Red Line (MBTA)

Red Line (MBTA)

An MBTA Red Line train composed of #3 Red Line stock leaving Charles/MGH station bound for Alewife, going over the Longfellow Bridge.
Type Rapid transit
Locale Boston, Massachusetts
Termini Alewife
Ashmont or Braintree
Stations 17 (Alewife-Ashmont)
18 (Alewife-Braintree)
Services 2
Daily ridership 241,603 (2010) [1]
Opened 1912
Owner MBTA
Operator(s) MBTA
Character Subway, Grade-separated ROW
Rolling stock Type 1, Type 2, Type 3 Red Line
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Electrification Third rail
Route map
Unknown BSicon "uKDSa"
Alewife Yard
Enter urban tunnel
Layup tracks
Unknown BSicon "utACC"
Unknown BSicon "utACC"
Unknown BSicon "CONTu" Urban tunnel straight track
Fitchburg Line
Unknown BSicon "CPICAl" Unknown BSicon "utCPICAr"
Unknown BSicon "CONTd" Urban tunnel straight track
Fitchburg Line
Unknown BSicon "utACC"
Unknown BSicon "utACC"
Unknown BSicon "utACC"
Exit urban tunnel
Longfellow Bridge incline
Urban bridge over water
Charles River
Unknown BSicon "uHSTACC"
Enter urban tunnel
Unknown BSicon "utCONTr" Unknown BSicon "utTHSTACCto" Unknown BSicon "utCONTl"
Park Street
Unknown BSicon "utCONTr" Unknown BSicon "utTHSTACCtu" Unknown BSicon "utCONTl"
Downtown Crossing
Unknown BSicon "utINTACC"
South Station
Unknown BSicon "utACC"
Unknown BSicon "utACC"
Unknown BSicon "CONTu" Exit urban tunnel
Old Colony Lines
Unknown BSicon "CPICAl" Unknown BSicon "uCPICAr"
Unknown BSicon "CONTd" Urban straight track
Old Colony Lines
Waterway turning from left Unknown BSicon "uABZrf"
Unknown BSicon "uHSTACC" Unknown BSicon "uLUECKE"
Savin Hill
Unknown BSicon "uACC" Unknown BSicon "uLUECKE"
Fields Corner
Unknown BSicon "uHSTACC" Unknown BSicon "uLUECKE"
Unknown BSicon "uCPICAla" Unknown BSicon "uCPICAr" Unknown BSicon "uLUECKE"
Unknown BSicon "uKACCe" Unknown BSicon "uLUECKE"
Unknown BSicon "uACC"
North Quincy
Urban stop on track
Unknown BSicon "uACC"
Quincy Center
Unknown BSicon "uHSTACC"
Quincy Adams
Unknown BSicon "uKHSTACCe"
Red Line train of Type 1 Red Line railcars crossing the Charles River on the Longfellow Bridge, towards Boston
View of Boston from the Red Line while crossing the Longfellow Bridge

The Red Line is a rapid transit line operated by the MBTA running roughly north-south through Boston, Massachusetts into neighboring communities. The line begins west of Boston, in Cambridge, Massachusetts at Alewife station, near the intersection of Alewife Brook Parkway and Route 2. The line passes through downtown Boston, with transfers to the Green Line at Park Street station, the Orange Line at Downtown Crossing, and the Silver Line at South Station. South of downtown, the line splits at JFK/UMass station, where one branch provides service to Braintree station and the other to Ashmont station. A connection to the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line extends the reach of the Ashmont branch to Mattapan station.

Regular fare is $1.70 when using a CharlieCard or $2.00 when using cash or a Charlie Ticket, regardless of point of boarding or departure. Exit fares on the Braintree extension were discontinued in 2007.[2]

Approximate travel times to or from Park Street station are as follows: northbound to Harvard station, 11 minutes; Alewife station, 20 minutes; southbound to JFK/UMass, 8 minutes; Ashmont station, 17 minutes; Braintree station, 28 minutes.[3]



The Red Line was the last of the four original Boston subway lines (Green, Orange, Blue) to begin construction. The section from Harvard station and Eliot Yard connecting to Park Street station and the Tremont Street Subway opened 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). Opening of the line required construction of the Cambridge Tunnel just beneath Massachusetts Avenue and Main Street from Harvard onto the (now historic) Longfellow Bridge. The line occupied a previously constructed rail right-of-way in the center of the bridge.[citation needed] On the Boston side of the bridge, the line briefly transformed into an elevated railway, rising over Charles Circle and connecting to another tunnel dug through Beacon Hill to Park Street. Further extensions (built as the Dorchester Tunnel) to Washington Street and South Station Under 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.

