Aquarium station (MBTA)

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Aquarium station facing inbound.JPG
Aquarium station in August 2013
Location183 State Street, Boston, Massachusetts
Coordinates42°21′33″N 71°03′11″W / 42.3593°N 71.0531°W / 42.3593; -71.0531Coordinates: 42°21′33″N 71°03′11″W / 42.3593°N 71.0531°W / 42.3593; -71.0531
Owned byMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Line(s)East Boston Tunnel
Platforms2 side platforms
ConnectionsBus transport MBTA Bus: 4
MBTA Boat: F1, F2 (at Long Wharf)
Disabled accessYes
OpenedAugust 22, 1901 (Atlantic Avenue Elevated)
April 5, 1906 (East Boston Tunnel)
ClosedSeptember 30, 1938 (Atlantic Avenue Elevated)
RebuiltApril 1924; 1948-1950; 1968; 1996-2004
Previous namesAtlantic Avenue (1906-1967)
State Street (elevated station)
Passengers (2013)4,776 (daily boardings)[1]
Preceding station MBTA.svg MBTA Following station
toward Bowdoin
Blue Line Maverick
toward Wonderland
Former services
Preceding station Boston Elevated Railway Following station
Rowes Wharf Atlantic Avenue Elevated
Closed 1938
Battery Street

Aquarium station is an underground rapid transit station on the MBTA Blue Line, located under State Street at Atlantic Avenue on the eastern edge of Boston's Financial District near Boston Harbor. The station is named for the nearby New England Aquarium. It is adjacent to Long Wharf, which is used by several MBTA Boat lines.

The station has two side platforms and is accessible. Uniquely on the MBTA system, the station has high vaulted ceilings similar to stations of the Paris Metro and Washington Metro. Aquarium is the deepest station on the Blue Line, as it is located on the portion of the East Boston Tunnel that passes under Boston Harbor. (However, the station is not as deep as Porter on the Red Line in Cambridge.)


State Street station[edit]

State Street station in 1921

Construction of the Atlantic Avenue Elevated began on January 21, 1901.[2]:8 The Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) opened the line on August 22, 1901, including a stop at State Street.[3] Like the other four stations on the line, State Street had a single elevated island platform with a single mezzanine underneath.[2]:13 Passengers entered the station from staircases on either side of Atlantic Avenue north of State Street, and exited on two staircases to the south.[2]:41 The platform was originally three cars - about 140 feet (43 m) - long; an extension to allow four-car trains was completed on June 13, 1902.[2]:13-14

Atlantic Avenue station[edit]

Atlantic Avenue station with streetcar in 1906

On May 5, 1900, the Boston Transit Commission (BTC) began construction on the East Boston Tunnel - a streetcar tunnel between East Boston and downtown Boston under Boston Harbor. Construction started near the eastern terminus in Maverick Square, as the route in downtown Boston was not yet determined.[4] Not until July 25, 1901 did the Commission determine that the Tunnel would run under State Street, with a station at Atlantic Avenue next to busy Long Wharf.[5] The station was constructed in two portions under separate contracts. "Atlantic Chambers", which served as the west end of the underwater portion of the tunnel, was built in an open cut just west of Atlantic Avenue; it housed the elevators and stairways to access the station plus the ticket booths.[6] The main arched station, to the west of Atlantic Chambers, was built with a tunnelling shield.[7]:33 The two side platforms were 160 feet (49 m) long, 10 feet (3.0 m) wide, and 54 feet (16 m) below the surface.[6]

Atlantic Chambers was a rectangular shaft measuring 40 feet (12 m) by 57 feet 4 inches (17.5 m), divided by three floors into four smaller chambers. The reinforced concrete walls were between 1 34 and 3 feet (0.5 and 0.9 m) thick.[6] At the east end of each platform was a 18 by 32 feet (5.5 m × 9.8 m) space for elevators and stairs; these two rooms and the trackway between them occupied the lowest chamber.[6] Construction of Atlantic Chambers began on December 5, 1901, and excavation was complete by May 29, 1903.[6][7]:32 On June 19, 1903, compressed air in the tunnel to the east blew out the bulkhead into Atlantic Chambers, killing two workers.[7]:31 This air pressure was necessary to keep water from seeping into the tunnel; after the accident, Atlantic Avenue settled slightly above the tunnel.[8]:50 It was necessary to use additional dunnage to limit sagging of the elevated line above; even so, elevated operations were impacted from June 20 to October 7, 1903.[9][2]:14

