Harvard (MBTA station)

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Harvard station platforms cropped.jpg
Interior of Harvard station, looking down from a secondary fare mezzanine. The outbound platform is to the left, with the inbound platform visible below to the right.
Station statistics
Address 1400 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
Coordinates 42°22′24″N 71°07′09″W / 42.3734°N 71.1193°W / 42.3734; -71.1193Coordinates: 42°22′24″N 71°07′09″W / 42.3734°N 71.1193°W / 42.3734; -71.1193
Platforms 2 Split platforms
Tracks 2
Bicycle facilities 21 spaces
Other information
Opened March 12, 1912
Rebuilt September 6, 1983
Accessible Handicapped/disabled access
Owned by MBTA
Passengers (2013) 23,199 (weekday average boardings)[1]
Preceding station   MBTA.svg MBTA   Following station
toward Alewife
Red Line
toward Ashmont or Braintree
Harvard (MBTA station) is located in Boston
Harvard (MBTA station)

Harvard is a rapid transit and bus transfer station on the MBTA Red Line, located at Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The third-busiest MBTA subway station, Harvard averaged 23,199 entries each weekday in 2013, with only Downtown Crossing and South Station handling more passengers.[1] It is also an important transfer point, with subway, bus, and trackless trolley service all connecting to the station. Five of the fifteen key MBTA bus routes (with extended late-night service) stop at the station.

Station layout[edit]

G Street Level Exit/Entrance
M Mezzanine Fare mezzanine
B2 Outbound Red Line toward Alewife (Porter)
Side platform, doors will open on the left
B3 Inbound Red Line toward Ashmont/Braintree (Central)
Side platform, doors will open on the right
Main headhouse, located in Harvard Square

One of the most complex subway stations of the MBTA system, Harvard has two side platforms built on two levels, with outbound trains running on the upper level and inbound trains on the lower level.[2] Like all other Red Line stations apart from Wollaston, Harvard is wheelchair accessible.

Because the subway tunnel was tightly constrained to follow Massachusetts Avenue, which makes a sharp, near-right-angle turn at Harvard Square, all Red Line trains must negotiate the curve at slow speed, accompanied by loud squeals from the wheels and rails. The sharp turn is immediately at the inbound end of the station platforms.

Above and slightly offset from the subway platforms are the Harvard Bus Tunnels, which offer passengers underground weather-protected connections to buses and trackless trolleys. To expedite passenger boarding through a left-side door, some trackless trolleys allow free entry for outbound trips, collecting fare upon later passenger exit from the vehicle. For security reasons, often during weekends or other low-volume periods, the lower bus tunnel is shut down and passengers must board using the upper bus tunnel, or outside the station proper. In addition, certain bus routes are not normally routed through the Harvard Bus Tunnel at any time.

Public artwork[edit]

Main article: Arts on the Line

As a part of the Red Line Northwest Extension, Harvard was included as one of the stations involved in the pioneering Arts on the Line program. Arts on the Line was devised to bring art into the MBTA's subway stations in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was the first program of its kind in the United States and became the model for similar arrangements to fund public art across the country.[3]

Four of the original twenty artworks are located at Harvard station.[4] The first two are located outdoors, while the last two are located within the station interior:

  • Gateway to Knowledge by Anne Norton - A 20-foot (6.1 m) high brick structure divided vertically down the center by a gap, but still attached at the top. One half is slightly forward of the other (located in Brattle Square).
  • Omphalos by Dimitri Hadzi - A grouping of pillars holding up various shapes that intersect at odd angles. Many different types and polishes of granite were used. In 2013, this sculpture was removed due to deterioration, with plans to refurbish and relocate it elsewhere. See the Arts on the Line article for further details.
  • Blue Sky on the Red Line by György Kepes - A large stained-glass wall composed of mostly cobalt blue glass, with the exception of a red band that runs the length of the work. It separates the Harvard Bus Tunnel from the central atrium space of the station.
  • New England Decorative Art by Joyce Kozloff - An 83-foot (25 m) long mosaic split up into 8 sections, each resembling a quilt.


Harvard station is located directly beneath Harvard Square, a focal point in Cambridge. Specifically, it lies underneath Massachusetts Avenue and Brattle Street near their intersections with Eliot, JFK, Cambridge and Garden Streets. Harvard University is adjacent, with Harvard Yard, Harvard Extension School, the Harvard Art Museums, the Semitic Museum, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and the Museum of Natural History just a short walk away.

Other institutions include the Harvard/MIT Cooperative Society, Cambridge Public Library, Lesley College, the Longy School of Music, the Episcopal Divinity School, and the Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. Other nearby destinations are the American Repertory Theater, the Cooper-Frost-Austin House, the Hooper-Lee-Nichols House, and the Longfellow House–Washington's Headquarters National Historic Site.