Next came the Dorchester Extension, now known as the Ashmont Branch. The branch followed a rail right-of-way created in 1870 by the Shawmut Branch Railroad. In 1872, the right-of-way was acquired by the Old Colony Railroad to connect the main line at Harrison Square with the Dorchester and Milton Branch Railroad, running from the Old Colony at Neponset, west to what is now Mattapan station. The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad succeeded Old Colony in operating the branch and rail passenger service ceased in anticipation of the Boston Elevated Railway expansion on September 4, 1926,[4]

The Boston Elevated opened the first phase of the Dorchester Extension to Field's Corner station on November 5, 1927. Service ran south from Andrew station, turned southeast to the surface, and ran along the west side of the Old Colony mainline in a depressed right-of-way. Columbia station and Savin Hill station were built on the surface at the sites of former Old Colony stations. The remainder of the extension opened to Ashmont station and Codman Yard on September 1, 1928, and included a station - Shawmut - where there had been no Old Colony station due to the relatively close proximity to Fields Corner. 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 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 1. The color was chosen because the line then ended at Harvard University, whose school color is crimson.[5]

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 (first planned by the Boston Transportation Planning Review) to Braintree station, opened March 22, 1980, and the intermediate station at Quincy Adams station 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 Porter station and Davis station on December 8, 1984, and to Alewife station on March 30, 1985 brought the Red Line to its current terminus. This extension was scaled back from the original plan to extend the Red Line from Harvard to Route 128 in Lexington-Bedford via the former Bedford Branch rail right-of-way. That plan had been supported by the Town of Lexington but was scuttled by fierce anti-urban sentiment in parts of Arlington. The right-of way on which the extension would have been built instead was developed into the Minuteman Bikeway.

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 pioneered an investment in the "Arts on the Line" public art program. A platform on the South Shore Line opened at JFK/UMass (formerly Columbia) on December 14, 1988.

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. [1]

Operations and signalling

The line used trip-stop wayside signalling for the Ashmont and Harvard branches until the mid-1980s, while the Braintree Branch was one of the earliest examples of Automatic Train Control (ATC). The Alewife Branch was built with ATC, at which point the remainder of the line was upgraded to ATC as well. The line was under local control at towers until 1985 when an electromechanical panel was completed at 45 High St. This was replaced in the late 1990s with a software-controlled Automatic Train Supervision, using a product by Union Switch & Signal, subcontracted to Syseca Inc. (now ARINC), at a new theater at 45 High St. Subsequent revisions to the system were made internally at the MBTA.

The shortest scheduled headway ever run on the Red Line is most likely the 1 34 minute interval in the schedule published in 1928. Ridership peaked on the line around 1947, when passenger counters logged over 850 people per four car train during peak periods. The newer ATC signalling was designed to higher safety standards, but the particular design of the block layout in the downtown area reduced the capacity by 50% over the previous wayside signalling system. The net loss of capacity measured in cars per hour has not been rectified, although at the same time the platforms were lengthened to run 6-car trains which are now operated on a longer headway. Additionally, the shifting between speed codes that is inherent in an ATC system near capacity caused peak period energy consumption to skyrocket, and accelerated the decline of the 01400 series fleet.[citation needed]


Most, but not all, Red Line stations are wheelchair accessible. The only non-accessible stations are Wollaston on the Braintree branch and Valley Road on the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line.


Red Line cars at Cabot Yard

The Red Line is standard gauge heavy rail. Trains consist of mated pairs of Electrical Multiple Unit cars powered from a 600 VDC third rail. All Red Line trains run in 6-car sets.

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, near JFK/UMass station. Trains are also stored overnight in yards at Braintree (Caddigan Yard) and Ashmont (Codman Yard), as well as the stub tracks west of Alewife.[6] Eliot Yard, located on the surface near Harvard, served East Boston Tunnel (now Blue Line) cars for a short time and Red Line cars until the 1970s. (East Boston Tunnel cars accessed the yard through the now-closed Joy Street portal near Bowdoin and a track connection on the Longfellow Bridge).

