Green Line (MBTA)
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Green Line MBTA

Green Line
Inbound train at Tappan Street, June 2014.JPG
Green Line train built by AnsaldoBreda on the "C" Branch
TypeLight rail
SystemMBTA subway
LocaleBoston, Newton, East Cambridge and Brookline, Massachusetts
TerminiEast terminals:
Park Street (B)
North Station (C)
Government Center (D)
Lechmere (E)
West terminals:
Boston College (B)
Cleveland Circle (C)
Riverside (D)
Heath Street (E)
Stations66 (total)
Daily ridership160,000 (Q2 2019)[1]
OpenedSeptember 1, 1897 (1897-09-01) (Tremont Street Subway)
CharacterSubway, grade-separated ROW, street running
Rolling stockKinki Sharyo Type 7
AnsaldoBreda Type 8
CAF Type 9
Line length23 miles (37 km)[2]
Track gauge
Minimum radius10 m (33 ft)[3]
Electrification600 V DC overhead catenary

The Green Line is a light rail system run by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in the Boston, Massachusetts, metropolitan area. It is the oldest Boston rapid transit line, and with tunnel sections dating from 1897, the oldest in America.[4] It runs as a deep-level subway through downtown Boston, and on the surface into inner suburbs via four branches on several radial boulevards. With an average daily weekday ridership of 160,000 in 2019, it is the second most heavily used light rail system in the country.[5][1] The line was assigned the green color in 1967 during a systemwide rebranding because several branches pass through sections of the Emerald Necklace of Boston.[6][7][8]

The four branches are the remnants of a large streetcar system, which began in 1856 with the Cambridge Horse Railroad and was consolidated into the Boston Elevated Railway several decades later. The branches all travel downtown through the Tremont Street Subway, the oldest subway tunnel in North America. The Tremont Street Subway opened its first section on September 1, 1897, to take streetcars off overcrowded downtown streets; it was extended five times over the next five decades. The streetcar system peaked in size around 1930 and was gradually replaced with trackless trolleys and buses, with cuts as late as 1985. A new branch opened on a converted commuter rail line in 1959; the Green Line Extension project will extend two branches into Somerville and Medford in 2021.[9]

Route description

Haymarket, a typical station on the Green Line subway
"B" Branch along Commonwealth Avenue
A train at Science Park station on the Lechmere Viaduct

The line has its northern terminus at Lechmere in East Cambridge with connections to numerous bus routes serving Cambridge and Somerville. From there it runs south over the Lechmere Viaduct and into an extension of the Tremont Street Subway under downtown Boston to Boston Common. It continues west in the Boylston Street Subway to Kenmore Square. The Green Line tunnels through Downtown Boston and the Back Bay are collectively referred to as the Central Subway.[10]

The "E" Branch serves Lechmere and splits just west of Copley, running southwest through the Huntington Avenue Subway, ramping up to the surface at Northeastern University near Boston's Symphony Hall. It continues along Huntington Avenue, and terminating at Heath Street near V.A. Medical Center. Until 1985, the line continued through Jamaica Plain to Arborway.[6]

The "B", "C", and "D" Branches diverge west of Kenmore Square. From south to north, they are as follows:

The "D" Branch surfaces onto the grade-separated Highland Branch, a branch of the Boston and Albany Railroad until 1958. It runs about 10.5 miles (16.9 km) through Brookline and Newton to Riverside Terminal, the primary light rail maintenance facility and major park and ride facility, on the banks of the Charles River and 0.5 miles (0.80 km) from the interchange of the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90) and the western segment of the Yankee Division Highway (I-95, originally designated as Route 128).

The "C" Branch surfaces onto Beacon Street, running to its terminus at Cleveland Circle in Brookline, a short walk from the "D" Branch Reservoir stop at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir.

The "B" Branch surfaces onto Commonwealth Avenue, and runs the length of the Boston University campus. It then passes within 0.25 miles (0.40 km) of Cleveland Circle (connected by non-revenue trackage on Chestnut Hill Avenue), and continues on to Boston College.

The "A" Branch diverged from Commonwealth Avenue west of Boston University and ran to a terminus in Watertown, across the Charles River from Watertown Square, until 1969. Although the route-letter scheme had been introduced two years prior to its closure, the "A" designation was never signed on streetcars to Watertown. It was, however, included in the destination signs on the Boeing-Vertol LRVs ordered in the mid-1970s, when reopening service to Watertown was under consideration. The "A" line tracks remained in non-revenue service to access maintenance facilities at Watertown until 1994.

The Lechmere Viaduct originally connected to the Central Subway via the Causeway Street Elevated, a 0.5-mile (0.80 km) structure running in front of North Station and the old Boston Garden sports complex. A new tunnel, running underneath Causeway Street to North Station and the new TD Garden (which replaced the Boston Garden) and connecting to a new underground Green Line and Orange Line transfer station, was built to replace it.

