Saturday, May 14, 2016

Worcester

It was 2:29 PM. I was perched just inside the doorway of my Chemistry classroom, ready to bolt. Suddenly, the chime of the bell went off, and I sprinted out of the room, just ahead of Nathan across the hall. We both dodged around the crowds heading down the stairs and burst out of the school, running across the courtyard. Nathan had planned it all out - we had to get the 2:36 Red Line train to Braintree in order to make it to the 2:55 Commuter Rail trip to Worcester.

But when we made it down to Harvard at 2:35, the countdown clocks said it was 3 minutes until the next train! Nathan checked his subway map app, and it turned out our train was late. We decided we would still try to make the 2:55, despite a horrible cramp on my part. The train came in, and we got on at the back of the second car to be able to make it up the stairs as quick as possible at South Station. As we got closer to our destination, we made the realization that we would have only a minute and a half to get to the Commuter Rail.

At Park Street, Nathan checked a Commuter Rail app to find out that our train was on Track 1. Good - it would be a pretty straightforward run. As the subway car pulled into South Station, we slipped through just as the doors opened. Nathan ran up the escalator while I climbed the stairs two at a time, and we burst into the main station. I took the lead, dodging through the crowd while glancing up at the departure board to see that the train hadn't left yet. And lo and behold, there it was on Track 1, slightly behind schedule but waiting there in all its glory! We had made it.

And once we got to Worcester Union Station, it was clear that it was all worth it.

Is it a cathedral? No, it's the station building!
Need I say more? The building alone is incredible, and we haven't even gotten inside yet! Situated right in downtown Worcester, it features two amazing spires and lots of intricate details everywhere. Along the front of the building, the old railroads that used to serve the station are engraved: Boston and Albany, New York, New Haven and Hartford, and Boston and Maine.

You can see "P & W Railroad" in the background on the bridge for the Providence and Worcester freight line running here.
Outside of the main station entrance, there's a nice little plaza. It features well-trimmed grass, a statue, and a bunch of benches lined up in a row. It was empty when I was here, and the amount of benches might be overkill, but it could be a nice place to sit and watch cars go around the rotary.

What is this, a hotel?
Oh my gosh, the entrance area is awesome! EVERYTHING is marble! There is just...oh my gosh, so much marble! It really feels like a hotel entrance. It doesn't even have much of a purpose, most commuters will just walk on through to get to their trains! It did appear that a few people were waiting for pick-ups in here, though.

WOW.
This, my friends, is Worcester's Grand Hall. That is an apt name, for it is quite grand. The funny thing is that it basically serves no purpose, since most people just walk through it, but still...just look at it! Part of it was blocked off and illuminated with disco lights when we were here, and it turns out that's because someone was having a wedding! There's a use for it, I guess.

A restaurant!
Ah, but the Grand Hall also features a whole entire restaurant! Yes, there is quite literally a reasonably-priced restaurant right in the middle of this train station! I think it usually has seating out in the Grand Hall, but due to the wedding, it was restricted to within the restaurant itself.

Awwwwwww, yeah. Okay, that probably looks tiny. I recommend clicking it to make it bigger.
From the Grand Hall, you've got a massive concourse from which every part of the station leads. It has a lot of great stuff, and I'm just gonna go around the whole thing! Starting from the left, there's this rack of brochures, which is rather interesting. I mean...Worcester isn't exactly a major tourist destination, after all.

Looking further around the concourse.
Moving on, there's an Amtrak ticket office for once-a-day Lake Shore Limited trains to Chicago. Next, a random LED sign just flashes the time and "Welcome to Worcester Station" over and over again (it really should be replaced with a proper destination board), then there's a lovely statue. Things like the statue are examples of the little details that make this station so amazing!

Clearly the most functional room in the building.
Next, the payphone room! Oh boy oh boy oh boy! From there, the concourse features an ATM, which is a convenient little touch, and then there's a hallway leading to the parking garage. We've got a wastebasket, then the centerpiece of the concourse, a spiral staircase leading up to the Commuter Rail platform!

The curved staircase leading up.
Alongside the staircase, there is a bench, as well as WRTA schedules. Also, behind the staircase is a little café! We didn't have time to go in and see the menu or anything, but it looked like a nice little place to grab a quick bite. Also behind the staircase is an elevator alternative up to the Commuter Rail.

The concourse...from above.
Of course, for all its glory, Worcester Station does have its sketchy bits. This weird old guy with blue lips (I'm not kidding) kept following Nathan and me around, telling us where to get pictures and regaling us with stories about putting pennies on the rails or how he almost got run over by a train. Or...I think that's what he said? Honestly, I couldn't comprehend half the stuff that came out of his mouth. But yeah, that just goes to show that you gotta keep your wits about you here.