A train at the original Harvard station in 1912

The station opened on March 23, 1912 and was completely rebuilt and relocated in the 1980s. The Harvard Bus Tunnel also opened in 1912, originally serving streetcars but now buses and trackless trolleys (trolleybuses). An above-ground kiosk was added in 1928, and is now listed separately on the National Register of Historic Places. The streetcar tunnel began to be used also by the Boston-area trolleybus system in 1938, and streetcars continued to use it until 1958.[5] Diesel buses began using the tunnel in 1965.[6] The station's northbound (outbound) platform is above the station's southbound (inbound) platform, making it one of four stations in the MBTA system to have bi-level split platforms.[7]

Former stations[edit]

Abandoned outbound platform viewed from a passing train in 2012

There have been a total of five stations on the Red Line in and around Harvard Square. The former Harvard station was located just east of the current station, and some remains exist; the lower level of the Harvard Bus Tunnel follows the rough curve of the old inbound platform, and preserves some of the old mosaic tiled station signs. It opened March 23, 1912 and closed January 30, 1981.[8]

The lead tracks to Eliot Yard (a former railcar maintenance and storage facility) curved under Harvard Square and Brattle Street, with a portal south of Bennett Street. The tunnel is still in place underground and used for MBTA storage, but the aboveground section has been demolished save for one stone marked by the Boston Elevated Railway.[8] The Eliot Yard was demolished and replaced by Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and the adjacent public John F. Kennedy Memorial Park in the 1980s.

"Stadium" station was located at surface level in Eliot Yard, west of the corner of what is now JFK Street and Memorial Drive. It was not open for regular use and did not have fare gates; instead, employees collected fares for special service to events such as the Harvard-Yale football games (The Game).[8] It opened on October 26, 1912 and the last known use was on November 18, 1967.[9]

During the construction of the current Harvard station, two temporary stations were built. "Harvard/Brattle", a temporary station built of pressure-treated wood, consisted of two island platforms between three tracks in Eliot Yard, just outside the portal. It was open from March 24, 1979 to September 1, 1983, and was the northern terminus of the Red Line in that period.[9]

"Harvard/Holyoke" station was located in the main Red Line tunnel east of the current station, at Massachusetts Avenue and Holyoke Street. Although it was for inbound passengers only, the temporary station was fully built with tile walls and other details. It was open from January 31, 1981 to September 1, 1983.[9] The abandoned side platform is still visible from inbound Red Line trains.

The permanent Harvard station was reopened after major reconstruction, on September 6, 1983. A bronze plaque was later installed for the formal dedication ceremony in 1985.

John H. "Muggsie" Kelly, a construction foreman with the Perini Corporation, was killed in an accident on May 18, 1982, during the construction of the current Harvard station. A separate memorial plaque honoring Kelly, located near Johnston Gate, was dedicated in October 1985, after the completion of the Red Line construction.[10][11]


As a vital interchange station, Harvard is a proposed stop on the MBTA's planned Urban Ring Project.[12] The Urban Ring would be a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line designed to connect the current MBTA Lines to reduce strain on the downtown stations.

Bus connections[edit]

Trackless trolley from Belmont discharging passengers in Harvard Bus Tunnel, upper level

In the Harvard Bus Tunnel:

On street level (outside of the underground bus terminal):

*Note: This is one of the key MBTA bus routes, defined as the 15 busiest routes in the MBTA system. As of March 2014, these key routes and the MBTA subway lines have extended late-night service hours.



  1. ^ a b "Ridership and Service Statistics" (14 ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014. Retrieved 26 July 2014. 
  2. ^ NYCSubway. "MBTA Red Line". Retrieved 16 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Red Line Northwest Extension Pamphlet page 5. The Davis Square Tiles Project. Accessed May 31, 2010
  4. ^ Arts on the Line:Harvard Square MBTA Station. Cambridge Arts Council. 2002. Accessed May 30, 2010
  5. ^ Wolinksy, Julian (Fall 1988). "Trackless But Loved in Boston". Bus World (Woodland Hills, California: Stauss Publications). pp. 6–10. ISSN 0162-9689. 
  6. ^ Clarke, Bradley H. (1970). The Trackless Trolleys of Boston. Boston Street Railway Association. p. 18. 
  7. ^ The other three are Porter, State, and North Station.
  8. ^ a b c O'Regan, Gerry. "MBTA Red Line". nycsubway.org. Retrieved 29 September 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c Belcher, Jonathan (20 July 2011). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district". NETransit. Retrieved 3 October 2011. 
  10. ^ Swartz, Steven R. (May 21, 1982). "Cause of Construction Accident Still Unknown, Investigators Say". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 30, 2013. 
  11. ^ "Plaque in Square Honors Hardhat Killed by Crane". The Harvard Crimson. October 29, 1985. Retrieved August 30, 2013. 
  12. ^ [1][dead link]

External links[edit]