1912 Cambridge Subway Cars

The so-called Cambridge Subway began service in 1912 with 40 all-steel motor cars built by Standard Steel Car Co. They featured a novel design as a result of studies about Boston‘s existing lines. The cars had an extraordinary length of 69 ft. 2½ in. over buffers and large standees capacity, weighed only 85,900 lb. and featured an all-new door arrangement. There were three single sliding doors per side that were evenly distributed along the car‘s length so that the maximum distance from any location inside the car to a door was around 9 ft. The idea was later taken over by the BMT Standards and Philadelphia‘s Frankford Elevated Line cars. Moreover about 20 ft of the car was separated by a bulkhead and used as a smoking compartment. In contrast to the elevated lines passenger flow was not intended here, so every door was used as entrance and exit as well.[7]

Two basic types of cars are in use today:

Aluminum-bodied cars

Aluminum-bodied Red Line train at Braintree station
Aluminum-bodied Red Line cars at Harvard station

Three series of older aluminum-bodied cars built by Pullman-Standard and UTDC. 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 roll signs. Before their overhauls, the 1500 and 1600 series had a brushed aluminum livery with a thin red stripes.

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 married pairs. Originally, the 1500s were double-ended and had two cabs, but were converted to single ended during its midlife overhaul.[8] Headlights are still present on the non-cab ends on the 1500s. The 1700s also have headlights on their non-cab end, however they were built with only one cab.

Stainless steel-bodied cars

Bombardier car at Harvard station
Bombardier car motorman's cab at Braintree station

One series of newer stainless steel-bodied cars were built by Bombardier for the MBTA's Red Line service, from components manufactured in Canada and assembled in Barre, Vermont. These cars seat 50 passengers and 86 cars are in active service. An automated stop announcement system provides station announcements synchronized with visual announcements displayed on red LED signs located in each car. These cars are stainless steel with red trim and use yellow LCD exterior signs. Unlike the previous series, these train cars originally had red cloth seats (in contrast to the black leather seats of other models), but in the early 21st century, the cloth seats were replaced with black leather seats. Recently the black leather seats were replaced with vandalism-proof cloth seats containing multi-colored patterns, as did the other Red Line rolling stock still in use.

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 partially interoperate with the older three series of cars in emergencies or non-revenue equipment moves, but normally do not in revenue service.

Increasing capacity

As of December 2008, the MBTA began running a set of modified 1800 series cars without seats in order to increase train capacity and accommodate more passengers during on-peak hours. This makes the MBTA the first transit operator in the United States with heavy rail operations to run cars modified for this purpose. These cars have been designated as 'Big Red' cars, denoted by large stickers applied adjacent to the side loading doors of each car. New automated service announcements have been recorded for playback at station platforms in order to alert passengers to the arrival of these 'Big Red' high capacity trains.[9] So far, the MBTA only has one pair of the modified rolling stock and the cars operate in a consist that runs only once during the morning rush hour toward Alewife and once during the evening rush hour toward Braintree, departing Alewife at the top of the evening rush.

Replacement of 1500, 1600 series cars

The MBTA is starting to design the next generation trains for the Red Line, which will replace the 1500 and 1600 series, which are now over 40 years old. The new cars will mechanically but not electrically couple with the older two series of cars (1700 and 1800).[10]

Art and architecture

The MBTA pioneered a "percentage for art" public art program called Arts on the Line during its Northwest Extension of the Red Line in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Arts on the Line was the first program of its kind in the United States and became the model for similar drives for art across the country.

The Kendall/MIT station features an interactive public art installation by Paul Matisse called the Kendall Band, which allows the public to activate three sound-producing machines utilizing levers on the wall of the station.

Above the tracks at Alewife hangs a series of red neon tubes called End of Red Line by the Boston artist Alejandro Sinha. Several other stations feature public art.[11]

Newer aboveground stations (particularly Alewife, Braintree, and Quincy Adams, which all have large parking garages) are excellent examples of brutalist architecture.


Red Line Signage

Between South Station and Broadway, and also between Harvard station and Central Square, there have been advertisements in the form of a zoetrope. Each frame of the ad is mechanically revealed as the train goes by, to create an animation effect.[12] There are similar advertisements in parts of the New York City Subway, the Washington Metro, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), and the Singapore MRT.[13]

