Beginner's Guide to the Commuter Rail
Whether you’re trying to plan your commute to work or you just want to get out of the city for a bit, the Commuter Rail offers easy connections to and from Boston and the surrounding communities.
During your trip, don’t hesitate to ask Commuter Rail conductors or MBTA staff for assistance.
Getting to Know the Commuter Rail
Wherever you’re trying to go in eastern Massachusetts, the Commuter Rail can get you there. Here are some basics of the system to help you get the most out of your trip.
The MBTA Commuter Rail connects communities in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island to downtown Boston, with 137 stops throughout the region. The service area includes 12 routes that run 7 days a week, plus special service to Gillette Stadium from Boston and Providence for sporting events and concerts.
In Boston, all trains originate at North Station or South Station, where it’s easy to make connections to or from the MBTA subway and bus, Amtrak, and regional bus services. There are also 20 Commuter Rail stations in Boston with connections to subway and bus service.
Did you know? If you’re not sure which station your train leaves from in Boston, just remember that all routes that travel north of Boston leave from North Station, and routes that travel south of Boston leave from South Station. Trains to Worcester, located west of Boston, leave from South Station.
Each Commuter Rail route runs on a set timetable, with service beginning as early as 5 AM and ending as late as 1 AM at some stops. Service is more frequent during peak travel times, Monday – Friday, 7 – 9 AM and 4 – 7 PM.
Schedules are adjusted every 3 months to account for service demands. Timetables are always available on our website, so you can plan ahead for a trip you’re taking tomorrow or in a few weeks!
Commuter Rail schedules are available in several formats:
- On our website: Simply click on any line to see a timetable featuring real-time train locations.
- As PDFs: Select the line you need a schedule for, scroll to the bottom of the page, and click “Download PDF.”
- Paper printouts: These are usually available at train stations, but you can also request them from Customer Support. Braille and large-format schedules are available as well.
Please note that schedules list departure times, and trains are expected to leave at exactly that time. We recommend arriving at the station at least 10 minutes before your scheduled departure time.
On PDF and paper schedules:
- Flag stops are marked with a purple “f.” Trains will only stop here if people need to board or exit. To board, make sure you’re visible on the platform so the operator knows to stop there. To exit, notify the conductor of your intended destination when they check your ticket.
- Early departure stops are marked with a blue “L.” Trains may leave earlier than the listed departure time at these stops. Please plan to arrive ahead of schedule to make sure you don’t miss your train.
Did you know? “Inbound” and “Outbound” describe the direction of service. If you’re traveling toward Boston, you want to catch an “Inbound” train. If you’re traveling away from Boston, you want an “Outbound” train.
Choosing the Right Commuter Rail Pass
Commuter Rail stations are located within Zones, numbered 1A – 10, based on how far they are from Boston. Commuter Rail fares are determined by the Zones you are traveling to and from.
A 1-way ticket costs between $2.25 – $12.50. Round trip, 10-ride, and monthly passes are also available. Reduced fares are available for eligible riders.
Each Commuter Rail station is in a “Zone,” determined by its location. Stations in Boston and nearby communities are in Zone 1A, while stations at the end of each line are in Zones 8, 9, or 10.
Your fare will depend on how far you’re traveling, between $2.25 – $12.50 each way. There are no discounts for buying round trip tickets.
To see how much your trip will cost, just enter your origin and destination stations into our Commuter Rail fare finder.
In addition to 1-way and round trip tickets, 10-ride and monthly Commuter Rail passes are also available.
- 1-way and round trip tickets are ideal if you don’t use the Commuter Rail very often. We recommend buying them ahead of your trip in the mTicket app or from a fare vending machine.
- 10-ride passes are right for you if you’ll be riding the Commuter Rail occasionally over the course of a few weeks, and don’t want to buy new tickets every time you need them. They are available in the mTicket app, at fare vending machines, and at ticket windows.
- Monthly passes are ideal for daily commuters, and are valid for unlimited trips for 1 calendar month. Passes purchased at ticket windows or fare vending machines are also valid for travel on the subway and bus. Monthly passes in the mTicket app cost $10 less than those purchased at ticket windows and fare vending machines, but they are only valid for travel on the Commuter Rail.
Please note that all pass types are only valid within the Zones they are purchased for, which is printed on all paper tickets and shown in the mTicket app. You can travel outside of your ticket’s designated Zone by purchasing a new ticket, or paying a fee on board the train.