The original Tremont Street Subway tunnel south of Boylston station has been closed since 1962, when the last streetcar line feeding into it was replaced by bus service, and Pleasant Street Portal at its southern end has been covered over. Reuse of part of the tunnel for the Silver Line Phase III was briefly considered, but the narrow bore was found too small for the Silver Line buses which (unlike trolleys) are not fixed to their guideway.[11] Plans for the Phase III tunnel were shifted further west to new alignments, then canceled due to questions over the project's cost-effectiveness.[12]


Schematic map of Green Line branches and stations
A train running in mixed traffic on the outer "E" Branch
The "D" Branch is fully grade-separated

The branches were assigned letters in 1967, two years after the green color was assigned to the line on August 26, 1965. The letters were assigned to the five remaining branches, sequentially from north to south.

No branches had used the Canal Street Portal except as a terminal since 1949 with the 93 or the Pleasant Street Portal since 1961 with the 43, and a shuttle until 1962. All Green Line trains stop at Park Street, Boylston, Arlington, and Copley. All trains except "E" also stop at Hynes Convention Center and Kenmore. Only "E" trains stop at Prudential and Symphony.

All trains except "B" stop at Government Center. On the eastern end, only "C" and "E" trains go past Government Center to Haymarket and North Station; the only train that services Science Park and Lechmere is the "E" Branch (although the "D" Branch will service these stations once the Medford extension is built).

The "B", "Boston College" or "Commonwealth Avenue" Branch is the northernmost of the three lines that split west of Kenmore. It travels west in a reserved median of Commonwealth Avenue, ending at Boston College. As of 2019, regular "B" service turns around at Park Street.

The "C", "Cleveland Circle" or "Beacon Street" Branch is the middle one of the three branches heading west from Kenmore, and the straightest, running in a reserved median of Beacon Street through Brookline to Cleveland Circle. As of 2019, regular "C" service turns around at North Station.

The "D," "Riverside" or "Highland" Branch is the southernmost of the three lines that separate west of Kenmore. It is the longest branch, ending in Newton at Riverside. It is the most recent branch, opening in 1959 along the former right-of-way of the former Highland Branch of the Boston and Albany Railroad, and has an exclusive above-ground right-of-way, entering the Central Subway at the Fenway Portal. As of 2019, regular "D" service turns around at Government Center.

The "E" or "Heath Street" (formerly "Arborway") Branch diverges from the other three lines just west of Copley. It travels mainly on the surface along Huntington Avenue, emerging from the Huntington Avenue Subway at the Northeastern Portal. The segment from the portal to Brigham Circle runs in a reserved median, transitioning at that stop to street-running to its terminus at Heath Street. Since 1985, service beyond Heath Street to Arborway is provided by the 39 bus. Regular "E" service extends to the terminus at Lechmere.

Former branches

The Green Line "A" 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 57 bus replaced the streetcar line in 1969.

The Pleasant Street Portal hosted two services in its final days. The 9 to City Point ended in 1953, and the 43 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 48 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 92 ran via Main Street, last running in 1948, and the 93 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 58 and 60 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 replaced by bus service; 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 the Lechmere terminal opening on July 10, 1922 to February 6, 1931, special service ran from Lechmere to various points on the subway. These trips were replaced on February 7, 1931 by extensions of the various branches from the west, which had terminated at Park Street, through to Lechmere.


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


Lechmere is the north end of the Green Line. 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 Monsignor 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

Canal Street Portal in 1901

The Canal Street Portal (also Haymarket Portal, North Station Portal or Causeway Street Portal, often referred to in revenue service as the Canal Street Loop) was part of 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 until 2004, when the Green Line north of North Station was closed for building of a new tunnel and portal. Certain trains turned at Canal Street, while others emerged from the subway to a viaduct to Lechmere. It was, however, possible for a passenger to alight from a train at Canal Street and proceed up a series of stairways to the Lechmere Viaduct. However, most passengers desiring to continue to Science Park or Lechmere would have changed to a Lechmere signed car from a North Station signed car prior to the emergence from the central subway.

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, and all four tracks were once again open for streetcar use until 1975. 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 and the Green Line was shifted to the old Orange Line (Charlestown Elevated) portal along the way. The 93 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. Until 1953 service ran to City Point at eastern end of South Boston as part of 9. The last cars ran through the portal in 1961 as part of the 43, and in 1962 a shuttle service from Boylston to the portal was ended. The portal has since been covered, but someday may become part of a new streetcar line that would partly replace access to rapid transit for southern Metro Boston neighborhoods, that had been severed from MBTA rapid transit service in 1987 with the demolishing of the Washington Street Elevated original southern section of the Orange Line. This proposed new streetcar service could go as far south as the Red Line's Mattapan station, with a northern turnaround terminus at Government Center, according to a 2012-dated proposal.[13]

Public Garden and Boylston Street

Trams using the Public Garden Portal in 1898

The first portal to open, on September 1, 1897, was the 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 as the Boylston Street Portal. 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 incline was built as a wooden trestle to the street atop a level grade, as the original plans called for eventual extension of the subway; in the mid 1980s the trestle was replaced with fill (which greatly quieted the sound).[]


Top of the filled-in Kenmore Portal

The Kenmore Portal or Kenmore Square Portal opened in 1914 with the extension of the Boylston Street Subway westward 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 were 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.

