Friday, December 17, 2004


In lieu of making schedules public, the MBTA is broadcasting information to T stop platforms about the proximity of approaching trains.

It tells people at Porter Square, for instance, that a southbound train has left Alewife, or that a northbound train has left Kendall.

What’s difficult to appreciate about this is that the MBTA doesn’t deal with “north” or “south.” The platforms are labeled “inbound” (meaning toward Boston) and “outbound” (away from Boston), and when you arrive in Boston, tracks are merely labeled with the farthest T stops as destinations. For instance, at Park Street, you can get on the red line “To Alewife via Harvard” or “To Ashmont, Braintree via Downtown Crossing.”

This “northbound, southbound” stuff doesn’t particularly upset me, and it didn’t confuse me for long. But it doesn’t help much, either, if only because from Porter, a northbound train goes west and a southbound train east before heading in a general southerly direction. Or rather, south to Harvard, east to Central, northeast to Kendall ... but, yes, it goes to the south shore. Ultimately.

What’s striking about the announcements is their uselessness, their silliness, their microscopic overlay of a system on entirely different systems that stretch hundreds of miles and back more than 100 years. Newcomers will look to a sign that says “inbound” or “Ashmont/Braintree” and hear an announcement that says “southbound.” They will hear an announcement about a “northbound train” and look in vain for a sign that confirms this, or conforms to it.

Frankly, our system is confusing enough on its own. The compass can be left out of it.


Anonymous said...

The announcements I hate are the ones that go "there's a train directly behind this one." Like anyone's gonna voluntarily step back and wait another indeterminate amount of time for that "directly following" train if they've already waited an eon for the one that is currently at the station with the doors open. What does "directly behind this one" actually mean? Because there's not much chance it would be anything but a train, as if it would go "train, mail truck, horse-drawn cart, train," and anything that's on the rail is arguably directly behind, although it may still be pretty far away and moving slowly. They should come up with something more specific for that one, too. Like "the next train is 2 minutes behind this one" or "the next train is waiting at South Station for this one to depart" if you're at Downtown Crossing and going "northbound." Or "inbound."

Scape7 said...

I'm not going to stop whining until there are electronic signs keyed to trains and telling us how long a wait we're to expect. Perhaps by 2045.

Anonymous said...

I like the subways in DC... lights start blinking when a train is about to arrive.

Scape7 said...

I just like the fact that they arrive.