Did you know? When purchased at fare vending machines or ticket windows, 10-ride tickets are printed on one reusable ticket. The conductor will punch 10 holes in it for every trip you take. Treat this ticket like cash—it cannot be replaced or refunded if lost.
Commuter Rail passes for all Zones are available in the mTicket app. Purchase your tickets anytime before your trip, and then activate them when you’re ready to board. Please note that mTicket passes are not valid for travel on the bus or subway.
Fare Vending Machines
Commuter Rail passes for Zones 1A-8 are available at fare vending machines located in subway stations and some Commuter Rail stations—including North and South stations. Fare vending machines accept credit, debit, and cash payments.
You will need to know which Zone you are traveling to in order to purchase your ticket. At some stations, Zone maps are posted next to the machines. You can also reference this Commuter Rail Zone map.
Tickets and passes for all Commuter Rail Zones are available at ticket windows located in North, South, and Back Bay stations. This is especially helpful if you aren’t sure which Zone you’re traveling to—simply tell the agent where you’re headed and whether you’re going 1-way or round trip.
Retail Sales Locations
Tickets and passes for Commuter Rail Zones 1A-8 are available at retail stores throughout the region. Stores accept credit, debit, and cash payments.
Did you know? During Fare is Fair events, tickets are checked before boarding to reduce fare evasion and ensure customers are buying the right tickets for their trips. While these checks are done randomly, in-station signs will indicate if you need your ticket to enter the platforms.
On Board the Train
You can also buy your ticket from the conductor after you board. You can only pay in cash, and there may be an additional $3 fee if you board the train at a station where there’s a fare vending machine or a ticket window.
Please note that this is not always available, and conductors may check your ticket before you board. We recommend buying passes in advance whenever possible.
Navigating Commuter Rail Stations
If you’ve never taken a Commuter Rail trip before, you may be wondering what the stations are like. They’re a little different than subway stations, but they’re pretty simple once you get used to them.
Here are some common questions about catching a train on a Commuter Rail route.
Some, but not all, Commuter Rail stations have parking.
To find parking, visit our list of Commuter Rail stations. Any station marked with a “P” has a parking facility. At some stations, you can park for as little as $2 a day.
During the week, locations fill up quickly in the morning. Check @MBTA_Parking on Twitter for availability at some of the most popular lots and garages.
Some Commuter Rail stations, like Salem, only have 1 boarding platform. This makes it really easy to make sure you’re getting on the right train. A conductor will let you know which doors are open for boarding.
At other stations, such as Canton Junction, there may be a handful of platforms. They will be numbered or lettered, and your train’s platform number will be posted on digital signs several minutes before its arrival.
At large terminals, including North, South, and Back Bay stations, a departure board in the main terminal will indicate each train’s platform number. It may not be available until a few minutes before the train arrives, but once it’s posted, you will have time to make it to your train before it leaves.
Did you know?Trains that run on the same schedule don’t always leave from the same platform. For example, a 9 AM Framingham/Worcester Line train from South Station may board at platform 1 on Tuesday, but platform 4 on Wednesday.
Staff members may be available at other stations on a limited basis. If you need assistance, please call Customer Support at 617-222-3200.
If you need to report an emergency, please dial 911 or call the Transit Police at 617-222-1212.
On the Train
We hope your journey on the Commuter Rail is a comfortable one—we even offer free WiFi on some trains—but during rush hour and big events, trains can get crowded. We ask customers to follow a few rules to ensure the comfort and safety of everyone on board.
Free WiFi is available on some Commuter Rail trains—just look for the MBTA WiFi logo in WiFi-enabled cars. (Hint: On the outside, the cars have large orange and yellow graphics that say “WiFi.”)
During peak travel hours (M – F, 7 – 9 AM and 4 – 7 PM), the car closest to the engine is a designated Quiet Car.
We ask customers seated there to:
- Avoid loud conversations with fellow passengers
- Refrain from talking on their phones
- Use headphones to listen to music or watch videos
Customers who make too much noise may be asked to move to another car.
Quiet Car service may not always be available, especially if trains are overcrowded or if there are severe delays. All train announcements are still made in the Quiet Car.
While you may be tempted to enjoy an adult beverage on your way to a Patriots game, alcohol is not permitted on the Commuter Rail.
Non-alcoholic drinks are always allowed.
Bicycles are allowed on the Commuter Rail during off-peak travel times. We even have cars with bike storage on the Newburyport/Rockport Line and summer CapeFLYER service.
