As a holiday treat for myself, I went on a purely recreational trip to see the new Green Line Extension in action. Truth be told, I had a ball. Sitting in the so-called “railfan” seat, peeking out the front window as we sped along the Medford Branch, all of the politics and the delays could be momentarily forgotten, and I could enjoy the moment and say to myself, “Wow, this is so cool!”
The Green Line Extension has been in the works for decades. Its 2022 opening means that the one-seat ride between downtown and Union Square and other Somerville neighborhoods has returned after almost exactly 100 years. It is truly a delight to see it open at last. And make no mistake: any operational or aesthetic shortcomings notwithstanding, the bones of this extension are solid and will last for another 100 years if not longer. This is what long-term public investment looks like.
I took lots of notes and photos. Presented below are some of my observations. It is undisputable that many aspects of GLX remain in progress – there is still lots and lots of ongoing construction, for example. So I’m going to present my observations largely without commentary. I pay a lot of attention to details, and will share some of the particular details I noticed – I defer to more knowledgeable voices to assess the significance (or lack thereof) of those details.
All photos are dated Dec 26 2022. I’m writing this about a week after the fact, so it is possible that some of things have changed since my trip, though given the holidays, that seems unlikely.
Many maps across the system do not currently show GLX. By my observation, all four of the core Green Line transfer stations – Park St, Government Center, Haymarket, and North Station – have maps that omit the Green Line extension and physical signage that points to Lechmere.
The map at North Station is a typical example:
On closer inspection, someone (or multiple people, given the different ink colors) had tried to add in GLX by hand:
A similar situation on Park Street’s Red Line platform:
Park Street’s Green Line northbound island platform had a map and diagram with a sticker that read “Open Spring/Summer 2022”:
By contrast, all of the GLX stations had updated diagrams:
The GLX stations also all have those lovely neighborhood maps:
Quincy Adams (undergoing renovations) also shows GLX on its map in the paid lobby:
Maps within Green Line cars themselves were a mix, with some showing the extension and others omitting it. (Probably there was a pattern based on the older Type 7 vs newer Type 8 cars, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention to tell.)
Signage and wayfinding
On my trip outbound on the Medford Branch, the operator came on the PA after departing Lechmere and said something to the effect of, “For stops on the Medford branch, please request your stop prior to arrival.” (She said something slightly clearer and more elaborate, but I don’t remember the exact phrasing.) The Stop Request sign lit up at every stop, and we made every stop.
On the inbound journey, there was no announcement. When we pulled in to Magoun Sq, no one had made the request, so the train came to a complete stop, but the doors did not open, and the train set off again.
In full candor, the Stop Request system seems reasonable on the B, C, and E branches, where stations are about 750-1000 feet apart; it does not seem reasonable to me on the D and Medford Branches, where stations are much farther apart, and where the often 10-min wait between trains means that a missed stop costs you an additional 15 minutes of travel time (whether you walk or double back on a train).
I should also note that there is no in-car signage on the Type 8’s to explain to riders how to request stops. (I didn’t specifically check while on a Type 7.) There also was no physical signage that I saw in any station about the presence of a Stop Request policy on the Medford Branch.
Next train indicators
I didn’t get a good photo, but the dot matrix indicators that display when the next train will come (e.g. “Heath St – 3 min”) often would just show something like “Trains every 8-13 minutes” on the inbound Medford Branch. As I understand it, this is because a specific countdown doesn’t begin until the incoming train departs Medford/Tufts. However, given that the travel time from Medford/Tufts is relatively short, that means that the countdown indicator will only ever give a few minutes’ worth of notice.
A similar problem happened on the northbound platform at Park Street: because the indicators only show the next two trains, there was a Union Square train only 3 minutes away, but it wasn’t visible on the board.
Next departure track indicators
At Union Square (and also at Medford/Tufts, though I spent less time there), hanging above the platforms are a pair of arrows which are intended to light up to tell passengers which train will depart first. I didn’t get a great photo of them, but you can somewhat make them out in this one (under the overhang, bracketing a white lit panel):
I departed Union Square multiple times during my trip, but only tried to use the indicators during one of those departures; as it happened, the indicator pointed to the wrong track that time.
