Take the 'T' commuter train to Europe
I’m no longer in love with cars. The romance is gone.
Interstates clogged with double-sized trucks, reckless buses making time, and automobiles weaving in and out make driving a chore, and, as I have aged, my reflexes have slowed, a handicap that does not help my skills on the road. So, when I heard the Boston’s “T” commuter rail had been extended to Wickford, Rhode Island, I looked forward to taking a ride.
A month ago, at the invitation of our son and daughter-in-law to visit them in Hamburg, Germany, for the holidays, my husband Ron and I set off to Logan Airport via the newly extended commuter rail service, starting our trip at Wickford Junction. I had thought I would have a hard time convincing Ron, a lifelong motorhead, to use the train. But he realized as did I that after return flights back to the USA, we are often sleep deprived and not alert on the drive home.
The greatest inconvenience of using public transportation is that the times on multiple legs do not always make transfers smooth and timely. So it was with our experiment with the trains, but it was the Block Island ferry schedule, not the trains, that didn’t match up.
Our airplane was scheduled to fly in the evening, which allows passengers to try to sleep on the overnight voyage and experience less jet lag when they land six hours ahead of the east coast clocks. In order to catch the 3:40 p.m. train to get to the airport for our flight, we had to take the 11 a.m. boat and spend the day “at sea” in Rhode Island. Without luggage, we’d have gone earlier and spent the day in Boston, but to spend a month in Europe, we needed clothing, and at holiday time, gifts.
When we arrived at the parking garage in Wickford Junction in the afternoon, we were surprised to find it almost empty. Few of the 1,100 spaces were occupied. Ridership is still building, we were told by the security guard, but is not heavy. She estimated there were between 70 and 200 riders a day.
The garage is so modern, it is even equipped with outlets so that electric cars can be plugged in and recharged. The waiting room and platform are on the second floor of the garage, and we were able to find a space near the entrance to the trains. The waiting room was clean and bright, and during commuter hours there is a coffee shop, though in mid-day it is closed. The restrooms are on the ground level near the security office, not in the waiting room, but there is an elevator that takes you there.
The trains are comfortable, with leather seats, though the cars are not the newest or cleanest. They do have plenty of room for luggage and the ride is fairly smooth. Passing the harbor in Cranston was a highlight of the trip. We were able to spot one of our favorite restaurants, the Crow’s Nest, amid the boat yards, and on the way home, saw many small fishing boats moored out on the water.
The Amtrak trains also utilize the tracks, and when an Acela passed, it sounded like a bullet had gone by. There was a crack, a noticeable wind and our car shuddered. By the time I turned my head to look at it, it was gone.
Every employee we encountered, in the station and on board, was polite and helpful when we needed information. They are clearly committed to making this route a success, and one expressed his hopes that the line would be extended all the way to Westerly, with a stop in Kingston as well.
Here’s the best part. The garage only charges $4 a day for the covered parking, a fee that is lower than any other option we have tried in Boston. The train is even more of a bargain. Senior tickets, for those of us over 65 years of age, are half-price, only $5.50 from Wickford to South Station in Boston, and up to two children per adult ride free. Tickets need to be purchased on the trains from the conductors in cash only, but frequent travelers can purchase a discounted ten-trip or monthly ticket online at www.mbta.com. An advertisement on the train window announced an app is now available for smart phones and tickets can be electronically purchased with them ahead of time.
The trip from Wickford took us about two hours to South Station, the last stop on the line. The length of time varies with the time of day and number of stops. Some listed on the schedule were over two hours, others just under.
At South Station we needed to transfer to the Silver Line bus as the commuter rail, unfortunately, does not run all the way to the airport. When we arrived at rush hour, the station was as busy as Grand Central Station in New York. There is a “manned” information desk, but we were able to find our way without help using the overhead signs.
The Silver Line is not free. Though you need not pay when leaving Logan Airport, you do need to pay when going to the airport. A ticket costs $2.50. Ron put a $10 bill in the machine and received his change in five silver dollars, certainly a surprise. He received just one ticket, but we were told by another passenger to just put it in the reader twice. That worked.
The trip from South Station to the airport without traffic jams takes about 13 minutes and the buses run every 10 to 15 minutes. There are stops at each airport terminal. At Terminal E, international flights, to return back to South Station, look for the Silver Line bus stop sign at the right end of the building as you leave the baggage pick-up area.
Finding our train track on the return trip was a little more stressful. Wickford Junction is listed on the overhead arrivals board, and the track number is not plugged in until a few minutes prior to its arrival. Ours came on Track 8, but we were told at the information desk it is not always the same track every time.
Despite what I thought was my careful planning, we did have to stay overnight after arrival at Logan. I had inadvertently booked us on a Sunday, and the T only goes beyond Providence on weekends. The parking garage is locked all weekend. But, we stayed at the airport Hilton and got a nice AAA discount, which brought the cost down about $20. In Ron’s calculations, we still saved money over using airport area parking and gas for the trip. And the Hilton had a steamy hot tub and a pool, and a large fitness center.
We will use the T to Boston again. It is a nice alternative to driving, and we liked parking our car indoors in the winter, when there is the possibility of snow accumulating outdoors.
To get to the Wickford Junction station and garage, take Rte 1 from Wakefield to Rte. 4 toward Providence and exit at Rte. 102, Ten Rod Road, exit 5. Turn right and drive just past the Walmart and Staples Stores. The train schedule is online as is the Silver Line schedule on the mbta website.