Red Line (MBTA)

From Academic Kids

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View of Boston from the Red Line

The Red Line is the newest of the MBTA rapid transit lines in the Boston, Massachusetts area. Its northwestern terminal is at Alewife near Fresh Pond Parkway and Route 2 in West Cambridge, from which it passes through downtown, with transfers to the Green Line at Park Street and the Orange Line at Downtown Crossing. South of downtown it splits into two branches; one branch runs to Braintree and the other to Ashmont, with the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line continuing to Mattapan.



The oldest right-of-way on the Red Line is south of South Boston, where the Ashmont Branch was built on the path of the former Shawmut Branch Railroad. That railroad was incorporated in 1870, taken over by the Old Colony Railroad, and opened in 1872 as an alternate route between the Old Colony's main line at Harrison Square and the Dorchester and Milton Branch Railroad, which branched from the Old Colony at Neponset and ran west to Mattapan.

The Red Line was the last of the four lines to begin construction, with the Cambridge Tunnel opening from Eliot Yard and Harvard to Park Street on the Tremont Street Subway on March 23, 1912. At Harvard, a prepayment station was provided for easy transfer to streetcar routes operating in a separate tunnel (now the Harvard Bus Tunnel). The tunnel ran from Harvard under Massachusetts Avenue and Main Street to the Longfellow Bridge, where it ran along the middle of the bridge (opened in 1906). On the Boston side of the bridge, the line became elevated, rising to go over Charles Circle and into a tunnel through Beacon Hill to Park Street. Extensions (built as the Dorchester Tunnel) to Washington Street and South Station opened on April 4, 1915 and December 3, 1916, with transfers to the Washington Street Tunnel and Atlantic Avenue Elevated respectively. Further extensions opened to Broadway on December 15, 1917 and Andrew on June 29, 1918, both prepayment stations for streetcar transfer. The Broadway station included an upper level with its own tunnel for streetcars, which was abandoned in 1919 due to most lines being truncated to Andrew. The upper level has since been incorporated into the mezzanine.

Old Colony and later New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad passenger service operated on the Shawmut Branch until September 4, 1926. [1] ( The MBTA bought the branch and opened the first phase of the Dorchester Extension to Fields Corner on November 5, 1927. This extension ran south from Andrew and turned southeast to surface and run along the west side of the Old Colony Railroad mainline in a depressed right-of-way. Surface stations were built at Columbia and Savin Hill, at the site of Old Colony stations. No station was built at the former junction of the Old Colony main line with the Shawmut Branch, where the Old Colony's Harrison Square station had been operated, because it was very close to Fields Corner.

The rest of the extension opened to Ashmont and Codman Yard on September 1, 1928, and included a station - Shawmut - where there had been no Old Colony station. The first phase of the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line opened on August 26, 1929, using the rest of the Shawmut Branch right-of-way, including the Cedar Grove station, and part of the old Dorchester and Milton Branch.

The color red was assigned on August 26, 1965 to what had been called the Cambridge-Dorchester Tunnel and marked on maps as route Template:Mb. The color was chosen because the line ended at Harvard University, whose school color is crimson, a shade of red.

The first section of the South Shore Line opened on September 1, 1971. This line branched from the original line at a flying junction north of Columbia and ran along the west side of the Old Colony right-of-way (since reduced to one track), crossing to the east side north of Savin Hill. Its northernmost station was North Quincy, with two others at Wollaston and Quincy Center. The rest of the line, the Braintree Extension to Braintree, opened March 22, 1980, and the intermediate station at Quincy Adams opened on September 10, 1983.

The first part of the Northwest Extension, the relocation of Harvard station, was finished on September 6, 1983. During construction, several temporary stations were built at Harvard Square. The old Eliot Yard was demolished; Harvard's Kennedy School of Government now sits inside the retaining walls built for the railyard. Subsequent extensions to Davis on December 8, 1984 and Alewife on March 30, 1985 brought the Red Line to its current extent. A platform on the South Shore Line opened at JFK/UMass (formerly Columbia) on December 14, 1988.

Platforms on older stations were lengthened in the late 1980s to allow six-car trains, which first ran January 21, 1988. During the expansion, the MBTA invested in an Arts on the line public art program.

In 1968, letters were assigned to the south branches - "A" for Quincy (planned to extend to South Braintree) and "C" for Ashmont. "B" was probably reserved for a planned branch from Braintree to Brockton. As new rollsigns were made, this lettering was phased out. In 1994, new electronic signs included a different labeling - "A" for Ashmont, "B" for Braintree and "C" for Alewife. [2] (


Most, but not all, Red Line stations are wheelchair accessible. See also MBTA accessibility.

Rolling stock

Red Line trains consist of mated pairs of Electrical Multiple Unit cars powered from a 600 VDC third rail. Two basic types of cars are in use today:

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Aluminium-bodied Red Line cars at Harvard.
  • Three series of older aluminum-bodied cars built by Pullman-Standard and United Technologies. The older two series of this batch, the 01500 and 01600 series, were built by Pullman in 1969-1970. The 1700 series was built by UTDC in 1988. These cars seat 62 to 64 customers and approximately 132 cars are in active service. All cars in these series are painted white with red trim and use manually-operated exterior signs.
All three groups of these older cars (units 1500 through 1757) use traditional DC traction motors with electromechanical controls manufactured by Westinghouse and can inter-operate among the three series. The 1500 and 1700 series cars could operate as singletons, but in practice, are always operated as mated pairs. The 1600 series could only operate as mated pairs.
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A Bombardier car at Harvard.
  • One series of newer stainless steel-bodied cars built built by Bombardier from components manufactured in Canada and assembled in Barre, Vermont. These cars seat 50 passengers and 86 cars are in active service. An automatic voice synthesis system provides station announcements; the announcements are also displayed on LED signs in each car. Train operation is automated. These cars are stainless steel with red trim and use yellow LCD exterior signs.
Known as the 1800 series, they were built in 1993-1994. These newer cars (units 1800 through 1885) use modern AC traction motors with solid state controls manufactured by General Electric, can only operate as mated pairs, and can not interoperate with the older three series of cars.

