GLX Opening Day: Scenes From the First Train From Union Square
At 4:30 a.m. Monday morning, a small crowd gathered on the sidewalk outside a dark construction site on Prospect Street in Somerville. A worker appeared and removed a gate, and people began to filter inside behind former Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone, who held his phone aloft to film the entrance.
Down a plywood ramp that meanders through a tunnel of scaffolding, the crowd arrived at a small plaza under the steel framework of what will soon be Somerville’s tallest building. There they found several other MBTA workers in green vests, including MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak, who was smiling and accepting congratulations from the visitors.
Somerville’s newest rapid transit station, the Union Square stop of the new Green Line extension, was finally opening to riders.
It’s a project that’s been in the works for over 30 years. In 1991, the Commonwealth committed to building the new line as part of its environmental mitigation for the “Big Dig” highway expansion in downtown Boston (under that agreement, the state also promised that the new line would be open by 2011).
For Somerville’s Mayor Katjana Ballantyne, whose career in public service spans many of those years in which the Green Line extension was still an unfulfilled promise, the opening of the new line “is really just the first step” in addressing the harms that 20th-century highway projects inflicted – and continue to inflict – on her city.
“This is a huge moment in Somerville’s history. It’s a huge moment for the region,” Mayor Ballantyne told StreetsblogMASS while waiting for the first train.
Soon, the first train arrived at the platform, and the crowd made its way on board. A long line formed at the station’s two fare machines as passengers tried to figure out the T’s new fare validation system (the new Green Line stations were designed without any fare gates in anticipation of a new fare payment system that isn’t quite ready yet).
As the 4:50 a.m. departure time for the first train approached, riders frantically tapped their Charliecards, occasionally groaning when they hit the wrong button on the touch screens and had to start over. A handful of people decided to try their luck with the train’s on-board fare validator instead, and ran down the platform to jump on board.
As the train rolled slowly out of Union Square toward Lechmere, riders snapped photos and video with their phones, and held their hands to the windows to peer out into early-morning darkness from the train’s brightly-lit interior. The train was mostly full, but most of the passengers seemed to be there simply to enjoy the ride.
Many of them, like Mayor Ballantyne, told StreetsblogMASS that they decided to wake up early and catch the first train simply because they’d been waiting so long for the project to happen.
“I live in the area, and I love mass transit. I’m super excited to see this finally happen, and be here for the first revenue service,” said Ravi Hulasi, a Somerville resident who’s been watching the project’s construction progress.
“I’m really passionate about public transit. I’ve been super excited about this project for a long time,” said Symmetry Alexander, a resident of Brighton.
At the new Lechmere station, the train stopped for an extended period so that the transit fans, public officials, and members of the press on board could disembark and admire the the new station while MBTA workers in fluorescent vests made some last-minute adjustments to some of the station’s equipment.
After a few minutes, another train approached from Union Square, and the crowd climbed back on board to continue towards downtown Boston.
A few seconds later, the second train to carry passengers on the new Green Line extension arrived at Lechmere station. That train, with considerably fewer riders on board, opened its doors to a mostly-empty platform.
It was 5:05 a.m., and the Union Square branch of the Green Line extension was officially open.