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Green Line (MBTA)

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A Boston College-bound (B line) Type 8 (Breda) Green Line car at Boston University. The red triangle reflected in the window of the car is the electric Citgo sign, a Boston landmark.

The Green Line is one of the four MBTA subway lines in the Boston, Massachusetts metro area. It is the oldest of Boston's metro systems, beginning as a network of independently operated horsecar lines constructed during the 1850s. It runs in part over the Tremont Street Subway, the oldest subway tunnel in North America, which opened in stages between September 1, 1897 and September 3, 1898. The elevated line between the Canal Street portal at North Station and Lechmere Square was opened June 1, 1912; as of 2005 it is now closed and is being demolished, the demolished portions to be replaced with a tunnel through the North Station parking garage with a new portal being constructed west of the Fleet Center. The Boylston Street subway opened from Charles and Boylston Streets to a portal at Kenmore St. at Governor's Square on October 3, 1914. The Kenmore St. portal was replaced by a new, four-track underground Kenmore Station on October 23, 1932. The Huntington Ave. subway opened February 16, 1941, allowing the closure of the portal at Charles and Boylston. Finally, the Highland Branch of the Boston and Albany railroad was converted to high-speed trolley service on July 4, 1959.

One segment of the original Tremont Street Subway has remained abandoned since April 6, 1962, between Boylston Station and the Pleasant Street Incline in what is now the Theatre District. It has been proposed to reopen part of this tunnel for use by the Silver Line.

The modern-day Green Line has its northern terminus at Lechmere Station in Cambridge. From here it runs east and then south through Boston, diverging once west of Copley Square, and then into three separate branches at Kenmore Square. The Copley branch is the E Line, which presently terminates at the Heath Street station. The Kenmore branches are the B Line, terminating at the Boston College station, the C Line, terminating at the Cleveland Circle station in Brookline, and the D Line, terminating at the Riverside station in Newton.

A fifth line branched off the Commonwealth Ave. line at Packard's Corner running via Union Square Allston, Brighton Center, and Oak Square, to Watertown Square. This service was suspended on June 21, 1969 due to a streetcar shortage, and was never resumed. (Although the route-letter scheme had been introduced two years prior to its closure, the "A" designation was never signed on streetcars operating to Watertown. It was, however, included in the destination signs on the Boeing-Vertol LRVs ordered in the mid-1970s, when reopening the Watertown service was still under consideration.) The A line tracks remained in non-revenue service to access maintenance facilities at Watertown until 1994.

Table of contents

Rolling stock and accessibility

Grade-separated sections of the Green Line, including closed sections

Unlike the Red Line, Blue Line and Orange Line, all of which run urban heavy rail cars and use stations with elevated platforms (so that the car is level with the platform and thus the cars are easily handicap-accessible), the Green Line is a trolley/streetcar line and has used a variety of trolley cars and light rail vehicles throughout its history.

For many years, the line used the PCC streetcars developed during the Depression. These were finally phased out in favor of new light rail cars supplied by Boeing-Vertol in the mid-1970s. A second generation of LRVs was ordered from the Japanese firm, Kinki Sharyo. These later Kinki-Sharyo cars now make up the bulk of the Green Line's rolling stock.

(One of the earliest surviving pre-PCC cars can still be seen parked on a sidetrack at the Boylston station. Several of the surviving PCC cars are now run on the Ashmont-Mattapan portion of the Red Line, while others are now used in the San Francisco, California Muni system on their F Market line historic street railway.)

Originally, none of the Green Line stations included elevated platforms and the passengers had to step up into the vehicles, limiting accessibility for the handicapped. To address this, two changes have been made:

  • Elevated platforms at some stops, and
  • An attempt to phase-in low-floor streetcars that would be accessible from street level (without the use of elevated station platforms)

47 low-floor cars have been purchased from the Italian vendor AnsaldoBreda. Unfortunately, these have proven to be problematic and difficult to maintain. Breda cars have failed three times as often as normal subway cars. The MBTA was forced to spend an additional US$9.5 million to modify tracks to prevent the derailings that were proving common with the Breda cars (and echoing early problems with the Boeing stock).

