Charlie’s Mailbag 1/31- smelly stations and Red Line woes

From the mailbag at

Amanda ponders the fumes at Back Bay Station

Hi there,

Was just checking out your blog — lots of great stuff — and was curious if there’s ever been any discussion about the noxious fumes at Back Bay station in the commuter rail passenger waiting area (adjacent to the customer service windows for commuter rail and Amtrak)? When I’ve stood in line to purchase a ticket, I have been stunned by the smell and the level of pollution, presumably coming up from the tracks below. Thankfully the employees don’t have to breath this crap all day. But the passengers do. Has anyone ever tried to do anything about this? Seems like it could be a violation of federal or state indoor air quality or something…I doubt the fumes are harmless…

Amanda from Malden

Hi Amanda and welcome to the blog.

I have to agree it is really getting bad at Back Bay in recent months. They have massive exhaust fans in the tunnel but they have not been doing the job lately. While Amtrak is electrified the T’s commuter rail locomotives are not and their engines generate exhaust emissions and they are enhanced being in a tunnel. Electrifying the Commuter Rail is not a viable option for the T at this time because of the cost but hopefully they will work on the exhaust system.

While on the subject of “smelly stations” there are 2 subway stations downtown that are very funky. Aquarium has smelled like a fish tank for the last 6 months and now the same smell is at the North Station “superstation”. I have no idea what it causing it but it is a very noticeable dank smell. I can’t be the only person who has noticed this.

Paul is new to the Red Line and wonders about poor service

Hi, As a new daily rider on the Red Line from Braintree to Park St, I am blown away by the poor ride quality and service. I know the Red Line “is what it is” and all, but is there any information out there on why the Red Line Trains seem to be brought out of service so often, why they stop, start so often between stations and why the ride is so jarring? Just curious. Are the rails and trains obsolete or something?


Paul believe it or not it is actually better on the Braintree line as some speed restrictions have been lifted. However one major problem still exists and that is the set of switches between JFK and Andrew where the Red Line splits. The T in November set aside $19.2 million to address the issue. The Globe quoted T General Manager Daniel A. Grabauskas on November 21st, 2006

Delays on the subway system, especially on the Red Line and a problematic area of aging switches in South Boston, “are a direct result of the age of the infrastructure,” he said.

“This is almost $20 million to fix this problem.”

So Paul the T is addressing the issue but it is going to take time. Expect to see a lot of bus shuttles on weekends when they start working on the switches.



Filed under Back Bay, Commuter Rail, MBTA, North Station, Red Line

6 responses to “Charlie’s Mailbag 1/31- smelly stations and Red Line woes

  1. Rob

    I use both aquarium and north station every day and have never smelled any fish smell. The smell at back bay on the other hand is oppressive

  2. Anonymous

    Thanks for the feedback on Back Bay. I figured it was Amtrak so good to know that’s not the case… hopefully the MBTA will address it at some point. I’m really surprised the city or state haven’t given them flak for this.

    And regarding the smell at North Station — for awhile now, there’s definitely been a very foul odor, akin to rotten eggs, at the northernmost portion of the Orange Line platform


  3. Anonymous

    Yeah, Amtrak is all-electric these days, since they no longer run diesel trains from Boston to New York via Hartford.

    Except, of course, for the Lake Shore Limited to Albany and Chicago, which is one diesel round trip per day.

  4. Is it possible that the smell at Back Bay is exhaust from vehicles on the Mass. Pike?

  5. John

    Ron Newman said…
    Is it possible that the smell at Back Bay is exhaust from vehicles on the Mass. Pike?

    Not likely

    The T’s locomotives have a distinct odor about them

  6. Anonymous

    Modern cars have excellent pollution control systems that virtually eliminate smelly fumes, except right after a cold start when the catalytic converter isn’t warmed up yet.

    Diesel locomotives have no pollution control. Supposedly the locomotive industry is working to change this, eventually.

    (It doesn’t help that the T runs the engines all night in the yard. What do they care — it’s not their money they’re spending on fuel.)

    On the plus side, the new diesel buses seem pretty clean, and the CNG ones produce virtually no pollution except carbon dioxide.

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