The Beginner’s Guide to Surviving the Train in Boston

The Boston Train system, known fondly as “the T” to us locals, has become my second home.

I take the train back home every Friday to good ol’ Lynn, Massachusetts. You can find me squished between the gentleman in the wrinkled business suit and the old woman knitting a scarf. I hop on the Green Line at the Boylston station, take a train to Government Center, then connect over to the Blue Line. From there, I sit tight all the way to the last stop: Wonderland.

I’d like to consider myself a professional T rider at this point. While I’m most accustomed to the Green and Blue Lines, I’ve also traveled on every single other line at some time or another. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable taking the T—I’ve only had one panic attack in a T station this whole year, and that was because I’m weak and couldn’t lift my suitcase on to the train (I decided I needed to bring home several pairs of shoes that week).

Being the aficionado I am, I decided to come up with a list of the five best tips I have for taking the train in Boston. Listen up, rookies:

  1. Get yourself a CharlieCard


In order to take the trains, you need to purchase either a CharlieTicket, or get your hands on a CharlieCard. A CharlieTicket is a one-use, paper ticket that you pay for and print at a kiosk within the station. A CharlieCard, however, is a reloadable, plastic card that can only be obtained through an MBTA officer at a station, or through a third-party distributor. Seeing as MBTA officials act like they’re ghosting people on Tinder (there’s never any around), it’s typically easier to go through a third-party seller. Check out this webpage to see where there’s a third-party seller near you, or you can try and obtain a card through Emerson if you’re a student. Having a CharlieCard not only is good for the environment but is also cost-effective; train fares are typically anywhere from 25 cents upwards cheaper if you use a CharlieCard. Save a tree and some money!

2. Keep a picture of the MBTA map on your phone


This hack has saved my life numerous times. While there are maps throughout the train stations and on the trains themselves, there are times when I’ve been in a rush and haven’t had time to crack out my codebook and decipher the map before stepping on the train, or in-transit. Having a map on your phone allows for easy, immediate access, both in and out of the station. There have also been several times where I’ve had to give people directions regarding what trains to take. Instead of having to find a map for them, I simply whip out my phone as a visual aid.

  1. Check for stations that connect to other lines


There are five different colored “lines” that make up the train system: Red, Orange, Blue, Green, and Silver. Each line goes to a different part of Massachusetts. If you need to switch from one color line to another, it’s important to know that only certain lines overlap with one another at specific stations. For example, you cannot hop on the Red Line and connect over to the Blue Line at any stop- the two do not intersect. However, you can connect from the Orange and Green Lines to the Blue Line. To check if a line connects with another, take a peek at the Holy Grail map. Lines that connect with one another will share a station. For instance, if you’re on the Silver Line and would like to connect to the Orange Line, get off at Chinatown. On the map above, I’ve made a key for all of the train stations in which two lines intersect. Take a screenshot and keep this picture on your phone for future reference!

  1. If you’re standing, hold on to a railing


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people fall over on the train. It’s usually those people that think they’re a badass and can somehow defy gravity. You are not Elphaba, and this is not a performance of Wicked—hold on to the railing. It seems like a dumb tip, but take this one to heart. It’s not only for your safety but for the safety of others on the train. If you’re in a packed car and you fall over, everyone will go down like dominoes. Be mindful of others on the train, as disaster can strike quickly.

  1. Make sure you’re on the right train


There’s a difference between trains that are going “inbound” and trains going “outbound”. While I could explain the whole directional thing, I’m not in the mood to do whip out some graph paper and draw a coordinate plane. Y = mx + I go to Emerson, we don’t do Math. So, I’ll say this: make sure the train you’re on is heading towards the stop you want. Here’s an example: say you’re on the Blue Line at Aquarium station and want to go to Government Center. You have to get on a train that is traveling to Bowdoin (trains are listed on the arrival board as their last stop), not one that is traveling to Wonderland. If you’re waiting for a train to Wonderland, walk across the platform to the side with trains going to Bowdoin. While this seems self-explanatory, it can be confusing if you’re trying to navigate a noisy train station full of ruthless riders and that guy selling knockoff Harvard sweatshirts.

Above all, if you’re confused or feeling unsure at any point in time while taking the T, ask an MBTA official or fellow rider for assistance. I know we usually have the reputation for being “Massholes” but people in the train stations are usually amenable to helping out if they know the station or line well enough. I also suggest mapping out your trip ahead of time: this will ensure that you have a safe, stress-free trip. Have a safe ride!

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