Unlike other early stations in Boston, which were built with cut-and-cover tunneling, most of Atlantic Avenue station was built as a large barrel vault due to the use of shield tunneling. The arch was 40.5 feet (12.3 m) wide and 26 feet (7.9 m) tall; the walls of the station were 4 feet 3 inches (1.3 m) thick and the arch 3 feet (0.9 m) thick.[7]:33 Work began on this section on March 17, 1902; the last section of arch was completed on June 26, 1903.[7]:35 The rough work of the station vault was completed on August 28, 1903, with the tilework finished on January 19, 1904 and the granolithic platforms on February 10.[8]:55 The Paris Métro train fire in August 1903 led the BTC and BERy to desire emergency exits from stations with only a single headhouse.[8]:11-12 A pair of curved staircases were built from the western ends of the platform; they joined to form a straight staircase above the arch of the tunnel. The exit stairs were completed on September 6, 1904, with a small building in State Street covering them completed on October 10.[10]:62-63

A three-story headhouse, measuring 84 by 29 feet (25.6 m × 8.8 m), was built over Atlantic Chambers.[10]:62 The ground floor contained the main entrance and exit for the station. The second floor (of nearly identical plan) served a footbridge to the fare mezzanine of State Street station, while the third floor was a machine room for the elevators.[10]:62 The headhouse was designed by Charles Brigham, who had previously designed the Scollay Square and Adams Square headhouses for the Tremont Street Subway.[8]:11 Shafts leading to the headhouse served as the primarily ventilation for the Boston end of the tunnel.[8]:54 Each platform was served with two elevators, which rose 56 feet (17 m) to the ground floor and 14 feet (4.3 m) more to the footbridge level. Because the elevators needed to serve the separated platforms and the narrower headhouse, they were built with an angled section with approximately 6.5 feet (2.0 m) of vertical travel.[8]:54[11]:35 The elevators were about 25 feet (7.6 m) apart on the platforms and 10 feet (3.0 m) apart at both headhouse levels; as late as the 1940s, the elevators were unique among subway stations.[12]

The BTC and BERy agreed in November 1903 to include the footbridge.[8]:3 However, the two could not agree on who should pay for the elevators: the BERy maintained they were a fundamental part of the station infrastructure and thus the responsibility of the BTC, while the BTC considered them an operational item and thus the domain of the BERy. In March 1904, they reached an agreement to allow construction of the elevators and headhouse (so as not to delay the station) while deferring the cost question.[8]:3-11 (The matter was not settled until a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in 1913.[13]) The BTC awarded the contract for the headhouse on August 15, 1904, with completion scheduled for December 15; however, manufacture of the steel components was severely delayed.[10]:17 The East Boston Tunnel opened on December 30, 1904, serving streetcars which ran between Court Street downtown and Maverick portal in East Boston, where they joined existing surface lines. The only intermediate stop was at Devonshire; Atlantic Avenue station was not yet complete.[3] Most of the headhouse except for some detail work was completed by July 1905; the elevators were tested in January 1906.[11]:35 Atlantic Avenue station opened in the tunnel on April 5, 1906.[2]:16[11]:7 Atlantic Avenue and State Street stations had separate fare gates; a paper transfer was required to change lines.[2]:16, 57


In August 1908, the elevated platform was again expanded southwards, this time to eight-car length - about 370 feet (110 m) - to match the length of platforms in the nearly-complete Washington Street Tunnel. An extension of the mezzanine and a second exit stairwell from platform to mezzanine opened on October 26, 1908.[2]:117 The East Boston Tunnel was converted to heavy rail metro stock over one weekend in April 1924; all stations including Atlantic Avenue were given high platforms.[14]

The East Boston Tunnel cut sharply into East Boston ferry ridership, which in turn reduced connecting ridership on the Atlantic Avenue Elevated.[14] The Elevated closed on September 30, 1938, and was torn down during World War II for scrap metal.[3] In the late 1940s, the three-story headhouse and the elevators were replaced by a one-story headhouse and narrow wooden escalators.[12] On January 28, 1949, a grease fire ignited by the acetylene torch of a welder removing one of the elevators exploded up the elevator shaft, filling the headhouse and platforms with smoke. Most passengers in the station were led to safety through the emergency exits, but two passengers and one elevator worker were killed by the smoke.[12]

MBTA era[edit]

The west end of the platforms in 2015

The construction of the Central Artery in the 1950s left the station cut off from Downtown Boston to the west. Atlantic Avenue station was renamed Aquarium on February 13, 1967, as part of a general rebranding by the newly created MBTA — the then under-construction New England Aquarium, first proposed in 1962 and opened in 1969, would be only some 600 feet (180 m) from the existing station. The subway lines were given colored identifying names, with the East Boston Tunnel route becoming the Blue Line, and several other downtown stations were renamed.[3] The station was modernized in 1968 as part of a $9 million systemwide station improvement program.[15] In the 1970s, part of Atlantic Avenue was relocated a block to the west for redevelopment, which left Aquarium station on the east side of the realigned street.[16]

