Oldest active female train operator in the world spreads love, empathy, and a fondness for Aquarium Station - The Boston Globe (2024)

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Antenucci — who will be 82 in July — has become a local celebrity, with a devoted group of regulars who run to the front of her train at each stop to say “hi” and express their appreciation. Now, Antenucci, who works the 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift, has a new accolade that’s earned her recognition far beyond the Wonderland-Bowdoin route. Since February 2024, she is a certified Guinness World Record holder for being the oldest active female train operator.

Oldest active female train operator in the world spreads love, empathy, and a fondness for Aquarium Station - The Boston Globe (1)

Most passengers seemed unfazed when Antenucci’s soft, Boston-tinged voice replaced the automated one that usually announces each stop, but a few passengers smiled and looked around to see who else enjoyed the break in monotony.

“It makes a huge difference to have someone who’s friendly,” said Madeleine Steczynski, an East Boston resident and founder of the youth cultural organization Zumix. She got off at Aquarium Station (Antenucci let passengers know over the intercom that this is her “favorite station” and directed visiting tourists which escalator to take to be the closest to the New England Aquarium’s entrance) and made sure to stop by the driver’s window on her way out to wave goodbye. A woman sporting a Boston baseball cap followed, running toward the station exit but briefly turning toward Antenucci to yell, “I love you.” “I love you!” Antenucci said back. “You’re the best!” the woman responded before disappearing up the stairs.

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Even those who aren’t on an “I love you” basis with Antenucci know that they have a special driver.

Audrey Inkiarto, who doesn’t know Antenucci’s name but recognizes her train by her bilingual greetings on the intercom, said that she always has a “pleasant ride.”

“It’s a fun train when she’s driving it,” she added. “The simple good morning, it makes my day better.”

Phillip Eng, the MBTA’s general manager and CEO, said in a statement that he was “very pleased to see Helen’s many years of public service getting the attention it deserves.” He added, “As someone who has had the pleasure of commuting on her train, I must recognize her customer-focused service, warm public announcements, and genuine well wishes that brighten the commutes of all Blue Line riders.” Jim Evers, president of Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589 — which represents MBTA workers — had similar sentiments: “Helen has brought so much joy to passengers and her colleagues over the years, and it is wonderful to see her recognized by Guinness World Records for her legacy of service,” he said in a statement.

Oldest active female train operator in the world spreads love, empathy, and a fondness for Aquarium Station - The Boston Globe (2)

Antenucci, a lifelong East Boston resident, began working as a train operator in 1995, when she was 53 years old. In 2019, a Boston Globe reporter interviewed her as she evacuated her East Boston home because of a nearby fire. She noted that she had packed her MBTA uniform. “I have the first train out tomorrow,” she told the reporter. “What am I going to do, tell them ‘No, I can’t come in?’” Currently, Antenucci lives with one of her five daughters (she is a grandmother of eight) and three Shih Tzus.

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Before joining the MBTA, she worked as a hairdresser (she still has her license), in accounts receivable for a California company, and in customer service. She loves people, she said, so it was no coincidence that all of her jobs have involved interacting with the public.

Of course, those interactions can be positive and negative. And, though Antenucci was only met with well-wishers on Thursday, she said that she’s faced her fair share of angry passengers, especially during train delays. She chooses to respond with kindness.

“I tell them, ‘Have a good day,’ and that often doesn’t go very well,” Antenucci says, with a laugh. “But I can understand it. You want to get to work on time, you don’t want to be sitting on a train for a half hour, [or] waiting on the platform. I tell them, I couldn’t do what they did. They have my utmost respect.”

She calls her passengers her “heroes,” noting that, without them, she wouldn’t have a job.

“I love what I do,” she added. “I wake up every morning, and I do my happy dance.”

Antenucci’s outlook transcends the boundaries of the train car. One passenger told her she had started logging off Facebook each day with a post asking her followers to “be kind to one another” — a direct result of Antenucci’s train-wide messages. Another driver started using his intercom to tell passengers to “have a wonderful day” after hearing how Antenucci did the same.

In the almost 30 years that Antenucci has worked for the MBTA, trains have shifted from four cars to six and the process of driving has become progressively more automated. Dennis Moody, senior Blue Line subway car technician and a close co-worker of Antenucci’s, said that the changes to driving were akin to “going from Fred Flintstone to George Jetson overnight.” Antenucci, he said, “gravitated to the change.”

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While she noted that the driving process has shifted over the years, Antenucci said that the biggest change for her has been how many new people from different cultures now flood the train. “There’s so many different stories from people,” she said, “and I love that.”

Currently, she has no plans to retire, though she would love to find a way to work directly with children in the future, an aspiration she developed after seeing how many young kids love learning about her job driving the train. And she’s keeping herself busy by crossing items off her bucket list: to celebrate her last birthday, she jumped out of a plane.

“It was scary and amazing,” she said. “And I told them, ‘If everything goes well, I’ll be at work the next day.’”

Oldest active female train operator in the world spreads love, empathy, and a fondness for Aquarium Station - The Boston Globe (3)

Madison Hahamy can be reached at madison.hahamy@globe.com. Follow her @MHahamy.

Oldest active female train operator in the world spreads love, empathy, and a fondness for Aquarium Station - The Boston Globe (2024)

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