The Red Line


Cambridge or Northwest Section

The Red Line has an interesting history as do the other subway lines in Boston.  Unlike the Orange Line, for example, the Red Line has had the same basic routes since its inception.  Originally the public transportation system was formed by Henry M. Whiney from a number of horse railroads.  The system was  electrified between 1888 to 1893.  Shortly after electrification Boston became the first city in the United States and the second in the world to find a method of reducing the heavy congestion  of the trolleys by building the first subway.  It was also the first city to the world to build a high floor rapid transit line using multiple unit electric trains.  Those early steps, developed in part by the then Boston Transit Commission  was responsible for the development of the early subway portions of the present day system.

One must understand that Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States.  Unlike Philadelphia which developed a grid pattern from its earliest days, Boston's street pattern boggles the mind with endless twists and turns in many locales.  Many of its streets are barely wide enough to permit parking a car on both sides of the streets and limiting one lane for passing traffic.  Its main streets are still somewhat narrow if they're compared with cities further west that have far wider main thoroughfares.  Because of this even as early as the late 1800's Boston's main streets were often congested with public and private transportation.   Thus, the need to remove the then trolleys off the street. 

The result was the first operating subway in the United States.  All though that will be covered in the Green Line section it bares interest due to the fact that it opened in 1897 and is still in operation with more than likely far heavier traffic served by Light Rail Vehicles (LRV) than envisioned during those early years of service.  Because of the tight curves on that original subway Boston's LRV's are required to be designed to accommodate those restrictions much as Chicago's present ":L" trains must conform to the designs also dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The original plans for what was to be then called the Cambridge Subway was conceived as early as 1901 in the fast growing area of Cambridge.  There were several issues that delayed construction.  First, neither the City of Cambridge nor Harvard University wanted an elevated structure. The second obstacle was crossing the Charles River which at that time had an old wooden span from Charles Street to Kendall Square.   The result was a handsome stone bridge started in 1900 and completed in 1907 that has had various names but is known today as the Longfellow Bridge.  The bridge crossed the river at a high level but the center section was designed to have a draw bridge, thus the four towers, two on each side of the bridge.  A center reservation was designed to accommodate a future rapid transit line which at the time of completion of the bridge had yet to be built.  Historically there appears to be no evidence that there ever a draw bridge used on the span.

In the meantime it was decided that a high speed subway would be built to railroad standards to accommodate longer subway cars designed to carry a high number of passengers.  Construction of the subway was for the most part a cut and cover method.  The line terminated at Harvard Square with a storage yard built west of Eliot Square where there was an open yard and shop build at that time along the Charles River. 

On the west side and crossing the Charles River the Cambridge Line ran above the ground.  Just east of the Charles River and the soon to be built Charles/MGH station the line ducked underground again in the Beacon Hill Tunnel and under the Boston Commons into a terminal station beneath the Park Street Station of the then Tremont Street Railway.  Service to the public was opened from Harvard Square on 23 March, 1912.  The Park Street Station at that time featured an island platform for loading and an outside platforms for unloading passengers with a scissors crossover at the west end of the station.  The Charles Street station was opened on 27 February 1932 to service the famed Massachusetts General Hospital. 

The Northwest Extension

The first part of the Northwest Extension was the relocation of the Harvard station and was completed on 6 September 1983.  During construction several temporary stations were built.  The Eliot Yard facilities were torn down.  Presently Harvard's Kennedy School of Government sits on the inside of the retaining walls  originally built for the railroad.  The next extension was to Porter Station and Davis Station completed on 8 December, 1984.  The Porter Station is the deepest station on the MBTA.  The reason was due to the fact that it was less expensive to bore through the solid rock below than to  cut and cover through soft clay.  The station features art on the side of one of the escalators called "Glove Cycles" designed by Mags Harries and Susumu Shingu's "Gift of the Wind" at street level on the Somerville Street side.  For those so interested there is an unusually long set of escalators (143 feet long) descending three levels, with fixed stairs next to them (199 total steps: 60+117+22).   The Davis Station is located at Davis Square and was a brief terminal of the Extension.  During that period the subway cars had a roller sign with Davis on it.  The Alewife station and current terminal was opened on 30 March 1985 and is also underground.  Above the tracks is a large capacity parking facility that can hold over 2,700 cars.  There were plans to add two more levels for an additional 1,300 cars that has never materialized due to the high cost.  In addition there were plans to extend the line to Bedford and the Route 128 belt on the right of way of an abandoned railroad

On 26 August 1965 the color red was assigned to the then Cambridge-Dorchester Tunnel and marked as "route 1".  The color was chosen because of Harvard University's school color which is crimson.  Subsequently all cars on the Red Line are now painted with red.  Six car trains first ran on 21 January 1968 after older stations were expanded to allow for the longer trains. 

