and walk down the stairs to our waiting car in the now nearly empty garage. We don’t need to pay at a remote machine and validate our currently free ticket (the $4 fee is waved until the end of the year) and get in the car to drive south back to Quonnie. It’s one of just a couple times in my life I’ve done the park & ride routine.