Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line

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PCC inbound at Milton.jpg
An inbound PCC car at Milton (2012)
Type Light rail
Locale Boston, Massachusetts (Dorchester to Mattapan) via Milton, Massachusetts
Termini Ashmont
Stations 8
Services 1
Daily ridership 4,637[1]
Opened August 26, 1929 (Ashmont to Milton)
December 21, 1929 (Milton to Mattapan)[2]
Owner MBTA
Operator(s) MBTA
Character Private right-of-way (largely grade-separated)
Rolling stock PCC streetcar
Line length 2.54 miles (4.09 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Minimum radius 43 ft (13.106 m)[3]
Electrification 600V Overhead lines
Route map
Red Line to Alewife
0 mi (0 km) Ashmont  Red Line 
0.35 mi (0.56 km) Cedar Grove
0.95 mi (1.53 km) Butler
Neponset River
1.25 mi (2.01 km) Milton
Central Ave.
1.54 mi (2.48 km) Central Avenue
1.98 mi (3.19 km) Valley Road
Capen St.
2.31 mi (3.72 km) Capen Street
2.54 mi (4.09 km) Mattapan
Mattapan Yard/Loop

Geographic map of the line

The Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line, also known as the "M-Line", is a partially grade-separated light rail line which forms part of the MBTA's Red Line rapid transit line. The line, which runs through Boston and Milton, Massachusetts, opened on August 26, 1929 as a conversion of a former commuter rail line and exclusively uses historic PCC streetcars for rolling stock. Passengers must transfer at Ashmont to access the rest of the Red Line, which uses heavy rail metro rolling stock.

The term "high speed line" is a historic vestigial designation, distinguishing the exclusive and largely grade-separated right-of-way at a time when most trolleys ran down streets shared with automobiles. The 2.6 miles (4.2 km) route is used only by streetcars and has just two public grade crossings. All stations have low platforms, but all except Valley Road have been retrofitted with wheelchair lifts or wooden ramps for handicapped accessibility.

History and route[edit]

Most of the right-of-way is grade-separated
Grade crossing at Central Ave station

The Ashmont–Mattapan Line begins and ends within the city of Boston, but most of the southern half of its route is in the neighboring town of Milton. It follows the right-of-way of the Dorchester and Milton Branch Railroad, opened December 1847. It became part of the Old Colony Railroad and then the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad after 1893. Steam trains were discontinued in 1927 and the line was closed for two years while it was modified for streetcars. There was a debate at that time whether or not to continue subway trains from Boston to Ashmont onwards to Mattapan, but the cost of full-scale subway service was apparently too high for the Boston Elevated Railway which then operated it. The line opened from Ashmont to Milton on August 26, 1929, and from Milton to Mattapan on December 21, 1929.[2]

The portion of the line from Ashmont to Cedar Grove and through a cemetery follows the path of the original Shawmut Branch of the Old Colony Railroad, which opened in 1872. The cemetery is where the Shawmut Branch intersects with the original Dorchester and Milton Branch. The right-of-way is owned by the MBTA and has only two at-grade crossings on its 2.6 miles (4.2 km) route.

On March 18, 1968, the Neponset River flooded the line at Milton station. Restoration work began at 6:00 am on March 21 as the waters receded; service was resumed by 4:30 pm.[4]

The line's longest shutdown started June 24, 2006 while the Ashmont and Mattapan stations were renovated. Service was restored on December 22, 2007.[5] Several of the stations have been renovated for better accessibility and modernization; all stations are now wheelchair-accessible except Valley Road, which is down a grade from the nearest road with no room for a ramp.


Using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the MBTA has been conducting a pilot test of technology similar to a collision avoidance system in an automobile, using radar and increasingly fast beeping to warn train operators of obstacles ahead. Like positive train control, it would stop the train if the driver did not take action to avoid an impending collision.[6] If successful, the system would be considered for deployment on the Green Line, where multiple collisions have occurred in recent years.

On November 26, 2014, an out-of-service car collided with an in-service car near Cedar Grove. Seven people were injured.[7]

Rolling stock[edit]

PCC streetcar 3260 in the older green paint scheme at Ashmont in 1999

The rolling stock consists of rebuilt PCC streetcars, which were formerly part of a fleet shared with the Green Line. The historic rolling stock is retained largely because the line, built for 1920s streetcars, would have to be substantially rebuilt to accommodate the heavier modern cars used on the Green Line.[8] Unlike most rail lines running old streetcars, the line is an integral part of the modern transit system rather than a heritage streetcar tourist attraction.

The current set of PCC cars are "Wartime" PCCs, built by Pullman-Standard in 1945-46. They have been in continuous revenue service in Boston since their construction, although PCC cars were not assigned to the Ashmont-Mattapan Line until 1955.[8] The current fleet was rebuilt as part of a systemwide PCC rebuild program in 1978-83, and again in 1999-2005.[9] During the latter rebuild, the cars were repainted from their former Green Line paint scheme to a brighter orange and cream design, similar to their original coloring.[8] The cars also carry a unique geographic MBTA logo, reminiscent of the old Metropolitan Transit Authority map logo found on the cars between 1948 and 1955.[10]

On several occasions, the MBTA has proposed to replace the PCC streetcars either with newer trolleys or with buses, and has met with substantial community opposition on each occasion. The FY2017-FY2021 Capital Investment Plan, approved by the MassDOT board in June 2016, allocates $9 million to the line including $3.7 million for maintaining the PCC cars. The plan also allocates $5 million for "PCC Car Replacement-Alternative Service".[11]


To clear the line of snow, the MBTA maintains a jet engine powered snowblower, officially the Portec RMC Hurricane Jet Snow Blower, model RP-3, dubbed "Snowzilla" by MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo. Snowzilla weighs 26,000 pounds, measures 8 by 12 by 27 feet, and is powered by a Westinghouse J34 turbojet engine. It uses approximately 500 gallons of jet fuel per line clearing run. Other T lines simply run regular trains to clear the tracks of snow, but the older cars on this line would short out if used for that purpose.[12]


  1. ^ "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14 ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014. Retrieved 26 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Belcher, Jonathan (22 March 2014). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). NETransit. Retrieved 26 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Transportation Research Board Executive Committee 1995 (1995). "Applicability of Low-Floor Light Rail Vehicles in North America" (PDF). US Federal Transit Admininstration. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  4. ^ 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. 218 – via Internet Archive. 
  5. ^ "Mattapan Trolley to Re - Open". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 20 December 2007. Archived from the original on 23 December 2007. Retrieved 24 December 2007. 
  6. ^ Associated Press (2 July 2009). "MBTA testing trolley collision-avoidance system". Boston Herald. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  7. ^ "Two MBTA Trolleys Collide, 7 People Reported Hurt". Boston Globe. 26 November 2014. Retrieved 26 November 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c O'Regan, Gerry; Pickering, Bo. "MBTA Mattapan-Ashmont Line". Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  9. ^ "The MBTA Vehicle Inventory Page". NETransit. 21 March 2016. Retrieved 21 March 2016. 
  10. ^ Prescott, Michael R. (11 October 2009). Boston Transit Equipment 1979-2009. Boston Street Railway Association. p. 31. ISBN 9780938315063. 
  11. ^ Smith, Jennifer (6 July 2016). "State budget plan locks in trolley, Fairmount spending". Dorchester Reporter. Retrieved 13 July 2016. 
  12. ^ Eric Moskowitz (January 23, 2011). "Snowzilla vs. winter's fury". Retrieved February 20, 2015. 

External links[edit]

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