Rolling stock

Like the three other MBTA subway lines, the line uses standard gauge tracks. However, instead of heavy rail metro rolling stock, the Green Line uses modern streetcars (light rail vehicles) as heavy rail stock would be inappropriate for the surface branches with their numerous grade crossings.


Active fleet

Rolling stock as of January 2020:[2][14][15]

Year Built Manufacturer Model Image Length Width Fleet Numbers Quantity
1986-1988 Kinki Sharyo Type 7 LRV Causeway Elevated and Boston Garden.jpg 72 ft (22 m) 104 in (2.64 m) 3600-3699 100 (83 active) All overhauled
  • 14 other non-overhauled cars have been scrapped
1997 MBTA 3715 at Park Street, August 2001.jpg 3700-3719 20 (17 active, all overhauled)
  • 3 other non-overhauled cars have been auctioned as of late-January 2020.
1998-2007 AnsaldoBreda Type 8 LRV Inbound train at Packards Corner station, August 2018.JPG 74 ft (23 m) 104 in (2.64 m) 3800-3894 94 (85 active)
2018-2019 CAF USA Type 9 LRV Type 9 on first day of revenue service, December 2018.jpg 74 ft (23 m) 104 in (2.64 m) 3900-3923 24 (9 active. Deliveries to continue throughout 2020)

Retired fleet

Only MBTA operated vehicles are included here, not cars from the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) era.

Years in Service Manufacturer Model Image Length Width Fleet Numbers Quantity
1976-2007 Boeing Vertol US Standard Light Rail Vehicle 1977 Boeing LRV 3466 of MBTA (Boston) at Beacon and Hawes in 1987.jpg 71 ft (22 m) 104 in (2.64 m) 3400-3543 144 (31 units cancelled)
1937-19851 Pullman Standard PCC streetcar MBTA 3327 at Watertown in 1967.jpg 48 ft (15 m) 100 in (2.54 m) 3000-3346 344 (2 cars scrapped before 1964)

^1 Ten PCC streetcars are currently in revenue service on the Ashmont-Mattapan line.


Early rolling stock

When it opened at the end of the 19th century, the Tremont Street Subway was not intended as a full-scale rapid transit line (though it was built to pre-metro standards), but to allow ordinary streetcars to bypass the worst street congestion in downtown Boston.[4][16] Operations by several different companies were eventually consolidated into the Boston Elevated Railway, which ran a mixture of car types. After receiving a test unit in 1937, the BERy began to standardize on PCC streetcars, acquiring 320 units between 1941 and 1951 plus an additional 25 in 1959 to phase out the last older cars.[14]

Boeing LRV

Front view of a Boeing-Vertol LRV near the end of its life in 2005

In the early 1970s, light rail--which had largely disappeared from North America after the slow decline of streetcar systems from the 1920s to the 1950s--was reintroduced as a method of urban renewal less expensive than conventional metro systems.[17] In 1971, as part of a program to supply further work to defense contractors as the Vietnam War wound down, the Urban Mass Transit Administration selected Boeing-Vertol as systems manager for a project to design a new generation of generic light rail vehicle.[18]

After a 1972 report by Prof. Vukan R. Vuchic,[19] Boston (with its older streetcar tunnel systems) and San Francisco (with a new Muni Metro streetcar tunnel being built as part of BART construction) were chosen as the testbeds for this new rolling stock, intended to jumpstart similar systems in other cities.[17] The US Standard Light Rail Vehicle was designed as the largest rolling stock that would fit through the Tremont Street Tunnel, the Muni Metro's Twin Peaks Tunnel, and SEPTA's Subway-Surface Lines tunnel.[16] The new cars were faster--a top speed of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) versus the PCC's 36 miles per hour (58 km/h)--and had an articulated middle section for higher capacity.[16] Boeing began construction of 175 cars for the MBTA in May 1973.[18]

The first LRVs entered service on the "D" Branch in December 1976 but were immediately beset with problems. Certain cars frequently derailed on tight turns in the Riverside, Boston College and Lechmere yards. Battery trays, air conditioners--mounted under the cars, continually drawing in dirt and debris from under the car when in the tunnels--and air compressors all suffered numerous failures; the plug-style doors had trouble sealing properly; and traction motors failed sooner than expected.[20] Desperate for reliable rolling stock, the MBTA launched an overhaul program to extend the availability of its older PCC cars. A total of 34 cars, primarily out-of-service wrecks and parts cars, were rebuilt to as-new condition.[20] In 1980, the MBTA tested Canadian Light Rail Vehicles for three months to determine whether they could be used on the Green Line.[21]

As of 2013, ten of the rebuilt PCC cars still run on the Ashmont-Mattapan section of the Red Line, because maintaining the small PCC fleet is less expensive than rebuilding the rail line for modern light rail or heavy rail stock.[14][20] Because these heritage streetcars operate exclusively on a dedicated right of way which has only two grade crossings (instead of using street running), they are less exposed to collisions in mixed road traffic.