In December 2004, the MBTA finally canceled the orders for the remaining 53 cars still to be delivered as part of the Breda contract, ending the 9-year, quarter-billion-dollar deal with Breda. The 47 Breda cars delivered in the 100-car deal have already cost the MBTA US$140 million. Now, the MBTA is considering spending the US$85 million withheld from Breda on another set of cars manufactured by Kinki-Sharyo. The MBTA has been criticized for its failure to assess Breda's reliability before and during the deal.

(See References section for Tony Flint's Globe article on the cancellation of the Breda deal.)


Flying junction on the Tremont Street Subway approaching the Pleasant Street Incline
Map of the planned West End Street Railway network from 1885. These existing routes were officially merged in 1887.

Today's Green Line was created by the Massachusetts legislature, but under private ownership, as the West End Street Railway in 1887. This system of horse-drawn streetcars was the merger of numerous independently operated railways built from the 1850s onward. At the time of the merger, West End operated 1,480 cars with a team of 7,816 horses.[1] The Allston-Brighton line (which partly followed today's C branch, diverging north from Washington Square along Washington Street to Oak Square) was the first section to be converted to electric traction in 1888, using modified existing horsecars outfitted with Frank J. Sprague's equipment first demonstrated in Richmond, Virginia. This initial line used overhead trolley wires for most of its length, but also third rail equipment supplied by the Bentley-Knight Electric Railway Company in sections where residents initially objected to overhead lines. The Bentley-Knight approach was abandoned soon after several horses were electrocuted due to inadequate insulation.[2]. By 1889, the Sprague equipment was dropped in favor of Thomson-Houston (now General Electric) motors and generators, with which the rest of the system was converted.

In 1897, the West End Street Railway facilities were handed over to the Boston Elevated Railway in the form of a 24 year lease, and the companies were ultimately combined. BERy, now under state ownership, is today's MBTA.

In addition to the current lines, many other streetcar lines connected to the system. The following remained in 1961:

  • A branch, splitting from the B branch at Packard's Corner and heading along Brighton Avenue, Cambridge Street, Washington Street, Tremont Street, Park Street and Galen Street to Watertown. MBTA bus route 57 [3] is its replacement.
  • E branch continuing beyond its current end, along South Huntington Avenue, Centre Street and South Street, to Forest Hills.
  • Leaving the tunnel onto Tremont Street (from the split at Boylston), and ending at Lenox Street.
  • Coming off the Haymarket Incline onto a lower level at North Station and running under the Charlestown Elevated, along Causeway Street, the Charlestown Bridge, around City Square to Main Street, around Sullivan Square, with a connection there to the Elevated, as well as track connections to the Boston and Maine and Boston and Albany Railroads, and then along Alford Street to Everett Shops (where there were connections once again to the B&A).

From 1901, the Washington Street Elevated and Charlestown Elevated (later part of the Orange Line) shared the Green Line tunnel, with third rails and raised station platforms added to accommodate them on half the tracks. It was restored to full streetcar operation at the end of 1908 when the Washington Street tunnel was completed.

Station listing

Station Location Time to Park Street Opened Transfers and notes
Lechmere Cambridge Street, Cambridge 13 minutes
(sign said 12)
June 1, 1912
Science Park Charles River Dam Bridge, Boston, serving the Museum of Science 8 minutes August 20, 1955
North Station Canal Street, Boston June 28, 2004 Orange Line and MBTA Commuter Rail north side lines
Surface station opened September 3, 1898 and closed March 27, 1997
Elevated station opened June 1, 1912 and closed June 24, 2004
Haymarket Congress and New Sudbury Streets, Boston May 10, 1971 Orange Line
Original station opened September 3, 1898
Adams Square September 3, 1898 Closed October 27, 1963
Government Center Tremont, Court and Cambridge Streets, Boston, serving Boston City Hall 2 minutes September 3, 1898 Blue Line
Formerly Scollay Square until October 27, 1963
Park Street Tremont, Park and Winter Streets, Boston, at the Boston Common 0 minutes September 1, 1897 Red Line, Orange Line and Silver Line
Boylston Tremont and Boylston Streets, Boston 1 minute September 1, 1897 Silver Line
Tracks used to split at Boylston to the Pleasant Street Incline
Arlington Boylston and Arlington Streets, Boston 3 minutes November 13, 1921
Copley Copley Square, Boston 4 minutes October 3, 1914 West of Copley, the E branch diverges
Hynes Convention Center/ICA Massachusetts Avenue and Newbury Street, Boston October 3, 1914 Formerly Massachusetts until February 17, 1965, then Auditorium until March 27, 1990
Kenmore Kenmore Square, Boston, serving Fenway Park 11 minutes October 23, 1932 West of Kenmore, the line divides into the individual B, C, and D branches

