Boston’s historic Green Line

Paying a first ever visit to the delightful US city of Boston meant a chance to sample its newest and its oldest section of underground tramway, as well as the sole remaining section of true street running in the city on one of the branches of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Green Line.

While three of the four western branches of the Green Line feature street level running on reserved tracks in the centre of the road, the only real street running section, where trams run amongst other road traffic, appears to be the final mile of Route E, ending at its turning circle terminus at Heath Street.

MBTA Type 7 car 3620 pauses at the Riverway stop on Green Line route E

The oldest section of Green Line dates back to 1897, but the newest section of route I travelled, to a northern terminus at Union Square, only opened in March 2022. A further three-mile long five-station northern branch to Medford/Tufts due to open in November 2022, a century after such an extension was first proposed, and at a cost of more than $2 billion.

MBTA Type 8 unit 3825 at what is currently the system’s newest station – Union Square

Services on the Green Line are worked by a fleet of 98 tramcars known as Type 7 that were built by Japanese manufacturer Kinki Sharyo and delivered between 1986 and 1997 (3600-3719), along with a fleet of 92 Type 8 low-floor vehicles (3800-3923), built by AnsaldoBreda and delivered between 1998 and 2007.

There are also a smaller fleet of 24 Type 9 vehicles (3900-3923) that were built by Spanish manufacturer CAF and delivered between 2018 and 2020. None appeared to in service on the day of my visit (14 October 2022), although a handful stood on the large depot just south of the new Union Square station.

MBTA Type 8 car 3834 on the Heath Street terminus turning circle

All Green Line services are formed of two units, and in order to comply with accessibility requirements no services can be worked by a pair of Type 7 vehicles, which have steep steps up into their vestibules, so all services seem to comprise one Type 7 and one Type 8 vehicle.

MBTA Type 7 car 3684 and a Type 8 car pause at Mission Park with a service for Heath Street

What is noticeable on the street running section of the route is that, unlike in the UK and Europe, there are none of the special tram signals with lines of white dots at road junctions, with no apparent priority given to trams over other road traffic.

MBTA Type 7 car 3684 approaches Mission Park with a service for Union Square

On the short section of real road running by the Green Line trams there are warnings at the stops set in the middle of the busy highway telling motorists not to pass a tram when it is stopped and passengers are boarding or alighting. That pretty obvious bit of safety advice seemed to be ignored by US road users.

MBTA Type 7 car 3620 reaches journey’s end at the Heath Street turning circle

One distinctive feature of the city-centre section of the Green Line running below Boylston Street is ornate “headhouses” such as this one (below) at Copley station, which opened in 1914, stands immediately in front of Boston Public Library and is a protected (listed) building.

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