Modern fleet

Type 7 (left) and Type 8 streetcars at Tappan Street in 2012
Type 9 streetcar in 2018

In 1986-88, 100 second generation (Type 7) LRVs were delivered from the Japanese firm Kinki Sharyo, with an additional 20 cars ordered and delivered in 1997.[22] The first low-floor Green Line streetcars, allowing for handicapped-accessible boarding directly from slightly raised platforms, were the Type 8 cars from AnsaldoBreda which began arriving in 1998.[14] The first Type 8s entered revenue service in March 1999, but they were prone to derailment at higher speeds as well as brake problems; not until 2008 did they assume full service on the "D" Branch (where they reach full speed).[6] One hundred low-floor cars were purchased from the Italian company AnsaldoBreda, with styling by Pininfarina. They were initially problematic and difficult to maintain: the first cars failed every 400 miles (640 km), far short of the 9,000 miles (14,000 km) specified by the MBTA, and were prone to derailments. The MBTA has been forced to spend an additional US$9.5 million to modify tracks to prevent the derailments, echoing early problems with the Boeing stock. The MBTA has been criticized for their failure to assess Bredas' reliability before entering into the deal, and during delivery.

In December 2004, the MBTA canceled orders for the cars still to be delivered as part of the authority's nine-year, US$225 million deal with Breda.[23] One year later, in December 2005 the MBTA announced that it had entered into a restructuring of the deal, reducing the order to 85 cars (with spare parts to be provided in lieu of the 15 remaining cars), and providing for the remaining payment under the original deal only if the cars met performance requirements.[24] Construction of the last car under the order was completed on December 14, 2006.[25] After additional delays on the Type 8 car order, the last 10 cars were assembled and delivered in late 2007, with five spare shells retained (95 cars in service). After several years of modifications to "D" Branch tracks, the Breda cars returned to service on that line, and now provide service on every branch of the Green Line. As the final Type 8s were delivered, the last of the Boeing-Vertol cars were retired in March 2007 and all except ten of the cars were scrapped.[26] Of the remaining cars, six were sold to the US Government and are now in Pueblo, Colorado for testing purposes, one was given to the Seashore Trolley Museum, and three were retained by the MBTA for work service.

Of the 120 Type 7 cars 103 were overhauled by Alstom in Hornell, New York. The work includes new propulsion systems, climate control systems and interiors as well as exterior work. The pilot car for the program left in October 2012 and was returned in November 2014, with the last car returned in April 2019.[27][14]

Twenty-four new Type 9 Green Line cars are being delivered. Revenue service began in late 2018 and all 24 cars will have entered service by the fall of 2019. The Type 9 cars will provide additional rolling stock to allow for Green Line Extension operations, and will not replace any of the existing fleet.[28] The cars will be made by CAF USA, Inc., with the shells and frames made in Spain, and final assembly and testing done at their plant in Elmira, New York.[29] As of March 2017, the first unit had been expected to enter passenger service in Spring 2018, with all 24 cars in service by the end of the year.[30] The first Type 9 car, #3900, began revenue service on December 21, 2018.[31]

Planning for a Type 10 fleet--which would likely replace all Type 7 and Type 8 cars in the mid-2020s--began in 2018 with plans for a fully low floor fleet.[32]

Display cars

3295 and 5734 on display at Boylston station

Two older streetcars are on display on the unused outer inbound track at Boylston station, which formerly carried cars coming from the Pleasant Street Portal. Car #5734, a Type 5 A-1 car built in 1924 and retired in 1959, is owned by the Seashore Trolley Museum, but resides semipermanently in Boston. PCC #3295, built in 1951 and retired in 1986, is owned by the MBTA.[14] The cars were formerly used for fantrips, the most recent one being in 1997. These trolleys are no longer in working condition, however. The cars were heavily vandalized on January 14, 2014, but the vandalism was fully removed the next day.[33]

The San Francisco Municipal Railway runs a variety of PCC cars in various paint schemes on its F Market heritage line. Number 1059 is painted in Boston Elevated Railway colors, but that individual car never ran in Boston.[34]


A low-floor Type 8 car at Longwood station, which has slightly raised platforms for accessible boarding
Ramp at Newton Centre station to allow level boarding on older high-floor streetcars

The Red Line, Blue Line, and Orange Line run rapid transit cars and use stations with high platforms level with the car floor providing easy access for the disabled. The Green Line originated as a streetcar line, and used a variety of streetcars before converting to light rail vehicles.

Originally all the Green Line stations had platforms at track level, and passengers had to ascend several steps up into the vehicles. This limited accessibility for persons with disabilities. To address this issue and comply with changing federal and state laws, additional facilities have been added:[35]

  • Wheelchair lifts have been provided at some stops. They are rolled up to the car door and the lift mechanism is operated using a hand crank. They are quite time-consuming to operate, causing significant delays when used during peak periods.
  • Short platforms level with car floors, accessed by ramps, were installed just before or after selected stations. Because the car door arrangement required a large gap between the platform and the car, a bridge plate attached to the raised platform had to be positioned after the train stopped with a door at that platform.
  • The MBTA has followed the worldwide trend of operating low-floor streetcars. As an ongoing project, not complete in 2012, platforms are being raised slightly to about the height of a street curb. Low-floor cars have remotely controlled bridge plates at the center doors to allow wheelchairs and strollers to reach the car floor a few inches higher.