As of February, 2005, the portion of the Green Line between North Station and Lechmere Stations remains closed. Replacement service using diesel buses is provided between Government Center and Lechmere (and the three intervening stops including the stations that remain in service). Because traffic frequently delays these buses, taking the Red Line to Kendall Square may be a better alternative. The reconstruction of this portion of the Green Line began in April, 2004 and is forecast to be completed sometime in the late spring of 2005.

B branch

The "Boston College" line is the first of the three lines that separate west of Kenmore. It travels along the surface of Commonwealth Avenue. The B Line stations are primarily named for the cross-streets of Commonwealth Avenue.

Four stops were closed temporarily for 6–8 months starting April 20, 2005 as part of a stop elimination pilot program to speed up service (which was slower than the parallel bus service); these were all close to other stops. Almost 73% of the 1142 riders surveyed wanted those four stops gone.

As of May 2005, regular B service turns around at Government Center.

Station Location Time to Park Street Opened Transfers and notes
Blandford Street 16 minutes
Boston University East at Granby Street, Boston, the first of three stations serving Boston University
Boston University Central at Marsh Chapel, Boston
Boston University West at Amory Street, Boston
St. Paul Street
Pleasant Street
Babcock Street
Packard's Corner Packard's Corner at Brighton Avenue, Allston 26 minutes the Watertown (A) branch formerly diverged here
Fordham Road Temporarily closed
Harvard Avenue at Harvard Avenue, Allston
Griggs Street
Allston Street
Warren Street
Summit Avenue Temporarily closed
Washington Street
Mount Hood Road Temporarily closed
Sutherland Road
Chiswick Road
Chestnut Hill Avenue at Chestnut Hill Avenue, Brighton 41 minutes within easy walking distance of the C branch's Cleveland Circle station, and the D branch's Reservoir station
South Street
Greycliff Road Temporarily closed
Boston College at Lake Street, Brighton, serving Boston College 43 minutes

C branch

The "Cleveland Circle" line is the second of the three lines that separate west of Kenmore. This line travels on the surface of Beacon Street through Brookline. The C Line stations are primarily named for the cross-streets of Beacon Street. These are a few of the notable ones:

  • St. Marys Street – 19 minutes from Park Street
  • Coolidge Corner (Coolidge Corner, Brookline, Beacon and Harvard Streets) – 24 minutes from Park Street
  • Washington Square (Washington Square, Brookline, Beacon and Washington Streets)
  • Cleveland Circle (Cleveland Circle, Brighton, Beacon Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue; within easy walking distance of the B branch's Chestnut Hill Ave station, and the D branch's Reservoir station) – 32 minutes from Park Street

As of May 2005, regular C service turns around at North Station.

D branch

The "Highland Branch" is the third of the three lines that separate west of Kenmore. It is named for the Highland Branch of the Boston and Albany Railroad from the 19th century upon whose right-of-way it was built. It travels parallel to and south of Beacon Street through Brookline and Newton.

The Newton Centre and Newton Highlands stations still feature classic station houses from the early 20th century. The Newton Centre station was renovated into shops in the 1980s, but the Newton Highlands station is not actively used.

As of May 2005, regular D service turns around at Government Center.

