Worcester’s Heart to Hub train chugging along, but is it meeting expectations?

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This article was originally published in the July 10, 2016 edition of the Sun.

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In the nearly 50 days since the launch of the Heart to Hub non-stop train service from Worcester to Boston. MBTA officials says the feedback so far is positive, but there is a discrepancy between official ridership numbers and those counted by the Sun and estimates made by riders.

The service began on May 23.

Union Station

Sun Staff / Worcester Sun

Heart to Hub is on track from Union Station, but is it meeting its goals?

The 552 train is scheduled to leave Union Station at 8:05 a.m. and make three stops in Boston — Yawkey, Back Bay and South Station — arriving at the last stop at 9:07 a.m. and shaving an estimated 30 minutes off the commuting time.

The 551 outbound train is scheduled to depart South Station at 7:35 p.m. and arrive in Worcester at 8:40 p.m.

The inbound Heart to Hub train averaged 160 passengers each weekday as of Friday, July 1, according to MBTA director of communications Joe Pesaturo.

The evening Heart to Hub train to Worcester is averaging around 70 passengers, Pesaturo said.

The Sun counted 121 passengers from Worcester to Boston on June 23 and roughly 75 from Boston to Worcester on June 28.

In an email to the Sun on July 6, Pesaturo said, “The feedback from those who are taking the train has been very positive. People are appreciating the non-stop service between Worcester and Boston.”

An MBTA employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the passenger numbers leaving Worcester for Boston were typically around 75, and that the 121 passengers counted riding on June 23 was an “anomaly.”

Deb Simoncini of Worcester, a mother of three, said that with her kids out of school, the non-stop train offers them a quick and affordable way to get into Boston.

“A car full of kids in traffic on the Mass Pike isn’t the easiest thing to handle. Sometimes it takes over an hour. The kids love the train. [The train] experience alone is good for them. And they get to see Boston and tour Fenway [Park]. It’s a no-brainer,” Simoncini said.

David Perry, an environmental engineer from Ashland, and author of “Dave’s Framingham-Worcester Commuter Rail Blog,” rode the inaugural run between Worcester and Boston, and said that in the weeks since, it’s been a “mixed-bag” of responses from commuters regarding the non-stop train.

In a phone interview with the Sun on July 6, Perry said, “There’s some people who like it and benefit from it. But at the same time, that’s a small minority of the people.”

“The timing isn’t great. It gets into Boston after 9 a.m. Once you’re in your office, it’s around 9:30 a.m. It’s not great in the morning and in the evening it’s even worse. For some people it works if you want to get dinner or drink after work, but that evening one is really not a good time,” Perry said.

Union Station

Wikimedia Commons

Union Station

Brianne Tangney of Worcester, who was on the non-stop train for the first time on her way into work at Blue Cross Blue Shield near Back Bay station, agrees that earlier times would work better for her. She said that the inbound train gets her into work too late, and that “the current option wouldn’t get me into work until after 9 a.m.”

She added, “I was really excited to hear about the non-stop when it was first announced, but then the times were a bit disappointing. So yes, more frequent non-stop trains would definitely benefit my commute — especially one that departs Worcester a bit earlier in the morning.”

According to Perry, who rides the Framingham-Worcester line every weekday, the passenger numbers he’s heard from his sources on that line are drastically less than that reported by the MBTA.

Perry said, “I’m hearing closer to 40 people going from Boston to Worcester in the evening. And 80 to 100 people leaving Worcester in the morning. It makes me scratch my head.”

Perry did say, however, that the morning non-stop train was put in the right place in the schedule. He argues that if it were put at a peak commute time, it would create more of a delay for people from Grafton to Newton heading into Boston as they would have to wait for the tracks to clear from the non-stop train.

According to Pesaturo, commuter rail staff are evaluating the performance of the system-wide schedule changes that were implemented May 23, including the Heart to Hub trains, and the potential for a small adjustment to the schedule is there.

Pesaturo said, “Staff is evaluating ridership trends, as well as on-time performance. If any changes to the schedule are made, it would happen in the fall.”

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