Beginning in the 1850s, Boston sprouted a large network of horsecar lines, the first public transit in the city. The West End Street Railway was created by the state legislature in 1887 to build a single line, but soon consolidated many of the existing lines into a single privately owned system with consistent fares and route designations. The Allston - Park Square line (which served the general area of the "A" Branch) was the first section to be converted to electric traction in 1889. It used modified existing horsecars outfitted with Frank J. Sprague's revolutionary electrical equipment, which had first been demonstrated the previous year in Richmond, Virginia.[36]:9-10 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.

By the early 1890s, the sheer quantity of streetcars during peak periods was clogging the streets of downtown Boston. The Tremont Street Subway, the first passenger subway in North America, was opened in stages in 1897 and 1898, with underground stations at Boylston, Park Street, Scollay Square, Adams Square, and Haymarket. The Main Line Elevated was run through the tunnel from 1901, displacing through-running streetcars,[36]:19-21 until it was rerouted to its own Washington Street Tunnel in 1908, and the streetcars were returned to the Tremont tunnel.[36]:27

Though initially intended merely to clear streetcars from the busiest sections of downtown streets, the Tremont Street Subway became useful as a rapid transit service in its own right. The 1912 completion of the Causeway Street Elevated and Lechmere Viaduct extended grade-separated service to Lechmere Square in Cambridge, and in 1922 the Lechmere transfer station was built. In 1914, the Boylston Street Subway opened as a westward extension to just short of Kenmore Square, and in 1933 Kenmore station and short tunnel extensions towards two surface lines were added. In 1941, the Huntington Avenue Subway and its two additional underground stations removed the last surface streetcars from downtown Boston.

Beginning in the 1930s, the massive surface streetcar system was "bustituted" with buses and trackless trolleys which had lower operating costs and more flexible routes. As the 1950s closed out, the only remaining streetcar lines were the Watertown Line, Commonwealth Avenue Line, Beacon Street Line, Arborway Line, and the Lenox Street Line plus several short turn services. In 1959, the Boston and Albany Railroad's Highland Branch was converted to the Riverside Line, a fully grade-separated suburban service. In 1961, the last through service to Lenox Street via the Pleasant Street Portal ended, though a Pleasant Street - Boylston shuttle continued for one more year. In 1963, part of the original subway was rebuilt under Government Center, abandoning and partially demolishing Adams Square station.

In 1947, the now-bankrupt BERy was replaced by the public Metropolitan Transit Authority (M.T.A.). The new agency was unpopular, even spawning a popular protest song; in 1964, it was replaced with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority which had an expanded funding area to preserve suburban commuter rail lines. In 1967, as part of a systemwide rebranding that included new station names and color names for the transit lines, the remaining streetcar services were designated the "Green Line" because several of them traveled near the Emerald Necklace park system. The streetcar lines were given letter designations: "A" to the Watertown Line, "B" to the Commonwealth Avenue Line, "C" to the Beacon Street Line, "D" to the Riverside Line, and "E" to the Arborway Line.

The Watertown Line ran mostly in mixed traffic after diverging from Commonwealth Avenue; it was permanently replaced with buses in 1969. The section of the Arborway Line past Heath Street was "temporarily" - ultimately permanently - bustituted in 1985. In 2001, with new low-floor streetcars entering service, the MBTA began retrofitting underground stations and major surface stops with low raised platforms for handicapped accessibility. In 2004, the Causeway Street Elevated was replaced with a new tunnel under the Boston Garden, which consolidated the Orange Line and Green Line at a new North Station "superstation", while continuing to connect to Commuter Rail service north of Boston.

The name "Green Line" was assigned in 1967 as part of a major reorganization of the MBTA system's branding.[6] In the 1970s, the Green Line and all other MBTA lines were re-evaluated by the Boston Transportation Planning Review for region-wide efficacy and future modernization alternatives initiated as far as physical plant and operating measures.

Operations and signalling

Trains on the "D" Branch operate using wayside signals.

Unlike the MBTA heavy rail subway lines, the Green Line has only limited central control and monitoring. This also means that it has lagged behind the other three rail lines in the availability of countdown signs and "next train" arrival information.

The line is signalled with advisory wayside signals, except on surface portions in street medians or in-street running. Wayside signal territory stretches from Lechmere to the surface portals at Kenmore, and along the entire length of the D-Riverside branch. There are no automatic protection devices, but the cars have track brakes, giving the ability to stop quickly under control of the operator. Interlockings are controlled through a wayside Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) system that relies on the operator properly entering the destination manually on a roto-wheel in the train cab at the beginning of a run.

