Your intrepid blogger is about to re-enter the workforce and with it comes the leverage to get a place for myself, the wife, and the cats. The latter two, added with jobs and family, make the Bostons and Brooklines a no-go so to the Northern suburbs we went. Both of us wanted to look at a couple of places in Melrose and to scout the area I decided to parlay it into a trip on both the 136 and 137 which means two reviews for the price of one!
As a whole, the 136 and 137 provide local service on the stretch of the Haverhill Line Commuter Rail between Reading and Malden Center and at the far northern end of the line in Reading and from Wakefield Square on they run together and are coordinated routewide most of the day weekdays and Saturdays. The two routes split mainly to service opposite sides of Lake Quannapowitt, the 136 the north/east sides and the 137 the west/south sides.This split makes each route unique as the 136’s solo portion is almost exclusively residential while the 137’s serves the Walkers Brook Road retail strip in Reading and North Ave in Wakefield. Night service is slanted towards the 137 side (mainly due to the retail strip) and Sunday service operates as a loop from Wakefield Square north with service on the 136 outbound and the 137 inbound. Oddly this isn’t referred to as the “136/137” a la the 24/27, 62/76, 426/439, and the late 37/38.
Getting dropped off in Wakefield, I go check my MBTA app of choice and find the 136 is next. I make my way down Main Street and eventually meet the 136 at Salem Street where only a few passengers were on board just after rush hour. Working through Wakefield, passengers boarded at a regular rate until I got off a half-full bus at Lynn Fells Parkway/Franklin Square. Through the next few hours, I observed traffic and noticed that buses were up to a full seated load with some voluntary standees.
Inevitably, I had to head back. Getting on a 137 at the north end of Melrose’s downtown strip, I find a bus that was 2/3 full and grew slightly as it wound its way down Main Street. Then as soon as the bus arrived at Oak Grove, there was a mass exodus as 80% of the passengers got off, bound for the Orange Line. Those staying on get to be subject to a somewhat pointless loop as both buses use Banks Street (Melrose) both into and out of Oak Grove. About ten minutes later, both buses arrive at Malden Center and do the reverse back to Reading.
As a combined route, the 136 and 137 are a great suburban route with good ridership, decent service for the most part (136 solo portion aside), and provides a relief valve for the Haverhill Line with the farthest walk from a station being around five minutes. It could use some work but it is a great resource that also provides a great savings compared to its in-house purple competitor.
Routes: 136/137 (Reading Depot-Malden Center)
Rating (1-10): 7
Ridership: Heavily middle class and heavily slanted towards Oak Grove with some local travel on the Reading/Wakefield and Wakefield/Melrose tracks. The 137 gets more ridership in part due to its heavy retail.
Pros: It’s a good suburban connection and it links together several quintessentially New England towns (even with Wakefield being a little rough around the edges) and provides a good alternative to commuter rail. Had I not narrowly missed one once, it’d have been a good timesaver when the Haverhill Line was zonked due to heat.
Cons: Some of the headways could stand be simplified: 70 minutes per route middays? 100 minutes Saturdays? Coordinated or not, at least 60/90 might be a more standard divide. Short of adding service to make these routes be on the level of the 77, this could be a good start. If the routes weren’t coordinated, I’d be for a headway increase.
Nearby and Noteworthy: For both routes, downtown Melrose is quaint in itself and is worth a trip either via bus or commuter rail. In some regards, it reminds me of a smaller version of Arlington without its stereotype of being “Cambridge North”. The 137 solo portion has the flagship for Jordan’s Furniture which includes a Richardson’s Ice Cream stand, a Fuddruckers, a candy store, and a water show. Be warned: it’s a walk up a hill so stay safe!