Station Location Time to Park Street Opened Transfers and notes
Fenway near The Fenway, Boston, by the old Sears building 16 minutes July 4, 1959 Formerly Fenway Park?
Longwood Chapel and Longwood Streets, Brookline July 4, 1959
Brookline Village off Harvard and Washington Streets, and Route 9, Brookline July 4, 1959
Brookline Hills Cypress and Tappan Streets, Brookline, by the Brookline High School July 4, 1959
Beaconsfield Dean Road and Beacon Street, Brookline 25 minutes July 4, 1959
Reservoir Cleveland Circle, Brookline, named for the Chestnut Hill Reservoir 27 minutes July 4, 1959 within easy walking distance of the B branch's Chestnut Hill Avenue station and the C branch's Cleveland Circle station
Chestnut Hill Hammond Street near Middlesex Road and Route 9, Newton July 4, 1959
Newton Centre Newton Centre, Newton, near Beacon and Centre Streets July 4, 1959
Newton Highlands Lincoln and Walnut Streets, Newton July 4, 1959
Eliot Route 9, Lincoln Street and Meredith Avenue, Newton 37 minutes July 4, 1959
Waban Beacon Street at Waban Square, Newton July 4, 1959
Woodland Washington Street, Newton, serving the Newton-Wellesley Hospital July 4, 1959
Riverside Grove Street, Newton, exit 22 off I-95, named for the Charles River 44 minutes July 4, 1959

E branch

The "Arborway" line diverges from the other three lines just west of Copley. It travels mainly on the surface of Huntington Avenue, emerging from its subway just west of Symphony.

As of May 2005, regular E service turns around at North Station.

Station Location Time to Park Street Opened Transfers and notes
Prudential Huntington Avenue, Back Bay, Boston, serving the Prudential Center 6 minutes February 16, 1941 formerly Mechanics until December 2, 1964
Symphony Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues, Boston, serving Symphony Hall 8 minutes February 16, 1941
Northeastern University Huntington Avenue and Opera Place, Boston, serving Northeastern University 10 minutes
Museum of Fine Arts Huntington Avenue and Ruggles Street, Boston, serving the Museum of Fine Arts
Longwood Medical Area Huntington and Longwood Avenues, Boston
Brigham Circle Huntington Avenue and Francis Street, Boston 16 minutes private right-of-way ends and street running begins south of here
Fenwood Street Huntington Avenue and Fenwood Street, Boston
Mission Park Huntington Avenue and Mission Park, Boston
Riverway South Huntington and Huntington Avenues, Boston
Back of the Hill South Huntington Avenue, Boston
Heath Street Heath Street, Boston 22 minutes

Train service originally ran on the E Line beyond Heath Street to Arborway, but service was "temporarily" replaced in 1985 by the number 39 bus. Pursuant to environmental mitigation commitments made by the state regarding the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, service south of Heath Street is supposed to resume as soon as the tracks and overhead wiring are reconstructed and a sufficient number of low-floor streetcars are available to operate the service.

Older trains have a red diagonal line through the E on the rollsign, which dates from an early streetcar practice of using that to signify a short-turn route. Since the E with a slash is on the same panel as Heath Street, it must be used, even though the E has ended at Heath Street for a long time.


  • Jonathan Belcher, "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA District, 1964–2003", Rollsign, November 28, 2003 ([4] – PDF)
  • Flint, Anthony. "Mbta Halts Purchase of Green Line 'Lemons'." The Boston Globe December 12, 2004. ([5])
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (official site)
Red Line Alewife – Ashmont / Braintree — Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line: Ashmont – Mattapan
Green Line Lechmere – Boston College (B) / Cleveland Circle (C) / Riverside (D) / Heath Street (E)
Orange Line Oak Grove – Forest Hills — Charlestown Elevated – Atlantic Avenue Elevated – Washington Street Elevated
Blue Line Wonderland – Bowdoin
Buses Silver Line: Dudley – Downtown Crossing; South Station – various points ---- List – Crosstown buses – Former streetcars – Key routes – Urban Ring
Commuter Rail Greenbush – Plymouth/Kingston – Middleborough/Lakeville – Fairmount – Attleborough/Stoughton – Franklin – Needham – Framingham/Worcester – Fitchburg – Lowell – Haverhill/Reading – Newburyport/Rockport

See also

External links


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