The Commuter Rail stations of Zone 1A outside of North Station and South Station fall into one of two categories: transfer station with subway lines or slightly far-flung urban outpost that in an ideal world would have some transit running through it. It’s the latter category that are the more interesting especially since some of these stations could be seen as consolation prizes that scream “Sorry we can’t bring the subway out your way.”
Chelsea, the penultimate station on the Newburyport-Rockport Line, is one of those stations. A relatively recent creation (opened December 1985), it sits unassumingly nestled between a neighborhood and a Commonwealth office building under the inbound approaches to the Tobin Bridge dozens of feet above. The inbound platform has a simple shelter while the outbound platform lacks a shelter but is oversized because it includes an abandoned track stub that sits between the few benches and the boarding area. Both platforms are relatively small and trains sprawl out into the intersection of Sixth Street and Arlington street that the tracks bisect.
Being a recent transplant in need of employment, a job interview brought me out to Chelsea and the contrast between that and Lynn where my trip began was like night and day. Unlike Lynn, having the station woven into a neighborhood helps spur ridership especially with the recent rejuvenation of housing stock in Chelsea; in fact, more people got off at Chelsea than had boarded with me at Lynn though at first sight Chelsea looks like some sad outpost. With a ton of time to kill, my phone’s GPS decided that it’d be good to try to prove me wrong by sending me the wrong way.
Walking a rough quarter-mile radius of the station, I noticed that as small as it is the presence of Commuter Rail at Chelsea has had some good effects besides helping property values. The building of several offices, a branch of Mass General Hospital, and a shopping center all have been built in relatively recent years. The “downtown” area, though a little rough around the edges, reminded me of my old neighborhood in Washington, DC several years back before gentrification advanced further. For a station that is quite unassuming and looks like it could use some TLC, I think that the surrounding areas have shown me that I may need to pay Chelsea another visit in the future.
Station: Chelsea Rating (1-10): 5
Ridership: Riding at the earliest part of rush hour, the departing passengers were a mixture of first shift employees from the North Shore and some Salem State students while boarding passengers were those heading back were a indistinguishable blur between those going into Boston and people that work in Chelsea heading home early. The several bus routes that connect Chelsea to subway routes (and the infamous 111 crossing the bridge into Boston proper) serve those for whom frequency matters.
Pros: The fact that not-that-old station is woven into a neighborhood and that it’s had some role in spurring development is always a plus and for a station that a) is in Zone 1A and b) is on the Northside it has a decent level of service with a train an hour most of the time save some gaps, more during peak.
Cons: For a station that is a mere 26 years old, it sure shows its age and it could honestly use a rehab. Repave the platform, add a mini-high (or try to make it a full-high platform), and giving the outbound side a shelter or canopy would do wonders to help ridership even more. An out-of-the-box idea would be to patch the stray lead in the outbound platform back into the tracks and to make a single island platform.
Nearby and Noteworthy: In said shopping center is the closest Market Basket to the Boston city limits. For those that haven’t been to Market Basket, they have oodles of quirky and obscure goodies (Moxie! Kraft Sprinkle Cheese! UNO Pizza Skins!) that make it more than the trip.