Green Line (MBTA)

From Academic Kids

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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 a light rail/streetcar system in the Boston, Massachusetts area, run by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). It is the oldest line of Boston's subway, running underground downtown and on the surface in outlying areas. The four branches are the remnants of a once large system of streetcar lines, begun in 1856 with the Cambridge Horse Railroad. The Tremont Street Subway carries cars of all branches under downtown, and is the oldest subway tunnel in North America, opened in stages between September 1, 1897 and September 3, 1898 to take streetcars off surface streets.



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

The modern-day Green Line has its northern terminus at Lechmere station in eastern Cambridge. From there it runs south in the Tremont Street Subway under downtown Boston, and west in the Boylston Street Subway to Kenmore. Along the way, the "E" Branch splits to the southwest just west of Copley into the Huntington Avenue Subway, eventually running onto the surface and ending at Heath Street. The "B", "C" and "D" Branches all diverge west of Kenmore. From south to north, the "D" Branch surfaces onto the grade-separated Highland Branch, a branch of the Boston and Albany Railroad until 1958, running to Riverside. The "C" Branch surfaces onto Beacon Street, running to Cleveland Circle, and the "B" Branch runs along Commonwealth Avenue to Boston College.

The "A" Branch ran to Watertown until 1969. (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.

The elevated part north of downtown is closed as of May 2005 for replacement of the Causeway Street Elevated with a tunnel under North Station. The historic concrete Lechmere Viaduct across the Charles River will remain. The Green Line Bus Shuttle runs between Lechmere and Government Center; the subway from North Station to Government Center is also in operation, but some trains turn around at Government Center.

The original Tremont Street Subway south of Boylston has been closed since 1962, as the lines feeding into it have been bustituted. The Pleasant Street Portal at its south end has been covered over, but there are plans to build a new portal and reuse part of the tunnel for the Silver Line bus rapid transit line.

Rolling stock and accessibility

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A "low floor" Breda tram at the Boston College station on the B-Line

Unlike the Red Line, Blue Line and Orange Line, all of which run rapid transit 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. The San Francisco Muni F Market line historic street railway runs a PCC car in Boston colors, but that specific car never actually ran in Boston.)

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.


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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 - Park Square line (which served the general area of the "A" Branch, and is covered in that article) was the first section to be converted to electric traction in 1889, 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 property was handed over to the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) in the form of a 24 year lease, and the companies were ultimately combined. BERy, now under state ownership, is today's MBTA, with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in the interim from 1947 to 1964.

As a tunnel built to get streetcar lines off the streets, rather than a rapid transit line, the Green Line has had many branches, with many services operating in many patterns. Additionally, many services from other companies, notably the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway and its predecessors, have run into the subway from outer suburban points via BERy trackage. A partial list of these services is in the green rows on Boston-area streetcar lines.

Cars entered the subway from the surface at a number of portals or inclines, listed here from north to south/west.


Lechmere is the current north end of the Green Line (closed as of 2005 for rebuilding of the approach). From the opening of the Lechmere Viaduct leading to it in 1912 until 1922, streetcar lines simply fed onto the viaduct from Cambridge Street and Bridge Street (now Monseigneur O'Brien Highway). In 1922 a prepayment station was opened, with a new loop for subway trains to turn around and a separate loop for surface cars, and no intermingling between the two. The surface lines have since been replaced with buses, but the Green Line still turns around at Lechmere.

Canal Street

The Canal Street Portal (also Haymarket Portal, North Station Portal or Causeway Street Portal) was until 2004 (when the Green Line north of North Station was closed for building of a new tunnel and portal) the transition between subway and elevated railway on the Green Line, as it transitioned from the Tremont Street Subway to the Causeway Street Elevated towards the Lechmere Viaduct. The original four-track portal opened in 1898 at the north end of the first subway; cars could turn east or west on Causeway Street. In 1901 the Charlestown Elevated was connected to the outer tracks, and streetcars only operated via the inner tracks. The Washington Street Tunnel opened in 1908, connecting to the Elevated via a new portal just east of the streetcar one (until 1975), and all four tracks were once again open for streetcar use. In 1912 the Lechmere Viaduct opened, again using the two outer tracks for an elevated line; the inner tracks continued to serve the surface (including a surface station at North Station) until 1997, when they were closed for construction of the new tunnel, with the Green Line being shifted to the old Orange Line (Charlestown Elevated) portal along the way. The Template:Mb was the last service to continue onto surface streets from the portal, last running in 1949.

Pleasant Street

The Pleasant Street Portal was the south end of the Tremont Street Subway, opened one month after the original subway in 1897. It split from the Boylston Street Subway at a flying junction at Boylston, and another flying junction split the tunnel into two side-by-side tunnels to the four-track portal. The two west tracks rose onto Tremont Street and the two east ones onto Pleasant Street, later part of Broadway. From 1901 to 1908 the portal was only used by Washington Street Elevated trains, after which streetcar service was restored (though much of it had been cut back to Dudley for transfer to the Elevated. The last cars ran through the portal in 1961 as part of the Template:Mb, and in 1962 a shuttle service from Boylston to the portal was ended. The portal has since been covered.

Boylston Street

The first portal to open, on September 1, 1897, was the Boylston Street Portal or Public Garden Portal, providing an outlet for the subway on the north side of Boylston Street in the Public Garden. When the Boylston Street Subway opened in 1914, extending the subway west, the incline and portal were relocated to the center of Boylston Street. The last cars to use the portal ran in 1941 from Huntington Avenue, when the Huntington Avenue Subway opened as a branch off the main subway and the portal was closed.


The Northeastern Portal lies in the median of Huntington Avenue at the end of the Huntington Avenue Subway, just east of Northeastern University. It opened in 1941 and carries "E" Branch trains.