The line is monitored from the Operations Control Center (OCC). Responsibility for controlling service is shared by the control room and field personnel along the right of way. Track circuit and signal indications are not transmitted to the operational personnel sites. In lieu of track circuit indications, the AVI system is displayed in the control room to provide a periodic update to train position wherever AVI detectors exist. The AVI system user interface was solely text based until the current control room was opened, in which a new schematic display based on AVI data was instituted. Track circuit indications are available digitally in signal houses at the Park Street interlocking, at the new North Station interlocking, and at the new Kenmore interlocking, but are not transmitted to OCC. In January 2013, the MBTA announced plans to add full vehicle location tracking on the Green Line for countdown signs and smartphone applications, including using AVI data in the tunnels and GPS receivers on the surface lines.[37] The first real-time data--location data on the surface lines--became available in October 2014. Full tracking was expected by early 2015.[38]

As of 2019, the MBTA typically runs two-car trains on weekdays, with one-car trains used at some times on weekends. The last scheduled use of one-car trains on weekdays was in March 2007.[6] Three-car trains were added on the B and D branches in 2010 - their first use since 2005 - and a four-car train was tested in April 2011.[6] In March 2011, the number of three-car trains was substantially increased, including use on the E Branch.[6][39] However, three-car trains suffered from reliability problems and slow boarding.[40] The use of three-car trains ended in March 2016.[6]


Loop track (left) at Kenmore station
The old Scollay Square Station's Brattle Loop (at bottom), still part of the Government Center station infrastructure.

Trains can reverse direction at a number of stations where a turnaround loop is installed. In addition, there are a number of crossover switches where a train can cross to the opposite track and reverse its direction. Listed below are locations where cars routinely reverse direction or at least can reverse direction without the need for flagpersons to supervise the movement.

  • Lechmere is currently the northern terminus of the Green Line, and consists of a balloon-shaped turnaround, actually two concentric turning loops allowing complex staging of cars and trains.
  • At North Station, trains heading westbound/outbound toward Lechmere can reverse direction using stub tracks just north of the station. No turnaround is available in the eastbound/inbound direction.
  • At Government Center, Green Line trains entering from either the north or the west can turn around, using the Brattle Loop. Trains from the north reversing direction must switch onto the Brattle Loop track prior to entering the station.
  • At Park Street, trains can turn around from one direction only. Trains headed toward Lechmere may instead enter Park Street on the inside track, often referred to as the "fence rail", and turn around on a tight loop after discharging passengers. As of 2015, the inside loading platform usually served trains bound for Boston College ("B") and Riverside ("D").
  • Kenmore is where inbound trains coming from the Cleveland Circle ("C") or the Riverside ("D") Branches can turn around to the corresponding outbound track. No turnaround is available for the Boston College/Commonwealth Avenue "B" Branch heading inbound. Outbound, trains can reverse direction using a storage track between the two service tracks just past Kenmore (on Commonwealth Ave. at Blandford St.) and return to the subway.

Plans to reinstitute a crossover for through movements from the terminating (inner) northbound platform at Park Street to continue onwards towards Government Center are expected to increase capacity and reliability.[41]


Somerville/Medford extension (Green Line Extension Project)

Map of the Green Line Extension. Nearby parts of the Red Line and Orange Line are also shown.

To settle a lawsuit with the Conservation Law Foundation to mitigate increased automobile emissions from the Big Dig, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts agreed to extend the line from its northern terminus at Lechmere to Medford Hillside through Somerville and Medford, two suburbs underserved by the MBTA relative to their population densities, commercial importance, and proximity to Boston. The line would use railroad rights-of-way that serve the Lowell Line (which also carries Amtrak's Downeaster) and the Fitchburg Line of MBTA Commuter Rail. The extension is projected to have a total weekday ridership of about 52,000.[42]

The Green Line Extension (GLX) is planned to have two branches, which will split just past a relocated Lechmere station. The Medford Branch, which will become an extension of the "D" Branch,[43] will run along the Lowell Line right of way with stops at East Somerville, Gilman Square, Magoun Square, Ball Square, and a terminus at Medford/Tufts in Medford, on the edge of the Tufts University campus. Earlier plans called for further extension to Route 16 or even West Medford, but extension beyond College Avenue was placed on hold due to cost issues. GLX as built will not preclude further extension to Route 16 if funding becomes available.

The Union Square branch will follow the Fitchburg Line right-of-way from Lechmere to Union Square station just south of Union Square in Somerville. It will operate as an extension of the "E" Branch.[43]

In 2010, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) announced that the new service was expected to be operational in October 2015; interim air quality offset measures would need to be taken if the project missed December 2014 deadline as expected. In August 2011, MassDOT announced that opening of the Extension would be postponed to fall (Q3 or Q4) 2018 at the earliest, with some stations not opening until 2019. The stated reason was difficulties in land acquisition, plus implied concerns about cost controls and financing.[44] Interim air-quality improvement measures will be necessary due to the project delays. Possibilities include extending Green Line branches to Lechmere, increased bus service in Somerville and Medford, and temporary or permanent commuter rail stops along the GLX corridor.[45] In September 2014, the target date for start of service was pushed back to 2020.[46]

On June 11, 2012, the Federal Transit Administration approved the Extensions for entry into the Preliminary Engineering phase as part of the New Starts program. This approval was a necessary step in MassDOT's application for $557.06 million in New Starts funding.[47]

A groundbreaking was held at the Medford Street bridge on December 11, 2012.[48] A Notice to Proceed was issued to the contractor, Barletta Heavy Division, Inc., on January 31, 2013.[49]

As of December 2015, the future of the project was in doubt due to a substantial increase in costs,[50] but it has been reduced in scope and is now expected to open in December 2021.[9]

Revised GLX plan

On May 9, 2016, the GLX Interim Project Management Team submitted a report[51] outlining a redesigned project to the MassDOT Board of Directors and the MBTA Fiscal & Management Control Board, which then voted to 'support advancing the Green Line Extension Project ("GLX Project") and [seek] Federal Transit Administration ("FTA") review and approval of the redesigned GLX Project.