Station listing

Main line

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 anachronistic.
Outbound train approaching South Station.
Station Location Opened Transfers and notes
Handicapped/disabled access Alewife Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge March 30, 1985[14] bus terminal, park and ride garage, Minuteman Bikeway
Handicapped/disabled access Davis Davis Square, Somerville December 8, 1984[14] Somerville Community Path
Handicapped/disabled access Porter Porter Square, Cambridge December 8, 1984[14] MBTA Commuter Rail, Fitchburg Line
Handicapped/disabled access Harvard Harvard Square, Cambridge September 6, 1983 Original station opened March 23, 1912 and closed January 30, 1981
Handicapped/disabled access Central Central Square, Cambridge March 23, 1912
Handicapped/disabled access Kendall/MIT Kendall Square, Cambridge March 23, 1912 originally Kendall until August 6, 1978, named Cambridge Center/MIT between December 2, 1982 and June 25, 1985
Handicapped/disabled access Charles/MGH Cambridge and Charles Streets, Boston February 27, 1932 originally Charles until December 1973
Handicapped/disabled access Park Street Park, Tremont, and Winter Streets, Boston March 23, 1912 Green Line
originally Park Street Under
Handicapped/disabled access Downtown Crossing Summer, Washington, and Winter Streets, Boston April 4, 1915 Orange Line and Silver Line Phase I
originally Washington until May 3, 1987
Handicapped/disabled access South Station Dewey Square, Boston December 3, 1916 Silver Line Phase II and MBTA Commuter Rail south side lines
Had a transfer to the Atlantic Avenue Elevated
Handicapped/disabled access Broadway Broadway and Dorchester Avenue, South Boston December 15, 1917
Handicapped/disabled access Andrew 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.
Handicapped/disabled access JFK/UMass Columbia Road and Morrissey Boulevard, Dorchester November 5, 1927 MBTA Commuter Rail, Plymouth/Kingston Line and Middleborough/Lakeville Line
originally Columbia until December 1, 1982, Braintree platform opened December 14, 1988
was called Crescent Avenue[15] as an Old Colony Railroad station

Ashmont Branch

Diverging from JFK/UMass:

Station Location Opened Transfers and notes
Handicapped/disabled access Savin Hill Savin Hill Avenue and Sydney Street November 5, 1927 was an Old Colony Railroad station; tracks for the Braintree branch run next to the station but trains do not stop.
Harrison Square former split and transfer station between the Old Colony Railroad mainline and the Shawmut Branch Railroad, never a rapid transit station
Handicapped/disabled access Fields Corner Charles Street and Dorchester Avenue November 5, 1927 was a Shawmut Branch Railroad station
Handicapped/disabled access Shawmut Dayton Street September 1, 1928
Handicapped/disabled access Ashmont Ashmont Street and Dorchester Avenue 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 Opened[14] Transfers and notes
Handicapped/disabled access North Quincy East Squantum and Hancock Streets, Quincy September 1, 1971
Wollaston Newport Avenue and Beale Street, Quincy September 1, 1971
Handicapped/disabled access Quincy Center Hancock and Washington Streets, Quincy September 1, 1971 MBTA Commuter Rail, Plymouth/Kingston Line and Middleborough/Lakeville Line
Handicapped/disabled access Quincy Adams Burgin Parkway and Centre Street, Quincy September 10, 1983 Park and ride
Handicapped/disabled access Braintree Ivory and Union Streets, Braintree March 22, 1980 MBTA Commuter Rail, Plymouth/Kingston Line and Middleborough/Lakeville Line Park and ride


  1. ^ "Ridership and Service Statistics". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2010. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  2. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions on the Fare Restructuring and Increase". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  3. ^ Association for Public Transportation, Car-Free in Boston, A Guide for Locals and Visitors, 10th ed. (2003), p. 116.
  4. ^ End of service on Old Colony's Shawmut Branch
  5. ^ Kleespies, Gavin W. and MacDonald, Katie. "Transportation History". Harvard Square Business Association. Retrieved 4 October 2011. 
  6. ^ O'Regan, Gerry. "MBTA Red Line". Retrieved 29 September 2011. 
  7. ^ Steel Cars for the Cambridge Subway In: Electric Railway Journal, Vol XXXIX, No. 2, p. 58.
  8. ^
  9. ^ MBTA strips out the seats from some Red Line trains
  10. ^ New Subway Vehicle Procurement / 220 Rapid Transit Cars for the MBTA Red & Orange Lines / Concept Report for the Specification Goal Definitions / Industry Review Release 1 / Revision B. 2009-01-08
  11. ^ "Boston Inspires Public Art" (PDF). Boston Public Library. 2003. pp. 5, 6. Retrieved 2008-09-01. "the MBTA collaborated with the... Cambridge Arts Council... to acquire art for the Red Line Northwest Extension Project. The result was the beginning of a world-class public art program and collection that has grown to include over seventy pieces on six transit lines." 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "MRT Riders watch tunnel TV". Retrieved 8 November 2009. 
  14. ^ a b c d Belcher, Jonathan (20 July 2011). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district". NETransit. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  15. ^ Whiting, E., Map of Dorchester Massachusetts in 1850 - Boston Public Library Map Collection. The maps shows the Crescent Avenue Depot of the Old Colony Railroad Line.

External links

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