The Dorchester Extension

The terminal at Park St was temporary with plans to move the subway south. The first extension was built to the Washington Street and South Station stations opened on 4 April 1915 and 3 December 1916 respectively with transfer to the then Washington Street Tunnel and Atlantic Avenue Elevated respectively. Gradually the line was further extended to the Broadway station on 15 December, 1917 and Andrew on 29 June 1918. The Dorchester Extension grew some more in the 1920's with the line extended to what was then the Field's Corner station on 5 November 1927. Service ran south from Andrew, turing southwest to the surface and then ran along the Old Colony mainline in a depressed right of way. It was at this point that the precedent of building rapid transit service right next to a railroad or on an abandoned or sold right of way first started. Both Columbia station and Savin Hill stations were built on the surface at the sides of the former Old Colony stations. The rest of the extension was finished to Ashmont station and Codman Yard on 1 September 1928. The Ashont-Mattapan High Speed Line opened on 26 August 1929 using the rest of the Swimsuit Branch right of way inducing the Cedar Grove station and part of the Old Dorchester and Milton Branch. The line was never physicality connected to the third rail powered Dorchester Extension and relied on overhead trolley wire for power.

The Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line

The Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line was built as an extension of the then Dorchester Extension, presently the Ashmont branch. It has always used regular streetcars rather than heavy rail equipment. As mentioned the line was built for the most part on the former Shawmut branch right of way and also part of eh Dorchester and Milton Branch. It is also not "high speed" with the present fleet of 11 PCC cars dating back from the World War 2 years going no faster than 30 miles per hour. The entire line was shut down with shuttle bus service from 2006 to 12/2007 for a rebuilding of both terminals, making the service compliant with ADA requirements and rebuilding both terminals including a new loop at the Ashmont station. The PCC fleet also had an air conditioning unit mounted on the top half of the roof. The cars are painted in their original orange colors rather than the green colors that part of the "Green Line" service. While they are on a Red Line schedule the cars are still considered Green Line equipment as shown on the roster. The plans for the PCC cars are for a long future though there have been rumors of changing from trolley to pantograph. At the present time other than the historical New Orleans original historical trolleys the High Speed Line represents the only continuous revenue service that regularly uses PCC cars in their original or close to original configuration. Kenosha, Wisconsin does employ five former Toronto PCC cars but this is more of a tourist service with limited hours. The High Speed Line runs regular service and is a key component in the Red Line schedule. Prior service has been provided by the former double ended Dallas PCC cars bought second hand by the authority and the original post war Pullman PCC cars.

The South Shore Line also known as the Braintree Branch

The South Shore Line had its first section opened on 1 September 1970. The new line branched from the original line at a flying junction north of Columbia and ran along the Old Colony right of way that had to be reduced to one track in most locations. That line crossed . There were three new stations: North Quincy, Wollaston and Quincy Center. the last station is particularly important due to the fact that it is in close proximity to the John Adams museum and complex. It is near that location that the Second President of the United States lived his final years at Peacefield and the farm until he passed away in 1826. The actual land remained property of the Adams family until the 1940's when it was turned over to the National Park District. The rest of the line was completed to Braintree as part of the Braintree extension (originally planned by the Boston Transportation Planning Review) on 22 March 1980. The Quincy Adams station was opened to the public on 10 September 1983. Plans were made to extend the branch to Brockton but were never started. Presently that extension is still considered as a low priority project.

Riding the Red Line:

The Red Line's terminal is Alewife which is located near the Alewife Creek Reservoir. The station itself is underground and under a parking garage that can accommodate over 2,700 cars. The next station is Davis Square located near Tufts University. The square is also a host of many smaller businesses and restaurants. The Porter Square station is next already described as the deepest station on the MBTA. The square features several art forms and is located across the street from the Porter Square shopping area.. The ride continues southeast until it reaches the busy Harvard station where Harvard Square is located as well as the university. The station itself is multi-level with bus and trackless trolley service feeding into the station. Central Station is the next stop followed by Kendall which is near MIT. Wikipedia has a far better detailed site regarding MIT at _Institute_of_Technology. The Red Line then comes up to surface to cross the Longfellow Bridge which at this time is in need of serious rehabilitation. The Wikipedia article gives further details of the present condition of the bridge. Because of the I35W bridge in Minneapolis much concern has been created over other bridges that show serious issues. On the east side of the span is the Charles/MGH station which is close to the famed Massachusetts General Hospital.