A sign from the Aug-Sept 2022 Green Line shutdown sits tucked away next to the fare machines at Union Square:
The ramp appears to remain under construction at Union Square. As you can see, a small printed sign notes, “MBTA Ramp Closed, Please Use Elevator”.
But in fact, the ramp was unblocked and appeared open, and had a series of small placards with details about the neighborhood (including some evidence of a Somerville-Saugus rivalry over the origins of marshmallow fluff):
Returning to that first photo of the ramp, you’ll notice that there is also an open staircase on the left, which appears to offer an alternative to both the ramp and the elevator. When you get to the top of the staircase, however, it is sealed off with a chain link fence; I did not see any signage to note this.
Travel over the Lechmere Viaduct remains slow (at or under 10 mph). There was a small sign at the western end on the outbound track, saying “Resume speed.” Trains really fly on the Medford Branch, though – I would guess at least 35 mph.
The automated announcement at Union Square said, “Doors will open on the left hand side,” but the train had already switched over to the other track – meaning the doors would open on the right. (Trains arrive and depart from both tracks at Union, meaning sometimes the doors will open on the left, and other times on the right.)
On one train as we entered Lechmere, the automated announcement said something to the effect of, “This is Union Square. The destination of this train is Heath St/VA Medical Center.” (Beyond announcing the wrong stop, this announcement also doesn’t make sense in that Union Sq trains now go to Riverside, not Heath.)
The inbound Medford train I was on got stuck at a “red over red” signal at East Somerville station (i.e. just before entering the junction with the Union Square branch). The driver eventually had to reset it manually. I overheard chatter on the radio later that suggested there was still an issue at that signal.
One of the outbound Union Sq trains I took needed to have its destination swapped to Medford; we pulled in to Lechmere, and the operators directed people out on to the platform where we waited for the next train (itself originally for Medford) to pull in. I wasn’t able to figure out why the first train needed to change destinations.
On the Green Line Extension, the signals before switches say, “Stop, check for proper signal & switch”, and have little labels below – right arrow for Union, left arrow for Medford, that kind of thing; I’m sure that will make for a fun “Easter egg” for young railfans for many years to come.
On a very nerdy note: now that B and C trains both terminate at Government Center, the Park St Loop in theory does not see any regularly scheduled use (perhaps for the first time ever?). However, I saw at least one train getting short-turned on the so-called “fence track” at Park St, meaning that the loop continues to be used to short-turn trains to reduce bunching.
The labels for platform level in the elevators at Union Square and Medford/Tufts used different styles for writing “Green Line” – the label at Union Square omits the space between the words.
One of the two elevators at Medford/Tufts was out of service.
Both doors to the Pedal & Park at Medford/Tufts had placards reading “Tap Charlie Card Here,” pointing to an empty space along the fence, where unconnected hookups were visible on the other side; I couldn’t see any place to tap a Charlie Card.
You get some really cool views of the Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility (Boston Engine Terminal) and the new Green Line maintenance facility from the Lechmere-to-Union viaduct:
I didn’t get good photos, but you also get a really cool view looking west from the Medford-to-Lechmere viaduct, from which you can see the Fitchburg Line commuter rail tracks, the Green Line’s flying junction tracks to/from Union, and the under construction Community Path that flies over everything:
And from the Lechmere-to-Medford viaduct, you get a cool view of the curved viaduct ducking under to go to Union, with the Green Line Maintenance Facility in the background.
While GLX stations are not unique in this regard, it is always cool to see level low-floor boarding, which I tried to capture in this quick shot:
The elevator at Lechmere has a lovely botanical pattern on its glass:
And finally, just before I was about to head home, I managed to snag a ride on one of the new Type 9 trains – I had tried earlier in the day to catch one but had barely missed it, and so had given up; as I was heading down to the Red Line platform at Park, I happened to turn around and see a Type 9 rolling in; so I delayed my departure in favor of a quick excursion up to North Station: