Salem (Depot)

Let’s go find a time machine and set the clock to Summer 1996, sometime right after the Atlanta games ended. I know everyone wants to go ride plug-doored Boeing LRV’s and 01800’s with their original red sets, but this story begins at the Days Inn in Danvers. My mom and I were visiting Boston but wanted to not deal with finding a parking space and we researched Salem (Depot) on the Commuter Rail’s then-Ipswich/Rockport (pre-Newburyport!) line. We drive down Route 114 in her base model ’95 Geo Metro with no AC and turn into the parking lot, the huge carcass of the former Parker Brothers factory looking over it, thinking about all the board games made there through the years.

Mom took one look at the old fashioned coin/bill slot board, was bewildered by the concept, openly wondered why they couldn’t have someone manning the lot, turned back on 114, and decided that 128 and 93 in rush hour, the old Central Artery and the Big Dig mess was simpler than wadding $2 or eight quarters in a slot.

Back to the present. I finally got to use Salem for its intended purpose. Since 1996, Salem has gained a mini-high platform at its north/east end which has been the main modification to the current 1980s vintage station. Walking down the ramp which runs behind the mini-high, there is a busway with routes connecting to Lynn, Beverly, the Peabody/Danvers mall corridor, Wonderland, and during the week Haymarket and Downtown Crossing while to the left is the low-level majority of the platform. The platform and busway area eventually merge before they ascend a staircase with a very 80s headhouse to Bridge Street with the historic downtown core of Salem not far away. Looking over the station in place of the former Parker Brothers factory are

After taking care of some business in Salem, I walked back and felt the main downside of the station: The North River runs adjacent to the parking lot and when I visited the winds were fierce and felt a lot colder than the mid-40s which the thermometer claimed it was. luckily, a train came quickly however in the future putting up some heat lamps might be a good investment especially as the station is going to be renovated.

The real pluses of Salem as a station are the historical knick-knacks around the station, especially its system map which not only is unchanged from its 1987 opening but is anachronistic (Gardner and Ruggles together!?). The tunnel south of the station has the former Salem station at its other end with platforms still intact a quarter century after its demise. Given its spot in a highly walled open cut, the move was for the best.

Station: Salem (Depot)
Rating (1-10): 8

Ridership: For a weekday midday, people heading up from Boston who value time (30 minutes versus an express bus to Boston or a local bus to Wonderland) over money ($3/$5 depending on the point of origin). There also are a decent amount of people whom got on at Lynn, the 20 minute savings for $1.50 makes this a popular alternative to the 450, 455, and 459 buses. Otherwise commuters, tourists, and during the second half of October scads of fun seekers who fill bilevels the south side has lessened their vice grip on.

Pros: This station is steps away from one of New England’s most historic downtowns and the history oozing from Salem alone is worth the trip. The $13 round-trip price tag from North Station may be a bit steep so I recommend busing it one-way if money is a concern.

Cons: This place is not pleasant when it’s windy and it could use a little TLC though the renovation will take care of this. Also, the 80s architecture clashes with the downtown brick of Salem.

Nearby and Noteworthy: I don’t need to explain why you should go there, but a trip to the Salem Witch Museum is a must especially to put the event which put Salem on the map for all the wrong reasons.  From personal experience having done this as a tourist, don’t do it during tourist season if you can.
If you’re in town earlier in the day and need a bite to eat, the breakfast/lunch-only Lynde Street Cafe has good food and generous portions for cheap. Just order when you get in even if they say not to, if not you might have a long wait. I recommend the meat omelette or the Buffalo wings.

Winchester Center

At the time of this writing, I live within sight of Winchester Center. If I open my front door, I can see the southern end of the station and if you’re on the west side of a train you might see my apartment in the distance. Therefore, I’m a bit too familiar with it as even a couple of weeks in I can tell when trains are coming inbound or outbound and can tell a Downeaster apart from a Commuter Rail train by vibrations alone.

Winchester Center in general is a bit of an anomaly in the Commuter Rail system, sitting on an elevated structure going through the center of town, looking more at home on Metro-North’s New Haven Line or the LIRR than for any Boston-area line. Even for the atypical former Boston & Lowell, Winchester’s central location is a bit of an outlier because it doesn’t bypass the center of town. These elements help create what could be one of the most charming and interesting Commuter Rail stations but it currently suffers for a few reasons.

Getting off a train at Winchester Center, you are emptied onto a platform which has seen better days with a lot of cracking paint. Your means of exit is a pair of long and winding ramps to the street which also have seen better days and are a miniature version of an old stadium concourse. The northern half of ramps exit right into the town center, the southern half exit into town parking lots (one on each side of the station). The reverse is true when boarding and to be honest for a cute and charming town such as Winchester the station which sets up the entire center of town can be a bit better.

For what it’s worth, Winchester Center is a good station for spotting the Downeaster (or any trains) and if the $5.50 of a Zone 1 fare is a bit scary the 134 runs once an hour to/from Wellington or North Woburn. If it was gussied up and looked like its surroundings I would be compelled to give a much nicer rating.