Bathrooms!
Heading into the hallway toward the parking lot, there are bathrooms! (The Grand Hall has bathrooms, too, but the men's room was blocked by the wedding festivities so I couldn't see what it was like.) Surprisingly, and especially for train station bathrooms, they were incredibly nice inside. As we were leaving the area, though, a strange janitor remarked on how we should take pictures there in the morning, because that's "when the homeless people shower. [laugh]" I'm kinda creeped out now...

The hallway to the parking garage.
The hallway to the parking garage is clean, modern, and unique. The floor is nice and shiny, while the would-be blank walls are instead lined with historical images of Worcester. As for the ceiling, that's the unique part - it's corrugated, giving the hallway a strange warehouse kind of feel. And yet, it doesn't detract from the aesthetics at all.

Inside the garage.
The hallway to the parking garage is darker and less visually pleasing, but the garage itself is decently big. Although five stories tall, it only has 500 spaces, but that's still a good amount for an urban station like this. Plus, it usually has 200 spaces or more open on weekdays, so most people have different ways of getting to the station.

The ticket office in the garage.
Interestingly, the garage has a ticket office on the first floor! Since this was a Saturday, the office itself was closed, but it's strange thinking that at some points during the day, there are actually people inside those isolated booths. Alternatively, there are also simple machines, as well as - even stranger - an MBTA fare machine! Um...okay, interesting place to put that.

The machines and the stairs.
Between the stairs and the elevator, the stairs are the much faster way of getting between floors of the lot. The elevators are hydraulic, smelly, and soooooooooo sloooooooooow. I have never been inside such a snail-like contraption in my life! Still, they make the lot accessible, at least. But geez, they take forever...

Woah...
Okay, I had to include two, since this view is so great.
The view from the roof of the garage is amazing. Seriously, if you end up at Worcester, taking a trip to the top of this structure is really worth it. It offers sweeping looks at downtown Worcester, industrial areas, houses up in the hills, and even the station platform! But we still have a lot to get through before we talk about that platform.

Ehhhhh...
Going back to the station itself, the hallway to the parking garage also leads out to its own entrance! A...very sketchy entrance. Yes, it looks alright in the picture, but that fails to capture the fact that we were standing in a very dark tunnel underneath the mess of train tracks at Worcester. They tried to light it up with LEDs, but Back Bay has LEDs everywhere, and they don't help, either. An entrance here is nice and all, but certainly don't plan on hanging out around it.

Man, Worcester has some great staircases!
Heading out to the bus terminal from the main concourse, there's a hallway with similar architecture to the rest of the station. After some vending machines, you go down a slightly curved staircase to get down to ground level. Behind the staircase, there are some water fountains and more bathrooms.

Hmm...I think we've left the nice part of the station behind.
Once you get into the terminal for intercity buses, the ceiling gets low, the architecture gets bland, and everything feels a bit more foreboding. Still, the amenities are all there. A staffed ticket office lets passengers purchase trips on Peter Pan and Greyhound, while electronic departure boards let them know when they're leaving. There are ample benches, as well as vending machines in this indoor section.

Well, it would appear that the word "focus" has left my vocabulary...
Outside, the intercity buses board along a simple platform. It has benches along it, and it's all covered by a generic metal shelter. Ultimately, most people will wait for their buses inside, but the outdoor facility is decent enough.

The WRTA facility.
But wait, there's more! Worcester is also the hub of the WRTA, with every single one of its routes serving it. As such, it gets a big, fancy facility that requires a quick 50-foot jaunt to get to from the station.

Inside the main building.
Yes, the main WRTA facility may be small, cramped, and pretty sketchy, but man, does it have a lot of stuff in it. The Dunkin' Donuts is the main centerpiece, with a sign advertising it outside the building, too. Above its counter is an electronic board giving departure times for WRTA buses, while in front of the waiting area's airport-style seats is a TV that shows the news. The building also has bathrooms and change and ticket machines.

The sheltered bus area.
The outdoor bus area, like the rest of the WRTA facility, is chock-full of amenities, but also quite sketchy. Still, the whole thing is sheltered and dotted with countdown clocks, although I think they might be schedule-based rather than based on where the bus actually is. In addition, there are benches and maps to further help people get around. Surprisingly, despite being served by so many routes, the busway isn't that confusing. Maybe it's because it's all in a simple straight line.

Oh, yeah, I forgot this was a Commuter Rail station! Here's the platform...from above.
Finally, to culminate this massive review, let's look at Worcester's Commuter Rail station! It's accessible from the main concourse by heading up the spiral staircase or by using the elevator. There's an indoor waiting area on the second floor of the concourse with a few benches so people can wait for trains in the heat if they want.

Oh dear...that is not a good picture.
Right, so it turns out I forgot to get a picture of the main platform (don't ask me how, I don't even know myself), so I'll have to describe it from memory. The main part of the station is a very long mini-high platform, about three or four cars long. It has lots of benches on it, as well as an empty payphone case. It's pretty generic for Commuter Rail standards, but it does the job.

