Back Bay (MBTA/Amtrak)

Oh lordy, I don’t even know where to start with this. For one, it’s my first non-RI post (proper, not the half-assed River Works post that I did without visiting!). Actually, the next five or so posts I do will all be from my trip to Boston (5/26/22), so strap in!

Helvetica Bold!
The exterior, from Wikipedia

Now, I can’t say much about the exterior as I wasn’t outside, however it’s definitely on the more “upscale” side, to fit with the rest of Back Bay. The station lobby matched. The train platforms, however….. Oh boy. So, getting off the train from T.F. Green Airport, it immediately hit me as to why this station has a bad reputation. The diesel fumes could be smelled all over the platform, and it was bad enough to where one would need a military-grade gas mask if they had breathing issues. I genuinely wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. So, booking it up the stairs so as to not inhale too many diesel fumes (which I completely disregarded later). I’ll also add as a tidbit, my friend could even smell the fumes in the mid-section of an Acela car at rush hour.

The train my friend and I got off of

Fortunately, the lobby is much different. After going up a dingy staircase, the air was considerably cleaner. At least one could buy MBTA tickets here, along with Amtrak tickets due to a Quik-Trak machine being present. However, because of the aforementioned air quality issue, Amtrak doesn’t staff the station. As such, it also happens it’s the most used Amtrak station that’s unstaffed, to my awareness. (EDIT: I was wrong. Amtrak staffs the station now.) It’s also up here that the bathrooms can be found. Just remember to flush the toilet, or you might be stabbed numerous times. The building itself feels a lot more “open” than down below, to say the least. There’s also a Dunkin’ (two!) and a CharlieCard vending machine here, as well as fare control for the Orange Line. Further back, by the Dunkin’ is where the stairs to tracks 5 and 7 are. This is where the Worcester-bound trains, being the Framingham/Worcester lines and the Lake Shore Limited all board.

The main lobby
The doors to tracks 1 and 3
The other area of the main lobby, by the CharlieCard machines
The underpass to Copley Place! Kinda easy to miss if you’re not actively looking for it.
Oh no.
Oh dear god no.
Onwards to BOS!

And now, to address the elephant in the room: the island platform for tracks 5 and 7. Oh boy. Let’s just say this is easily the worst part of the station (as if the platforms for tracks 1-3 are bad enough!). So, one end we have a pair of tracks that don’t even run with the rest of the Southwest Corridor but rather run with the Mass Pike. On the other…..just take a look.


Yup. There’s a long tunnel, I don’t know how long but it’s long enough to reach all the way past Hynes Convention Center at least. Is Lansdowne like this? I hope not, but I’ll find out when I review that station. It’s also very dark to where it feels like the lighting doesn’t do much, despite being bright. Like, could they have chosen any color other than black? Overall, while the smell of diesel fumes permeated through everything, the worst was yet to come. I notice the countdown clock, and oh god. There was a train scheduled to come in any minute now from Worcester.


What did my friend and I decide to do, knowing there was an inbound train coming in?
A: Get the hell out, not wanting black lung
B: Film the train, knowing one/both of us could pass out from the diesel fumes being too much
C: Nothing.

If you chose option B, you win ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!!!

The countdown clock after the fact
Dear god
It’s so dirty!
This….doesn’t feel right.

So, we sat there and filmed the train (of course, it was an HSP engine), and I started feeling dizzy and we were like “yeah, let’s get outta here.” From there, we got up, exited via the stairs we came down on, and got our day passed on our CharlieCards. From here, we went to the Orange Line platform. Now, there was a train ready to depart so I couldn’t get a good look at it, but it was hella better than the Commuter Rail platforms!

Not the best photography job.

The good: It serves a major link between Boston and points south, as well as serving to the closest thing to the southern end of a North/South link, due to the Orange Line serving both here and BON (North Station). It’s also nice that Back Bay is relatively very walkable in nature.

The bad: However…..the fact that they tell people with breathing issues not to use this station, is problem enough. It was bad enough that I, someone WITHOUT known breathing issues, almost fainted from a lone HSP46 locomotive pulling in from Worcester. This enough is a major strike against an otherwise perfect station. If the MBTA electrified their Commuter Rail lines (or at least, used dual-mode locomotives that switch to diesel outside here), then the pollution wouldn’t be as big an issue. But, until then, don’t come here if you have respiratory issues.

Nearby points of interest: Back Bay, the neighborhood! You have Hynes, which hosts conventions like Anime Boston. Copley Place and the Prudential Center are also nearby, if you’re rich enough to afford anything from either. There’s also the Orange Line to points north and south from here, too.

Transit connections:
Amtrak (Northeast Regional, Acela, Lake Shore Limited)
Commuter Rail (Franklin, Foxboro, Needham, Providence, Stoughton, Worcester)
Orange Line
MBTA bus (10, 39)
Logan Express
Green Line (at Copley and Prudential)

Overall, if you forget the Commuter Rail platforms exist, Back Bay would quite truthfully be a 9 or 10. However, the fact that the air quality is bad enough to where Amtrak removed staff from here for health reasons is a big yikes. Yes, it’s improved, but the train platforms are in serious need of ventilation. And until either that happens or the Lake Shore Limited and the Commuter Rail get dual-mode locomotives, I can’t put this station too high up. The Orange Line platforms are leagues better, though. And yet, despite the major health risk, it still has over 15600 Orange Line passengers as of 2019, 8100 Commuter Rail passengers (being #3!), and just under 2000 Amtrak passengers a day in 2019.

Rating: 5/10


Author: chelsea

i own this site and write.