Bikes are not allowed on trains during peak travel times (M – F, 7 – 9 AM and 4 – 7 PM).
Did you know? Many of the popular bike trails in Massachusetts are built along old railroad rights of way. The Commuter Rail often runs right alongside or near them, making for easy connections to a weekend trail ride.
There are restrooms on Commuter Rail trains, and they are accessible to people with disabilities. They are located at the ends of some cars.
Please note that on some trips, the car with a restroom may be closed, but you can ask the conductor for access.
The Commuter Rail is a great way to take a day trip to some of the most beautiful parts of New England—without worrying about traffic or parking.
Here are some of the most popular destinations for day trips on the Commuter Rail. Please note that some of these routes are seasonal.
You can take the Commuter Rail into Boston anytime for sporting events, festivals, or just for a getaway!
Skip the hassle of traffic and parking in the city by taking the Commuter Rail to:
- Hockey or basketball games and concerts at TD Garden, just above North Station (Fitchburg, Haverhill, Lowell, and Newburyport/Rockport lines)
- Dining and shopping on Newbury and Boylston streets, a short walk from Back Bay Station (Framingham/Worcester, Franklin, Needham, and Providence/Stoughton lines)
- A nature walk through Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, within walking distance of Forest Hills Station (Needham Line)
- A Red Sox game or concert at Fenway Park near Yawkey Station (Framingham/Worcester Line)
- Dining, art installations, and food trucks along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, just across the street from South Station (Framingham/Worcester, Needham, Franklin, Providence/Stoughton, Fairmount, Greenbush, Middleborough/Lakeville, and Kingston/Plymouth lines)
Providence is just an hour from Boston on the Commuter Rail, and is a popular destination all year. The train station is just steps from the State House, dining, shopping, and the award-winning WaterFire installation.
At Providence Station, customers can easily connect to Amtrak and local bus service. Additionally, the Commuter Rail also stops at TF Green Airport in Rhode Island.
Salem, Massachusetts, is about 30 minutes from North Station on the Newburyport/Rockport Line.
The downtown area is within walking distance of Salem Station and features a number of museums, restaurants, and cafes.
While it’s a popular destination all year, extra trains are put into service in October to accommodate increased demand during Haunted Happenings.
Did you know? During the summer, the Newburyport/Rockport Line is an easy way to get to some of the North Shore’s most popular beaches. The best part? You won’t even have to pay for beach parking!
The Commuter Rail is a great way to avoid the hassle of traffic and parking at Gillette Stadium. And, by train, Foxboro is just an hour from Boston and Providence.
Trains are scheduled in advance for Patriots games, some soccer games, and some concerts and special events. Regular Commuter Rail tickets and passes are not valid for travel on this route.
Through the winter, special Commuter Rail trains run 3 days a week on the Fitchburg Line to Wachusett Mountain. Trains are equipped with ski storage, and Wachusett Mountain provides free shuttle service to Commuter Rail riders from Wachusett Station.
Did you know? During the summer and fall, try taking the Commuter Rail to one of the many local farm stands and pick-your-own orchards throughout eastern Massachusetts.
Take the Commuter Rail to Cape Cod for:
- Easy access to bike paths
- Time on the beach
- Shopping and dining on the water
- Ferry connections to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard
Planning an Accessible Trip
Many Commuter Rail stations are accessible to people with disabilities, and we offer trip planning assistance to help you get the most out of your journey on the MBTA.
If you are a senior or person with a disability, you may be eligible for reduced fares.
Most, but not all, Commuter Rail stations are accessible to people with disabilities. There may be some barriers to access at stations with low-level platforms.
You can check station accessibility before your trip by visiting our list of Commuter Rail stations. Stations marked with the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA or "wheelchair symbol") are accessible to people with disabilities.
Yes. People with disabilities and seniors are eligible to ride the Commuter Rail for half the price of a standard 1-way fare. 1-way, round trip, and 10-trip tickets are available. There are no reduced fares for monthly Commuter Rail passes.
If you have a Transportation Access Pass (TAP) or a Senior CharlieCard, tickets are available at fare vending machines, ticket windows, and retail sales locations. You can also use mTicket if you have registered your reduced fare card in the app—go to Account Details and then Reduced Fares.
Seniors can also purchase tickets on board the train. Just show the conductor your Senior CharlieCard or a state-issued ID for proof of age.
People who are blind or have low vision ride all MBTA services for free with a Blind Access Card.