An outdoor section along the building.
On the western end of the platform, there's a strange section that leads around the side of the building. It doesn't seem to have much of a functional purpose, since it just stops once it reaches the end of the building. However, it is a great place to watch Providence & Worcester freight trains running along their elevated track, although I didn't get to see any when I was here.

Lovely...
Despite the mini-high being pretty sufficient, the platform goes on for way longer as a low-level. A little further down, a huge highway runs over the station, rendering everything under it...quite dingy. This is where a bunch of litter assembles, while the constant noise of the cars above is annoying. Luckily, no one actually has to wait under here, so it can just rot away, for all I care.

The bike area.
Continuing down the low-level platform, there are a few sheltered bike spaces. It's not many, they're at a strange place on the platform, and there's plenty of room for more spaces, but having them there is a plus. There are even "bike route" maps showing the bike-friendly roads and paths in Worcester. All this area needs is some indication from the main station that it actually exists!

More parking!
Over on this side of the station, there is even more parking, contained in surface lots! They contain a total of 150 spaces, for which commuters can pay at a couple of small machines. According to those, these spaces are $4.00 per day (compared to $8.25 at the garage), though the MBTA website claims that they're only $3.00.

This is pointless...
Strangely, wayyyyyyyy on the end of the platform is a random shelter! It's the generic kind that you get on newer Commuter Rail stations, but...why is it here? It doesn't have benches under it or anything, and no one would ever wait this far down the track, anyway! There are also some ads over here, which I doubt anyone will ever see.

Oooooooh...
But there is one other reason to come to this end of the platform: it offers a wonderful view of Worcester's massive CSX freight facility! This is where cross-country freight trips begin, and there's always something going on here. I didn't get to see much happen aside from some simple shunting, unfortunately, but this place can get very busy, especially on weekends.
.
Oh...hello.
Worcester also features a Commuter Rail yard, but it looks so tiny compared to the CSX facility. Also, I know I don't usually talk about operational aspects of stations, but when Nathan told me about how this yard works, I knew I had to include it. The procedure to get into the yard from Worcester takes forever, due to the amount of times trains have to change direction. The yard itself is fenced off with private parking for MBTA employees.

These trains are so great...
But wait, there's more! (Last one, I promise.) This station is also served once a day by Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited train to Chicago! We were lucky enough to see the inbound train heading to South Station, and it made a pretty lengthy stop here in Worcester. Okay, that's finally the end.

Three trains: a freight shunter, the Amtrak again, and a good ol' Commuter Rail train.
Station: Worcester

Ridership: As you would expect, this is one of the busiest Commuter Rail stations on the system; 8th busiest, to be exact, with 1,475 riders per weekday. This is way more than the station's parking, so many riders must walk or take the bus here. Speaking of the bus, as the WRTA's hub, Worcester's bus station can get very busy. I'm not sure specifically how busy, since the WRTA doesn't seem to publish ridership statistics, but it was quite crowded the whole time I was here. As for intercity buses, the terminal seemed to have a decent amount of people waiting. Finally, there's Amtrak ridership, which really isn't much. On the once-a-day Lake Shore Limited, ridership amounts to a total of 8,439 riders per year, or 23 riders per day! Wowee!

Pros: I...I don't even know where to begin. I mean, the Commuter Rail platform is essentially high level for the most part, the station has a bunch of parking, and both bus terminals are packed with amenities! And the Grand Hall...woah. There are so many other amazing little details that make Worcester amazing, but I've basically listed them all in the review already.

Cons: The glaring problem with Worcester is its people, in that the station can feel quite sketchy, especially in the bus areas. However, I feel like this isn't the station's fault, more the fact that...well, it's Worcester! Other than that, I do wish the station had larger and more obvious bike parking to encourage more cycle commuters. Oh, and the Commuter Rail facility is kind of a mess to get into for trains.

Nearby and Noteworthy: Well...I'm not sure if what kind of stuff you'll find in Worcester's downtown, but this station is right in it! Try not to run into any strange people.

Final Verdict: 9/10
Wow...this is such an amazing station. I mean, the Grand Hall alone is majestic! I would most definitely put Worcester on the same level as South Station - it's that good. There are so many different parts of the station, all with amenities, and they're all connected with really good signage! Yes, the place is a bit (okay, a lot) sketchy, and it could use some more bike parking, but come on. The Grand Hall alone gives this place a 9/10, not to mention every other amazing thing here!

Latest MBTA News: Service Updates

2 comments:

  1. Actually, farther down past Union Station was the old Worcester MBTA station. That's where the surface parking, bicycle parking, and the "random" canopy is, with the small boarded-up (but used) building. It makes no sense when you don't know what it was.

    ReplyDelete

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