To achieve needed cost savings a number of elements of the project were simplified or dropped. Stations will have open platforms with several shelters. The Vehicle Maintenance Facility will be reduced by roughly half, and three bridges that were to be replaced will instead be retained.

Under the trimmed plan, the Somerville Community Path was to terminate at Washington Street, Somerville instead of Water Street in Cambridge, however a full-length path was included in the bidding package as an extra credit option and the winning bidder agreed to build it.[52]

The FTA approved the new $2.3 billion plan on April 4, 2017. On June 25, 2018, a fourth groundbreaking ceremony was held, with local, state, and federal officials taking part.[53] The new line is expected to be completed at the end of 2021.[54]

Accessibility renovations

Government Center under reconstruction in September 2014

All of the Green Line originally opened by 1959, long before the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act mandated that new construction be fully accessible. The MBTA began modifying Red, Orange, and Blue Line stations for accessibility in the late 1980s; however, Green Line stations were not modified until the late 1990s, when the Type 8 vehicles were under construction. The MBTA began the Light Rail Accessibility Program in 1996.[55]:30 Because modifying the numerous stations all at once would be prohibitively expensive, the MBTA designated "key stations" - largely those with high ridership or bus connections - for prioritization.[56]

Riverside station was completely rebuilt with raised accessible platforms around 1998. North Station and Park Street (both of which already had elevators from previous projects) were outfitted with portable lifts for temporary accessibility around 2000, as were Lechmere and ten surface stations.[56] Between 2001 and 2003, 16 surface stations (4 on the B Branch, 4 on the C Branch, 3 on the D Branch, and 5 on the E Branch) were retrofitted with raised platforms.[57] The 13 B, C, and E branch stations collectively cost $32 million.[58] Construction of raised platforms was completed at Park Street and Haymarket around 2003; Prudential was also reconstructed that year by the developer of 111 Huntington Avenue. The fully accessible underground "superstation" at North Station opened in 2004.[6]

Renovations for accessibility were completed at Arlington in 2009[59], Kenmore and Copley in 2010[60][61], and Science Park in 2011.[62] A two-year closure of Government Center ended in 2016 with the opening of the accessible transfer station.[63] This left only Hynes Convention Center and Symphony (both with planned renovations) and Boylston as inaccessible stations in the Central Subway. The opening of the Green Line Extension in 2021 will add six new stations; Lechmere will be replaced by a fully accessible elevated station.

Woodland was made accessible in 2006[64] Renovations completed in 2009 made Longwood accessible for the first time, and replaced the lifts at Boston College and Brookline Village.[65][66] Temporary work to make Newton Highlands accessible was done in 2019; a full reconstruction will be completed in 2020.[67] A reconstruction of Brookline Hills (replacing lifts) will be completed in 2021.[67] Construction of two accessible stations on the B Branch to replace four non-accessible stations will begin in 2020.[68]

Location tracking

Activated countdown signs at Kenmore station in August 2015

The Red, Orange, and Blue lines have block signalling systems that make tracking the location of trains easier. Signs in most station on those lines began to display real-time train information in late 2012 and early 2013, while data feeds have been available for smartphone applications since 2010.[37] However, the wayside signalling system used in the Green Line's tunnels and the D Branch does not provide for that level of tracking, nor do the basic stop/go signals used on the street-level branch lines. In January 2013, the MBTA announced plans to provide full tracking data for the Green Line by 2015, allowing use of smartphone applications and in-station countdown signs.[37] The $13.4 million system is funded by MassDOT; it uses existing Automatic Vehicle Identification (AVI) systems plus additional sensors in the tunnels, and GPS receivers on the surface sections.[69]

In September 2013, the MBTA announced that "Next Train" signs would be unveiled at Kenmore that month.[70] On October 23, 2014, location tracking data became available for Green Line trains above ground. Arrival predictions for surface stations - including the activation of countdown signs along the "D" Branch - and underground tracking and predictions were to be rolled out in two phases by early 2015.[38] In March 2015, the MBTA announced that enough AVI equipment had been installed to allow the release of some underground data by April 2015, though some equipment would not be completed until July.[69] Most underground location data went live in August 2015, with trains near Park Street and Boylston waiting until September.