Upon leaving Charles/MGH the Red Line once again goes underground and heads to the busy Park Street Station. There is a direct connection via a short corridor and stairs to the busy Green Line station. More will be added on this station in that section. A short distance finds the Downtown Crossing stop where passengers on the Red Line can switch to the Orange Line. In addition there is a concourse that can take passengers back to the Park Street Station. At this location is the made Filene's Department Store. Above the station one can transfer to the Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit service. South Station is the next stop which houses an intermodal transportation system including the MBTA, numerous bus lines, MBTA's commuter line and the northern terminus of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor (NEC) which includes the high speed Acela train service to New York City and Washington, DC. Heading south the next station is Broadway. The station appeared in the motion picture "The Departed" which also has other MBTA scenes in it. The final station in the subway is Andrew in South Boston. After that station the Red Line surfaces again as it approaches Columbia street. Until 1 DEcember 1982 it remained with that name. TO the north are the yards for the Red Line which join the tracks at the junction between the Ashmont and Braintree Lines. Cabot Yard is located near the Broadway station. Because the three heavy rail subway lines have no physical connections between each other it is necessary to transport the cars via truck from one yard to another. The junction north of what is now the JFK/UMass station is a flyover with inbound trains from the Ashmont branch going over the outbound Braintree tracks. the JFK/Um as station has a shuttle bus serving both the University of Massachusetts (U/Mass) and the JFK Museum and Library located on the harbor.

The Ashmont Branch:

After leaving the JFK/UMass station the Ashmont line runs next to the Braintree branch for a while. The first atop is Savin Hill which is primarily in a residential area. A 2005 renovation allowed the stop to be ADA compliant. Prior to that it was the least changed stop since the line was built in 1927. Fields Corner is the next stop. For about a while Fields Corner was the terminal for the branch. At one time streetcars ran that ran on on each side of the side platforms. Presently seven bus lines also serve the station. Shawmut is the next stop. It has no connecting bus lines and has recently was updated to be ADA compliant.. The final station is Ashmont which is currently being extensively rebuilt. As of late September, 2008 the station was under heavy construction. The Ashmont-Mattapan high speed trolley was back in service after 18 months of being out of service with a new elevated loop over the Red Line tracks. Eventually three elevators and two new escalators will be built along with a new lobby. There will be a public access over the subway to nearby Peabody Square. An elevated bus way will be added to be level with the new lobbies. Work is expected to be complotted in 2009. A Transit Oriented Development (TOD) with housing has been finished in 2008, the first of its kind with 116 units of mixed income units. South of the station is a storage yard as seen in pictures showing the trolley loop on this site.

The Braintree Branch:

The newest section of the Red Line south side was built in various stages with the final station being added in 1983. Like the Ashmont branch the line leaves the JFK/UMass branch on a right of way that has the Ashmont branch on the west side and the commuter line to the west of the Ashmont branch. The train then goes south for a while before heading southeast to the first stop which is North Quincy. The North Quincy station serves a primarily residential community of the North Quincy Montclair neighborhoods. After leaving North Quincy the next stop is Wollaston which is an island platform that is open. It is an excellent spot for photography of both the red line and the very busy Purple Line which at this point is a single track. Like Quincy North it is primarily in a residential neighborhood. And like Quincy North it does have a park and ride facility. It is not wheelchair accessible at this time. Quincy Center is the next stop. the station is enclosed and also has a direct connection to the Purple Line. Of more importance is the connection to the historical section of Quincy. By walking a block east of the station and crossing Washington one can stop by the book store and John Adams center where special buses will take people to the homes associated with the 2nd President of the United States including Peacefield, the main home. The property was in the hands of the descendants of John Adams until the 1940's when it was donated to the Federal Government's National Park Service. While the time from Quincy Center to downtown Boston is probably less than 30 minutes but during the time of John Adams it was almost a day. Quincy Center is also a hub for a number of bus lines of the MBTA in the area. Quincy-Adams is the second to last station on the Braintree Branch. It has a parking facility that can hold over 2,300 cars. It was also the last station to open on the branch and like the Quincy Center station it is also enclosed. The final station is Braintree which consists of a center platform preceded by a double crossover north of the platform. To the south of the platform is an employee's area which includes an area for the inspectors and supervisors and facilities for the crew. To the south is a small yard that appears to be four tracks where cars are stored. It also shares a station with the MBTA Old Colony Line which is east of the tracks at this point. As mentioned earlier an extension was planned to Brockton but it is doubtful that this will ever happen in the foreseeable future.



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updated 22-nov-14 23:36