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Boston-area commuter rail trips 'effectively free' during month-long Orange Line shutdown

Commuters prepare to board an MBTA Commuter Rail train as it arrives at Back Bay Station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Commuters prepare to board an MBTA Commuter Rail train as it arrives at Back Bay Station. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

MBTA commuter rail trips throughout Boston — and as far out as Lynn, Reading and Weymouth — are about to essentially become free for a month, thanks to the upcoming 30-day closure of the entire Orange Line for long-deferred repairs.

As an alternative during the disruptive shutdown, T officials announced last week that they will allow riders to "pay" fare for trips on all commuter rail lines within Zones 1A, 1, and 2 simply by showing their CharlieCard or CharlieTicket.

But that doesn't mean riders actually have to pay.

In an email, an MBTA spokesperson confirmed to WBUR that commuter rail staff won't be charging cards or tickets. In other words, riders won't have to tap their pass on a reader like they need to do on subways and buses. (With the exception of the Fairmount Line, commuter rail stations do not have CharlieCard validator machines, and the T's plan to install fare gates at commuter rail stations is still in the works.)

"You just have to show it," Boston Mayor Michelle Wu wrote on Twitter this week, noting that the CharlieCard policy means the commuter rail "will be effectively free" during the Aug. 19-through-Sept. 18 shutdown — at least within those three zones.

Riders could theoretically use an old CharlieCard or CharlieTicket with zero balance — or pick up a free, blank CharlieCard from one of the dozens of local MBTA stations and other locations that offer them.

"The CharlieCards won’t be charged & don’t even need to be loaded with funds," Wu — a vocal proponent of expanding fare-free transit — wrote on Wednesday.

The policy covers all commuter rail trips that start within Zones 1A, 1 and 2 — which covers all of Boston's commuter rail stops. Zone 2 extends out into nearby suburbs, including stops in Lynn, Reading, Woburn, Waltham, Newton, Needham, Dedham, Braintree and Weymouth.

T officials have been "strongly" encouraging riders to consider the commuter rail as an alternative during the Orange Line shutdown and plan to increase service on lines that run adjacent to the Orange Line.

The agency also plans to deploy free shuttle buses along "various parts" of the Orange Line, though specific plans have yet to be released.

The Orange Line closure also coincides with a four-week closure of part of the Green Line between Government Center and Union Square. T officials said the additional diversion is necessary to allow for both the demolition of the Government Center Garage and work needed for the opening of the longer Green Line Extension branch into Medford in late November.

Wu has predicted that the two closures will be "chaos" for riders, many of whom have vented about the unprecedented disruption. But the mayor has also expressed hope that it will be worth it in the long run.

"I’m hopeful that doing this work thoroughly, doing it in one stretch and getting it done now, will mean that we are saving years of disruptions in the long run," she said last week.

Related:

Nik DeCosta-Klipa Twitter Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.

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