MBTA: The Green Line

MBTA Type 8

MBTA Green Line on Commonwealth Avenue.  (c) 2010 C. Walton

The Green Line: part of America’s first subway, unique compared to the other MBTA rail lines, and one of the busiest lines in Boston.

With four branches, the Green Line carries nearly as many passengers as the Red Line subway, if not more.  The four branches run as follows:

  • [B] Boston College to Park Street via Commonwealth Ave
  • [C] Cleveland Circle to North Station via Beacon St
  • [D] Riverside to North Station or Park Street via Brookline
  • [E] Heath Street to Lechmere via Huntington Ave

The [A] branch operated from Watertown to Goverment Center (formerly Scollay Square) but was closed in 1969 due to low ridership and lack of available equipment.

The [B] Branch runs in the median along Commonwealth Avenue passing by Boston College, Boston University, and many tree-lined neighborhoods in west Boston.  This branch enters the subway at Kenmore station and continues under Copley Street to Park Street station, with a transfer to the Red Line.  Trains are terminating at Park Street due to construction at Government Center Station.  This is a fairly fast line even with median street-running, and quite the busy one as well due to the colleges, mainly Boston University, which has three stations on the [B] line.  This line has some of the best views of downtown Boston due to Commonwealth Avenue having a slight downgrade from Packards Corner to Kenmore.  It’s a great line for speed without having to travel very far outside of Boston.

The [C] Branch runs in the median along Beacon Street to Cleveland Circle, not too far from Boston but far enough for it to be a long ride.  The [C] branch joins the subway at Kenmore and continues to North Station, with connections to commuter rail service.  Beacon Street is entirely tree-lined much like the outer portions of Commonwealth Avenue on the [B] line.  It’s a bit slower than the [B], but mainly because most of the stops on the [C] are decently used.  The end of the [C] line is walking distance from the Reservoir Yard and the Reservoir station on the [D] branch, all accessible via track connections.  There is also a track connection up Chestnut Hill Avenue to the [B] branch in case trains need to be placed in service up there or for flexibility getting trains around delays on the [B],[C], or [D] branches.  If tree-line streets is your thing, it’s a great line to see how many Bostonians live, but if you want more action, this branch won’t give you the thrills of the other branches.  Nevertheless, it’s a cool line.

The [D] branch runs along private right-of-way all the way out to Riverside, making the [D] the longest of the 4 branches of the Green Line.  Because of its distance and lack of street-running, this is the fastest of the branches into downtown Boston and, thus, for railfans, this is one of the more interesting of the branches.  Some trains terminate at Reservoir, but most continue out to Riverside.  There is no express service on this branch, so past Reservoir, the stops are spaced far apart, upwards of a mile in some spots.  The [D] branches joins the subway at Kenmore and continues to Park Street (due to Government Center being closed for reconstruction) or North Station at off-peak times.

The [E] branch runs along Huntington Avenue in the median in some places and with vehicular traffic in other places.  This branch is most peculiar in that the [E] joins the subway at Copley Square instead of Kenmore and it’s the only line that continues past downtown Boston out to Lechmere.  This line is proposed to extend to Somerville in a few years.  The [E] line runs down the median of Huntington Avenue throughout the Longwood Medical Area up to Brigham Circle, then runs along the travel lanes south of Brigham Circle to Heath Street.  Which means that if traffic backs up, the [E] line backs up.  The [E] line was cut back to Heath Street due to resident concerns about trains running down narrower South Huntington Avenue.  It probably didn’t help that the MBTA didn’t feel there was enough ridership to warrant re-investment in full streetcar consists (two-car sets) running that far.  The Route 39 bus runs the rest of the way to Arborway (which is nearby the Forest Hill Station on the Orange Line).

The subway portion of the Green Line runs from Kenmore to North Station, where all stations are accessible via turnstiles much like the rest of the subway system.  Outside of the subway, the Green Line operates on a pay-as-you-enter basis inbound (towards downtown Boston) and a pay-as-you-exit basis outbound (away from downtown Boston).  Thus, going inbound, only the first door on each car is opened so that riders can interact with the operator in each car.  Going outbound, everyone exits from the front door of each car.  Whether it’s a single or a double (and in some cases a triple) unit operation, each car has an operator that collects fares, though only one operator operates and makes announcements.  In the subway, all doors open at all stations since you ware within subway fare control.  Back in the old days (prior to 2010), the Green Line past Reservoir out to Riverside required an extra fare depending on the distance; up to Newton was an additional 50 cents and all the way to Riverside was an additional $1.  Nowadays, all Green Line service costs the same.

CharlieCard has made everything much more convenient, allowing riders to tap their car to pay for their ride.  CharlieTicket is for those who won’t be tapping their card frequently but still want to pay for their passes and rides a lot faster than with cash.  The CharlieTicket fare is a little more expensive than the CharlieCard fare, but still cheaper than paying cash.  This is to encourage Charlie usage.

One of my main likes with the Green Line is the numerous branches that come into the Copley Street tunnel and terminate at different stations depending on the time of day and the branch.  This gives the main section of the subway (from Kenmore to North Station frequent service to places such as Downtown Crossing, The TD Garden stop North Station, Government Center, Copley Square, and the Boston Commons, the Central Park of Boston.  There is no shortage of trains going by at any time of the day.  My favorite place to watch trains down there (part of the concept of “fanning” or “railfanning”) is Park Street, where trains can come in on one of two tracks in each direction at short intervals.  Another thing I like about the Green Line is the usage of high-floor and low-floor cars in separate consists and in the same consist to maintain wheelchair accessibility on most trips.  The Kinkisharyo Type 7 high-floor cars and the Breda Type 8 low-floor cars hold down the fort.

As far as dislikes?  The dinginess of most stations, the lack of crossover at a few of the subway stations (kinda like New York), and the fact that most trains, due to track constraints, cannot go all the way to Lechmere.  Other than Government Center undergoing a major renovation, the stations all look as if they hadn’t been touched in ages.  The only exception is North Station, which was built underground as part of the Big Dig Project, since North Station was ORIGINALLY an elevated station.  It and Interstate 93 were relocated underground to allow more open spaces in the downtown area.  Also, there are some pretty slow stretches of the subway, other than near Boylston due to the sharp curves, but are slow because of timed signals that prevent rear-ending and speeding.  Otherwise, the system carries more than designed but handles it fairly well.

The Green Line has always been a favorite of mine, still is, but a favorite of all subway lines in Boston.  It is far from my favorite light rail system, but it get points for what it does offer.  There was a time when there was more three-car consists, but in my last few visits, I haven’t seen any three-car trains.  There also hasn’t been nearly as many derailments due to issues with the Type-8s and the car design not working very well with the Green Line’s very old, sharp track.  I believe they might have wisened up and rebuilt sections of their track instead of just blaming Breda (AnsaldoBreda of Italy) for shoddy car design (not that they are perfect cars).  All 100 Type-8 cars are accepted, after nearly a decade of issues and non-acceptance of at least a third of their fleet at once, calling for the extended life of the car they were intended to replace and have since replaced, the Boeing LRVs.  Next visit, I shall take a ride on the [D] from Reservoir to Riverside as that is the only section of the Green Line I haven’t ridden yet.  Ever.

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