I’ve gotten a few social media comments on my critical look at Canton Center telling me that Canton Junction is the worse of the two. I guess the answer to which one is worse comes down to one question: do you prefer a tiny little nothing station, or do you prefer a giant post-apocalyptic steampunk mess of rotting footbridges? Hmm…
So…layout. They don’t call it a junction for nothing, as this is where the Stoughton Line splits off from the Providence Line. Both sets of track get their own platforms, and the only way to connect them on the high-speed Northeast Corridor is, yes, footbridges. Lots and lots of footbridges.
Canton Junction is the definition of a “screw you” station. If the train is there and you’re just making your way up the steps, you’re not gonna make it. You gotta give yourself two minutes just to get over the bridge and to the right track, and if you require the ramps, triple or even quadruple that amount. It’s a long climb.
Despite the maze-like tangle of footbridges, Canton Junction makes it surprisingly easy to find your track. Each one gets a letter, and there are a ton of signs everywhere explaining which train numbers stop at each track and where they stop. So let’s see what the sign says at, I dunno, Platform A: “Board here for outbound Attleboro Line traiins 801 and 829.” Okay…the signs are a bit out of date and they have their fair share of typos, but it’s a good idea! Just…please upgrade them.
So the only platform that gets weekend service is…pretty bad. It’s super drab (although the looming footbridges don’t help with that), and a lot of the wastebaskets look like they’re on their last legs. The inbound side has a bike rack on it, but it’s so broken that no one in their right mind would ever want to park their bike there. Even with the mini-high platforms, only the outbound side gets a bench. Because that makes sense!
Outbound Stoughton trains share a bit of the platform with inbound Providence trains, but the Stoughton one curves away with the tracks. I get that there are fewer amenities on this one because Stoughton is so close, but the big problem here is that the mini-high platform is a longgggg walk away (and that actually matters, since off-peak trains only drop off there). Also, it’s when you’re on that mini-high that you realize how close Canton Center is – it’s very clearly visible a short way down the tracks.
The inbound Stoughton platform come to the rescue, so to speak, but it’s still not great. For example, the footbridge seems like it could easily drop people off right at the mini-high, but instead, it leads to a sidewalk at street level. And because the low-level platform is on a slight embankment, you have to go up another staircase or twisty ramp to get to it, and then another for the mini-high! But because this platform is staggered north from the others, the mini-high is actually in a normal place. Still no bench on it, though.
The inbound Stoughton platform is mostly bare, but that’s because it’s home to the station’s building, and underneath that is where most of the amenities are. Not only does it have benches, wastebaskets, and bike racks that are actually in decent condition, but it’s all sheltered under the building’s awning. But…what’s up with that fence separating this seating from the platform itself?
The building is home to a cafe, Copper City Espresso, and it is just fantastic. Of course, coffee and snacks can be bought here, but the building also functions as a waiting room and as a love letter to the railroad. Many of the original labels on the rooms are still there, and the walls are decorated with cool posters like an 1891 map of Massachusetts and a diagram showing the evolution of the American flag.
There are a bunch of benches in here where passengers are free to wait for their trains. The cafe offers free wifi, and the bathrooms in the back are near-spotless. Funnily enough, the MBTA website says that “Fares cannot be purchased at Canton Junction”, yet it goes on to list Copper City Espresso as a place where you can buy tickets – needless to say, tickets can indeed be purchased at Canton Junction. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the cafe wants to expand its opening times to weekends (outside it even says “Sat/Sun closed (for now)”), they’re currently only open during the morning rush, like almost every other MBTA building.
Canton Junction offers a ridiculous amount of parking: 762 spaces, and that’s just the amount provided by the MBTA. An unofficial dodgy-looking lot provides some additional parking. While the MBTA charges the classic $4 on weekdays, $2 on weekends, the sketchy lot is just $3 per day, plus the monthly pass is $10 cheaper. Be aware that the lots can be up to a quarter mile away from the station, adding further time to the “going up and over the footbridge” time that you need to allot as well.
Station: Canton Junction
Ridership: Canton Junction’s ridership is very concentrated in the morning peak, with 1,025 out of its daily 1,099 riders boarding at that time. I guess that explains why the place was kinda dead when I was here in the midmorning.
Pros: Everything about the building! It’s one of the best ones I’ve been in, and I’m so happy I was able to come here before noon to go inside. A copious amount of car parking is provided, so much that from what I can tell, it doesn’t fill up.
Cons: The footbridges are the most glaring flaw here. It takes forever to climb them, and they’re in pretty bad shape. Combine that with the excessive amount of parking sprawl, some of which could be replaced with transit-oriented apartments and businesses, and you’ve gotta give yourself a lot of time to get to the train here. The platforms themselves are also terrible, except maybe the inbound Stoughton one, but even then, it has that fence separating the shelter from the platform.
Nearby and Noteworthy: Aside from a pizza joint across the street from the station, Canton Junction doesn’t have a ton to offer…except for the way-cooler-than-I-realized Canton Viaduct, which the Providence Line goes over just south of the station. It was the longest and tallest railroad viaduct in the world when it was built in 1835, and it’s now the last surviving viaduct of its kind. It also just looks awesome, and I’ll bet it offers great photo ops.
Final Verdict: 4/10
Yes, Canton Junction is still a bad station, but I think it’s better than Canton Center for one reason: that cafe. Not only does it offer refreshments, wifi, and a place to wait for morning commuters, but because the station ridership is so peaky, it doesn’t even matter too much that it closes outside of the morning rush. Of course, practically everything else about Canton Junction is awful, but the building knocks it up a few points for me.
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