Rolling stock is stored and maintained at the Cabot Yard, near the Broadway station in South Boston. The connection to this yard is at the junction where the two branches split.

Culture and trivia

  • In 1944, Tom Lehrer wrote a song called Boston, (a parody of the song Mother) whose lyrics list stops on the Red Line beginning with "H" is for my alma mater, Hahvid..., and ending with Put them all together, they spell...HCKC...PW...Which is just about what Boston means to me!
  • At the Harvard station (and nowhere else on the main branch of the Red Line), the electronic announcer on the newer (Bombardier-built) trains makes a special announcement: "No smoking, please!"

Station listing

Main line

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A rollsign in a Red Line car. This selection was only used in late 1984 and early 1985, while the Red Line was being expanded towards Alewife; during that time, Davis was the end of the line. However, this photo was taken in 2005, and was thus incorrect.
Station Location Time to Park Street Opened Transfers and notes
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Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge 20 minutes March 30, 1985 bus terminal, park and ride garage, Minuteman Bikeway
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Davis Square, Somerville December 8, 1984 Somerville Community Path
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Porter Square, Cambridge December 8, 1984 MBTA Commuter Rail Fitchburg Line
Stadium Harvard Stadium, Cambridge October 26, 1912 Only used during Harvard football games, last known use November 18, 1967
Harvard/Brattle Harvard Square, Cambridge March 24, 1979 Closed September 1, 1983, supplemented Harvard during construction of the Alewife extension
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Harvard Square, Cambridge 11 minutes
(sign said 8)
September 6, 1983 Original station opened March 23, 1912 and closed January 30, 1981, Harvard/Holyoke opened January 31, 1981 and closed September 1, 1983
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Central Square, Cambridge (sign said 5) March 23, 1912
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Kendall Square, Cambridge 4 minutes
(sign said 3)
March 23, 1912 originally Kendall until August 6, 1978, named Cambridge Center/MIT between December 2, 1982 and June 25, 1985
Charles/MGH Cambridge and Charles Streets, Boston February 27, 1932 originally Charles until December 1973
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Park Street
Park, Tremont, and Winter Streets, Boston 0 minutes March 23, 1912 Green Line
originally Park Street Under
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Downtown Crossing
Summer, Washington, and Winter Streets, Boston April 4, 1915 Orange Line and Silver Line Phase I
originally Washington until May 3, 1987
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South Station
Dewey Square, Boston 3 minutes December 3, 1916 Silver Line Phase II and MBTA Commuter Rail south side lines
Had a transfer to the Atlantic Avenue Elevated
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Broadway and Dorchester Avenue, South Boston December 15, 1917
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Andrew Square, South Boston June 29, 1918
North of JFK/UMass, the Red Line surfaces and separates into two branches which operate on separate platforms at JFK/UMass. Just south of the station, the two branches divide as described below.
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Columbia Road and Morrissey Boulevard, Dorchester 10 minutes November 5, 1927 MBTA Commuter Rail Plymouth/Kingston Line and Middleborough/Lakeville Line
originally Columbia until December 1, 1982, Braintree branch platform opened December 14, 1988
was called Crescent Avenue as an Old Colony Railroad station

Ashmont Branch

Diverging from JFK/UMass:

Station Location Time to Park Street Opened Transfers and notes
Savin Hill Savin Hill Avenue and Sidney Street November 5, 1927 was an Old Colony Railroad station
Harrison Square former split and transfer station between the Old Colony Railroad mainline and the Shawmut Branch Railroad, never a rapid transit station
Fields Corner Charles Street and Dorchester Avenue 15 minutes November 5, 1927 was a Shawmut Branch Railroad station
Shawmut Dayton Street September 1, 1928
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Ashmont Street and Dorchester Avenue 19 minutes September 1, 1928 Continuing service to Mattapan via the 10-minute Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line (opened December 21, 1929)
was a Shawmut Branch Railroad station
Cedar Grove station on the Shawmut Branch Railroad is now a station on the Mattapan Line, after which the line merges with the former Dorchester and Milton Branch Railroad right-of-way

Braintree Branch

Diverging from JFK/UMass:

Station Location Time to Park Street Opened Transfers and notes
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North Quincy
East Squantum and Hancock Streets, Quincy 19 minutes September 1, 1971
Wollaston Newport Avenue and Beale Street, Quincy September 1, 1971
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Quincy Center
Hancock and Washington Streets, Quincy 24 minutes September 1, 1971 MBTA Commuter Rail Plymouth/Kingston Line and Middleborough/Lakeville Line
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Quincy Adams
Burgin Parkway and Centre Street, Quincy September 10, 1983
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Ivory and Union Streets, Braintree 30 minutes March 22, 1980 MBTA Commuter Rail Plymouth/Kingston Line and Middleborough/Lakeville Line


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