Station: Winchester Center
Rating (1-10): 5 for the station (but 9 for the surroundings)

Ridership: Lots of locals living within walking distance of the station with some people driving from elsewhere in Winchester and nearby towns (Stoneham and eastern Lexington mainly).

Pros: Regardless of condition, it adds to Winchester’s charm in a manner similar to, say, Wakefield and there is a ton by the station to visit. Bonus points for the Winchester Chamber of Commerce using their offices as a waiting room during rush hour in the colder months.

Cons: The station needs a renovation. Badly. The fact that the smaller Wedgemere right down the road got a renovation but not Winchester’s larger station is a bit odd. There also should be some ticket machines on the platform (as with all stations) and possibly modify some ramps to stairs and add an elevator. A mini-high should be a must but with Wedgemere just having gotten a mini-high and ADA letting Winchester Center off the hook this may be a harder sell.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Too many great things to count. Seriously. But to pare this down to a few:
Book Ends: Because independent bookstores in this day and age sadly are becoming a rare breed and this little shop is a thriving part of the community.
Black Horse Tavern: Top 5 of meals I’ve ever had. By far. Worth the trip and every penny (and I recommend the Cheggy Burger and the wings).
Winchester Wine & Spirits: I urge you to drink responsibly but my is this page huge and classy and right now they have an entire shelf of pumpkin beer which might have a post-Halloween run on it soon. No ice cider though.

Wyoming Hill

If this review is rough, it’s because I’m doing it on the fly. I’m in Melrose today scouting out potential future neighbourhoods and I had the luck of catching the 9:38 to Reading this morning at Wyoming Hill. The southern of Melrose’s three stations, it serves a largely-residential area just south of the main commercial strip. This review has pictures below the jump.

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Waverley

My last two reviews (the 73 and the 554) have been about the two routes which
terminate at Waverley Square in Belmont. Also located there, buried in a trench right next to the trackless trolley loop, is a commuter rail station on the Fitchburg
Line (simply Waverley, sometimes with the second “e” dropped). While I’m on a roll, I’d might as well complete the trifecta!

Sitting in the northeast corner of Belmont, Waverley station sits in a trench on the north edge of the square near the intersection of Trapelo Road and Lexington Street. A product of grade crossing eliminations in the early 70s, Waverley sits in a trench which is coated in a shade of pink which looks like all the salmon at the Shaw’s down the street. Save for Trapelo Road and nearby Route 60, most of the area around it is residental with the same feeling of any tranquil suburb while the retail of nearby Waverley Square is anchored by a large Dunkin’ Donuts, a Shaw’s across the street, some small shops…and a car wash. To the north at the intersection at Route 60 probably is the biggest generator of local traffic, McLean Hospital. Belmont, one stop to the east, has the more interesting surroundings even though the ridership is less and the connecting opportunities far lower.

A lot of Waverley’s commuter rail traffic comes from people heading to an elsewhere.Students and faculty of Bentley University coming from points west can make an easy transfer to their shuttle here and for those going to Harvard Square from points west the trip on the 73 is quicker and cheaper than staying on until Porter and dealing with that long transfer or playing roulette with the 77. There even may be some people riding one stop to Belmont, a little over a mile away but without a direct bus connection. The number of people getting on to ride to Boston is probably quite low, especially with an alternative that is a third of the cost, but Waverley has its own invaluable role in the Commuter Rail system.

Station: Waverley
Rating (1-10): 6

Pros: It gives Belmont residents a one-seat ride to the North End, the West End, the Garden, and with a little walk the City Hall area. It also serves as a good inter- suburban transfer point for the reasons explained above.

Cons: Two big ones: The lack of wheelchair accessibility or even mini-high platforms is one. The pink colored retaining walls the other. More of a pet peeve is a bus linking Waverley Square to Belmont Center to the point that walking is about as fast as transit. An idea could be to either run a mini-bus via Route 60 to connect the two and possibly other points, or to…

Random idea: String wire along the portion of the 75 which doesn’t run with the 72, along Route 60, and the one-block portion of Trapelo Road between Waverley and Route 60. The possibilities of either extending the 73 to Belmont Center or a fully-merged 72/75 to Waverley would both work very well especially for vehicle utilization. Of course, Belmont doesn’t appreciate what it has and would cut the wire if it could (which seriously is bad for them).

Nearby and Noteworthy: As I explained in my post on the 73, the Waverley Square area has tons of little shops. And the aforementioned Dunkin’ Donuts (with Baskin Robbins!). And the Shaw’s down the street is one of the better locations. Heck, the 73 alone is noteworthy!

Photo Post!

I’m doing some late Spring cleaning which means two things here at (T)he Adventure

1: Some side improvements coming sooner than later (and branching out from reviews!)

2: I purged an old memory card, which means a bonus photo post for all of you!

Enjoy!

Commuter Rail platform at Malden Center.

Dudley Square, forlornly waiting for a train that’ll never come.

Bus 0440 lays over at Saugus Center on the 430.

1975 vintage sign on the unused side of Sullivan Square’s outbound platform.

One day I took the 99…

The 76 waits at Alewife to start its run out to Hanscom. Oddly this is on the list of routes I’d love to ride.

Chelsea

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.