The first predictive countdown signs on the Green Line were activated at Newton Centre and Newton Highlands on April 24, 2015, followed shortly by other "D" Branch stations.[71] Countdown signs at Kenmore and Hynes were activated in August 2015. Signs at Copley and Arlington plus eastbound-only signs from Boylston through Science Park were activated in October 2015.[72] The final set of signs - those on the westbound platforms of Science Park through Boylston - were activated in January 2016. Because holding and short-turning trains at the downtown terminals makes time-based predictions unreliable, the signs instead show how many stops away a train is.[73]

Station listing

This listing includes only the Central Subway section between Lechmere and Kenmore, which are or will be served by multiple branches. For stops on the surface sections of the branches, see Green Line "B" Branch § Station listing, Green Line "C" Branch § Station listing, Green Line "D" Branch § Station listing, and Green Line "E" Branch § Station listing. All stations in the Central Subway have prepaid fare areas (fare control).

Location Station Branches Opened Notes and connections
East Cambridge Handicapped/disabled access Lechmere E July 10, 1922 The Lechmere Viaduct opened on June 1, 1912, with a direct connenction to surface lines until July 9, 1922
Bus transportMBTA Bus: 69, 80, 87, 88
Bus transportEZRide
West End Handicapped/disabled access Science Park August 20, 1955
North End Handicapped/disabled access North Station C, E June 28, 2004 Original surface station was open from September 3, 1898 to March 27, 1997. Elevated station was open from June 1, 1912 to June 24, 2004.
Subway interchange MBTA subway: Orange Line
Bus transportMBTA Bus: 4
MBTA.svg MBTA Commuter Rail: Fitchburg Line, Lowell Line, Haverhill Line, and Newburyport/Rockport Line
Amtrak Amtrak: Downeaster
Handicapped/disabled access Haymarket September 3, 1898 Subway interchange MBTA subway: Orange Line
Bus transport MBTA Bus: 4, 92, 93, 111, 191, 192, 193, 194, 325, 326, 352, 354, 426, 428, 434, 450
Downtown Boston Handicapped/disabled access Government Center C, D, E Subway interchange MBTA subway: Blue Line
Bus transport MBTA Bus: 191, 192, 193, 352, 354
Handicapped/disabled access Park Street B, C, D, E September 1, 1897 Subway interchange MBTA subway: Red Line
Bus transport MBTA Bus: SL5, 43, 55, 191, 192, 193
At Downtown Crossing: Subway interchange Orange Line, Bus transport7, 11, 501, 504, 505, 553, 554, 556, 558
Boylston Bus transport MBTA Bus: SL5, 43, 55, 191, 192, 193
Back Bay Handicapped/disabled access Arlington November 13, 1921 Bus transport MBTA Bus: 9, 55, 192, 193
Handicapped/disabled access Copley October 3, 1914 Bus transport MBTA Bus: 9, 10, 39, 55, 170, 192, 193, 502, 503
Hynes Convention Center B, C, D Bus transport MBTA Bus: 1, 55, 193
Fenway-Kenmore Handicapped/disabled access Kenmore October 23, 1932 Bus transport MBTA Bus: 8, 19, 57, 57A, 60, 65, 193
At Lansdowne: MBTA.svg Framingham/Worcester Line

Incidents and accidents

On August 23, 2004, a Type 8 Breda low-floor trolley derailed at Northeastern University Green Line stop, causing scarring in the outbound platform near the pedestrian crossing on the Opera Place side of the station.[74]

Type 7 car wrecked in the May 2008 accident

On May 28, 2008, two "D" Branch trains collided in Newton. The operator of one of the trains was killed and numerous riders were taken to area hospitals with injuries of varying degrees of seriousness. While it was originally thought that cell phone use was responsible for the accident, the cause was officially determined to be an episode of micro-sleep caused by the driver's sleep apnea.[75]

On May 8, 2009, two trolleys rear-end collided underground between Park Street and Government Center when the driver of one of the trolleys, 24-year-old Aiden Quinn, was text messaging his girlfriend while driving.[76] Quinn had run through a red light before the crash, which injured 46 people. MBTA officials estimated that the cost of the crash was $9.6 million.[77] A strict ban on cell phone usage by MBTA operators was later enacted.[78]

On October 8, 2012, two "E" Branch trolleys collided in the 700 block of Huntington Avenue near Brigham Circle when one derailed into the other, injuring three people including a train operator.[79] The next month on November 29, two trolleys collided at low speed at Boylston, injuring several dozen passengers.[80]

On March 10, 2014, a "D" Branch trolley with passengers aboard derailed in the tunnel just west of Kenmore Station, near the flat junction between the "D" and "C" branches. A second train had to brake suddenly to avoid hitting the derailed train.[81] Ten people were treated for moderate injuries.[82]

On December 9, 2014, in the morning rush hour, a Type 7 trolley struck a pillar near Boylston and Park Streets, smashing the window and breaking off one of the panels of the two panel doors. Nobody on the train was injured.[83]

In October 2016, the Boston Globe reported that the Green Line had the highest number of derailments and accidents on light rail lines in the United States in 2015. The number of incidents had been increasing for several years due to deferred maintenance on tracks and wheels, which resulted in more low-speed derailments of Type 8 cars.[84]


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