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.