In 1996, the MBTA began a renovation and platform lengthening project at Aquarium as part of a larger project to allow six-car trains on the Blue Line.[17] The work took place during the Big Dig, which moved the Central Artery to a tunnel and built the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway on the surface.[18] The station was fully closed from October 14, 2000 to October 29, 2001; State was temporarily named "State - Aquarium" during the closure, and a shuttle bus (route #650) was put in place between the two stations.[3] Two new entrances were added on State Street west of Atlantic Avenue. A new headhouse with an elevator on the south side of State Street opened on October 29, 2001, and temporarily was the only entrance to the station; an entrance on the north side of the street in the Marketplace Center building opened soon after.[19] The renovated Long Wharf entrance, with two glass headhouses on the east side of the Kennedy Greenway, did not reopen until September 22, 2003.[3][17]

Since the 2000-2003 reconstruction, Aquarium station has been plagued by water leaks; the leaks may have been caused either by the renovation or by adjacent Big Dig construction..[18] (Leakage was noticed in the station even before its 1906 opening, albeit at a much smaller rate.[10]:18) On January 4, 2018, the station was flooded with ocean water associated with the surge from the January 2018 North American blizzard, closing "indefinitely" but ultimately reopening the next day.[20] A nor'easter that March caused flooding that again closed the station.[21] In 2019, the MBTA began using temporary barriers to control flooding at Aquarium; however, a permanent fix is estimated to cost $20-40 million.[18]


  1. ^ "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Chasson, George Jr. (1987). Lonto, Arthur J. (ed.). "Boston's Main Line El: The Formative Years 1879-1908". Headlights. Electric Railroader's Association. 49.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Belcher, Jonathan. "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). NETransit.
  4. ^ Sixth Annual Report of the Boston Transit Commission, for the Year Ending August 15, 1900. Boston Transit Commission. 1900. p. 29 – via Internet Archive.
  5. ^ Seventh Annual Report of the Boston Transit Commission, for the Year Ending August 15, 1901. Boston Transit Commission. 1901. pp. 9–11 – via Internet Archive.
  6. ^ a b c d e Eighth Annual Report of the Boston Transit Commission, from August 15, 1901, to June 30, 1902. Boston Transit Commission. 1901. p. 24 – via Internet Archive.
  7. ^ a b c d e Ninth Annual Report of the Boston Transit Commission for the Year Ending June 30, 1903. Boston Transit Commission. 1903 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Tenth Annual Report of the Boston Transit Commission, for the Year Ending June 30, 1904. Boston Transit Commission. 1904 – via Internet Archive.
  9. ^ Cheney, Frank; Sammarco, Anthony M. (2000). When Boston Rode The El. Arcadia Publishing. p. 61. ISBN 9780738504629.
  10. ^ a b c d e Eleventh Annual Report of the Boston Transit Commission, for the Year Ending June 30, 1905. Boston Transit Commission. 1905 – via Internet Archive.
  11. ^ a b c Twelvth Annual Report of the Boston Transit Commission, for the Year Ending June 30, 1906. Boston Transit Commission. 1906 – via Internet Archive.
  12. ^ a b c "Billerica Woman Perishes in Boston Subway Fire". Lowell Sun. January 28, 1949 – via Newspaper Archive.
  13. ^ City of Boston v. Boston Elevated Railway Company, 213 Mass. 407 (1913).
  14. ^ a b Cudahy, Brian J. (1972). Change at Park Street Under. Stephen Greene Press. pp. 31–32. ISBN 0828901732. LCCN 72081531.
  15. ^ Fourth Annual Report (Covering the period October 1, 1967 - October 31, 1968) of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 1968. p. 23 – via Internet Archive.
  16. ^ Kyper, Frank (1990). The railroad that came out at night: a book of railroading in and around Boston (2 ed.). Carstens Publications. pp. 15–17. ISBN 0828903182.
  17. ^ a b "MBTA Officials Celebrate Completion Of Aquarium Station" (Press release). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. September 22, 2003. Archived from the original on October 11, 2003.
  18. ^ a b c Washington, Robin (July 9, 2019). "At Aquarium Station, 'Water Transportation' Is A Multi-Million-Dollar Problem". WGBH.
  19. ^ "Aquarium Station Reopens on the MBTA's Blue Line" (PDF). TRANSreport. December 2001. p. 1.
  20. ^ Glatter, Hayley (January 5, 2018). "The Aquarium Station Is Back Open after Flooding". Boston Magazine.
  21. ^ Swasey, Benjamin (April 3, 2018). "How The New England Aquarium Seeks To Urge Visitors To Act On Climate Change". WBUR.

External links[edit]