The Kenmore Portal or Kenmore Square Portal opened in 1914 with the building of the Boylston Street Subway west to the east side of Kenmore Square, in the median of Commonwealth Avenue. It closed in 1932 when the subway station at Kenmore was built and two new portals opened to the west.

Blandford Street, St. Marys Street and Fenway

The Blandford Street Portal and St. Marys Street Portal, in the medians of Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street respectively, opened in 1932 as part of the extension of the Boylston Street Subway under Kenmore Square and the opening of the new Kenmore station. They are currently used by the "B" and "C" Branches respectively. The Fenway Portal opened in 1959 along with the opening of the Highland Branch, and provides a third exit from Kenmore, south of the St. Marys Street Portal. It carries trains of the "D" Branch.

The branches were given letters in 1967, two years after the green color was assigned to the line on August 26, 1965. The letters were assigned increasing from north to south, to the five remaining branches. No branches had used the Canal Street Portal except as a terminal since 1949 (the Template:Mb was the last) or the Pleasant Street Portal since 1961 (the Template:Mb was the last, and a shuttle stayed until 1962).

Main article: Green Line "B" Branch

The "B", "Boston College" or "Commonwealth Avenue" Branch is the northernmost of the three lines that split west of Kenmore. It travels west down the middle of Commonwealth Avenue, ending at Boston College. As of May 2005, regular B service turns around at Government Center.

Main article: Green Line "C" Branch

The "C", "Cleveland Circle" or "Beacon Street" Branch is the middle one of the three branches heading west from Kenmore, and the straightest, running down the middle of Beacon Street through Brookline to Cleveland Circle. As of May 2005, regular "C" service turns around at North Station.

Main article: Green Line "D" Branch

The "D" or "Highland" Branch is the southernmost of the three lines that separate west of Kenmore. It is the most recent branch, opening in 1959 along the former right-of-way of the Highland Branch of the Boston and Albany Railroad, and has full grade separation, entering the subway at the Fenway Portal. As of May 2005, regular "D" service turns around at Government Center.

Main article: Green Line "E" Branch

The "E" or "Arborway" Branch diverges from the other three lines just west of Copley. It travels mainly on the surface of Huntington Avenue, emerging from the Huntington Avenue Subway at the Northeastern Portal. Since 1985, service has been truncated to Heath Street, with continuing service to Arborway provided by the Template:Mb bus. The "E" is the only branch to have a regularly used street-running section. As of May 2005, regular "E" service turns around at North Station.

Former branches

A more complete - but still very incomplete - list of services running into the subway is in the green rows on boston-area streetcar lines.

The "A" or "Watertown" Branch was the northernmost of the branches, running from the Blandford Street Portal (still used by the "B" Branch) west to Watertown, mostly street-running. The Template:Mb bus replaced the streetcar line in 1969.

The Pleasant Street Portal hosted two services in its final days. The Template:Mb to City Point ended in 1953, and the Template:Mb to Egleston was cut back to Lenox Street in 1956, cut back to the portal in 1961, and ended operation in 1962. Prior to that, the Template:Mb ran out Tremont Street to Dover Street and Washington Street, ending at Dudley, and last running in 1938.

The last two routes to continue beyond the Canal Street Portal both ran to Sullivan. The Template:Mb ran via Main Street, last running in 1948, and the Template:Mb via Bunker Hill Street last ran in 1949. Until 1997 trains continued to use the portal and its North Station surface station as a terminal.

In addition to the lines that later became the "E" Branch, the predecessors to the Template:Mb and Template:Mb split in Brookline, one branch running into the current "E" tracks and into the Boylston Street Portal, and the other running up Brookline Street to end at Massachusetts Avenue station. These were truncated in 1932 into a shorter route from Brookline Village to the subway via the Boylston Street Portal, which itself stopped running in 1938 (being cut back to Brigham Circle short-turn trips), three years before the closure of that portal.

The last "foreign" cars to operate in the subway were those of the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway, running from the Canal Street Portal to the Brattle Loop at Scollay Square until 1935. It was then that the old Mystic River Bridge to Chelsea was closed to streetcars and the lines were bustituted; the next year the BERy bought the Eastern Mass Chelsea Division and through-routed it with its lines connecting to the East Boston Tunnel at Maverick.

From July 10, 1922 (when the Lechmere terminal opened) to February 6, 1931, special service ran from Lechmere to various points on the subway. These trips were replaced on February 7 by extensions of the various branches from the west, which had terminated at Park Street, through to Lechmere.

Station listing

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, serving the three intervening stops including the stations that remain in service. Because traffic frequently delays these buses, taking the Red Line to Kendall/MIT 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.

Station Location Time to Park Street Opened Transfers and notes
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Cambridge Street, Cambridge 13 minutes
(sign said 12)
July 10, 1922 Viaduct to Lechmere opened June 1, 1912, with tracks running directly onto streets through July 9, 1922
Science Park Charles River Dam Bridge, Boston, serving the Museum of Science 8 minutes August 20, 1955
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North Station
Canal Street, Boston June 28, 2004 "C" and "E" Branches terminate here
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
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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 "B" and "D" Branches terminate here
Blue Line
Formerly Scollay Square until October 27, 1963
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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 "E" Branch splits after Copley
no crossover between directions at Copley; use Arlington to reverse direction
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 "B", "C" and "D" Branches split here


  • Jonathan Belcher, "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA District, 1964-2003", Rollsign, November 28, 2003 ([3] ( - PDF)
  • Flint, Anthony. "Mbta Halts Purchase of Green Line 'Lemons'." The Boston Globe December 12, 2004. ([4] (


See also

External links



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