It's just before eight o'clock on a cool summer morning at the Morton Street stop along the Fairmount Commuter Rail Line. Just last week, in this very spot, elected and transit officials from the city and state smiled broadly and cut a ribbon to mark the official re-opening of the Morton Street stop.
But this morning there are no ceremonial scissors. No cameras. No excitement. Just commuters readying themselves to face another day at work.
Jammar Hamilton stands alone, the solitary passenger waiting at 7:59 a.m. for the 8:10 a.m. to South Station. Hamilton lives nearby on Verndale Street and has been taking the Fairmount Line for about two years, he estimates. Hamilton works at the Marriot Long Wharf and rides the Line out of convenience. He says a lot of other riders are jealous of him and his quick commute. The MBTA's schedule says that the trip from Morton Street to South Station will take just 16 minutes -if the train is on time.
"There's a lot of riders, there will probably be more people showing up," says Hamilton.
By 8:03 two more passengers are waiting on the platform, and by 8:12, 25 people are ready to board.
Hamilton says his biggest complaint about the Fairmount Line is that the trains are frequently late, and that the electronic signage that's supposed to update commuters to a train's status never has updates.
Stefan Prieto has ridden the Fairmount Line from Morton St. for four years to his job at MetLife across the street from South Station. For Prieto, it's a very convenient trip.
"If you have to go to Ashmont, you have to go on the bus and it takes too long," says Prieto. Still, the Fairmount Line "has its days," he says.
"It's late right now."
"You don't know if it's going to be on time, that's the main thing," says Ramona Davis.
The 8:10 train finally arrives at Morton St. at 8:16 and the passengers pile onboard.
Prieto heads to the back of the car and folds down a handicapped seat. Nearby, Hamilton stairs out the window.
Two rows of double-seats run down each side of the car. The train is crowded, but not so much so that passengers are breaking the unspoken rule against taking a seat next to a stranger. Single passengers fill each row. Approximately 35 of them sit quietly in the car, reading books and newspapers, ubiquitous white headphones in their ears.
The train arrives at Uphams Corner Station, about 10 minutes behind schedule, where about a dozen passengers board the train.
In January, the Uphams Corner Station reopened after undergoing renovations similar to those at Morton St. The station is equipped with the same electronic signage as Morton Street. This morning, the sign on the inbound platform informs, or misinforms, riders that, "All trains operating on or near schedule, today, Thurs. 5/24/07." This may have been true 61 days ago, but it is not the case today.
Olive Fagan arrives at 8:44 to await the 8:48 train into South Station. Fagan says she has taken the Fairmount Line from Uphams Corner for six years, and is drawn to the convenience and the comfort.
"It's so much quicker [than buses] it's a different clientele, a different atmosphere," says Fagan.
Her one knock against the line, just like riders back at Morton St., is the train's frequent tardiness.
"Lately, it's been late a lot. I've called for information about where the train was," says Fagan.
Activists along the corridor served by the Fairmount line have for years pushed to expand service along the line. Their goals include service on weekends and holidays, which is not currently offered, as well as adding additional stops. The MBTA has committed to building four new station stop, including one at Four Corners and a second station in Mattapan, at Cummins Highway. Some are pushing for the line to move away from the commuter rail model and become a rapid transit line, offering service similar to that along the Red and Blue lines.
For Fagan, adding more stops is a non-starter.
"It would slow the train down. We don't want to see another Red Line," she says.
"I'd rather see weekend service than other stops," she adds.
Fellow passenger Robin Bailey disagrees with Fagan. More stops, in particular at South Bay-Newmarket, makes sense to her.
"I think more people would go to South Bay if there was weekend service, and if there was a stop there," says Bailey.
The 8:48 train arrives at 8:52 and six passengers board the train. On board the double-decker train, a few passengers pepper the maroon vinyl seats in each car.
Down the line at Morton Street, about 12 to 15 passengers wait to board the 8:43 inbound, which is running late.
"This particular one [the 8:43 from Morton] is late almost every day I don't know why it is late," says Adam Lacasse of Hyde Park.
The train arrives at 8:46 then at Uphams Corner Station at 8:55, seven minutes behind schedule.
During off-peak hours, the Fairmount Line does not stop at each city station. Passengers hoping to board the train are instructed by the schedule to "flag" down these trains by making themselves visible on the platform. As a train from South Station approaches Uphams Corner, the train continues about a quarter of the way down the platform before showing any signs that it will stop and allow passengers to board. The schedule states that, "Passengers who wish to board at these designated stations must be on the platform in full view of the engineers," but does not offer passengers instructions on where to do so. Still, passengers tell reporters that they have never had an issue flagging down a train.
The 9:38 train out of South Station is still on time as it winds its way out of Uphams Corner towards Morton Street. An off-duty commuter rail employee says that one major issue the Fairmount Line struggles with is education.
"A lot of riders don't know about it, even with in the community around it," he says. "They [the MBTA] need to educate people about it."