Trolleybuses in Greater Boston
A trolleybus on the #71 route leaves
the Harvard Bus Tunnel
|Locale||Boston, Belmont, Cambridge, and Watertown, (formerly also Arlington, Brookline, Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Newton, Revere, and Somerville), Greater Boston, Massachusetts, United States|
|Open||April 11, 1936|
|Operator(s)||1936–47: Boston Elevated Railway Co.;
1947–64: Metropolitan Transit Authority;
1964–present: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)
|Electrification||600 V DC|
The Boston-area trolleybus (or, as known locally, trackless trolley) system forms part of the public transportation network serving Greater Boston in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. It opened on April 11, 1936, and since 1964 has been operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). It currently includes two physically isolated networks: one serving the towns of Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown, the other – the Silver Line (Waterfront) – located in the city of Boston proper. Prior to 1964, several additional trolleybus lines were in operation in Boston proper. Measured by fleet size, the system was the third-largest trolleybus system in the United States at its peak (end of 1952), with only the Chicago and Atlanta systems having more trolleybuses than Boston's 463.
In the present system, four routes fan out from the Harvard Bus Tunnel at Harvard Square station, running through Cambridge, Belmont, and Watertown. Those lines are the remains of a once-extensive system of trackless trolleys in the area, which was largely formed from former streetcar lines. Additionally, the 2004-opened Silver Line (Waterfront) is a bus rapid transit service using dual-mode buses which run as trolleybuses in the Waterfront Tunnel.
The first trackless trolley line in the Boston transit system was opened by the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) on April 11, 1936. Replacing a streetcar line over the same route, it was an unnumbered crosstown line running from Harvard station east to Lechmere station. Additional lines were opened in 1937, and by 1942, the system had 14 lines, of which 10 were former streetcar lines and four were former motor bus lines. In 1947, the BERy was succeeded by the public Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) as the operator of Boston's urban transit system, and in 1964, the MTA was replaced by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), which remains the system's operator today.
The BERy was owned by private investors, but came under public control from 1918. It served 13 municipalities of Greater Boston, including Boston proper. The MTA's service area was limited to these municipalities (with the addition of Revere). Following a change of management, the MTA began replacing trolleybuses with motorbuses, starting in 1958. Only four trolleybus lines remained after 1963, all based in Cambridge. Four decades later, the MTA's successor, the MBTA, built the Silver Line (Waterfront), and that line's opening in late 2004 reintroduced trolleybus service in Boston proper.
At the trolleybus system's peak, the maximum number of trolleybus routes in operation was 37. Prior to the opening of the Silver Line, a total of 43 trolleybus lines had existed, but not all concurrently, making the all-time total 44 with route SL1, as of 2014[update].
The four surviving Harvard-based routes remained after much of the system was converted to diesel and exist, in part, because of the necessity to limit the number of diesel buses in the Harvard Bus Tunnel. Inside the portals, the tunnel splits into two one-way tunnels, upper and lower. The tunnel for eastbound-northbound vehicles is placed on top of the tunnel for southbound-westbound vehicles. The tunnels first opened for streetcars in 1912, and trolleybuses began using them in 1938. Streetcar service using the tunnel was abandoned in 1958. In a six-year project lasting from 1979 to 1985 (coinciding with the reconstruction of Harvard station during the Northwest Extension of the MBTA Red Line), the tunnel was closed for an extensive rebuilding, which included new platforms and a new northern portal ramp.
In the lower/westbound tunnel, the loading platforms are located on the left side of the roadway, and for this reason the trolleybuses serving this station have always been equipped with left-side doors, in addition to the normal righthand doors, to allow faster loading and unloading. Diesel buses serving the tunnel are not equipped with left-side doors, and passengers boarding or deboarding at the westbound stop must cross the roadway to reach the buses' doors. In 2004, the MBTA began receiving a fleet of new trolleybuses from Neoplan USA, to replace Flyer E800 trolleybuses dating from 1976. The newer vehicles are low-floor vehicles and meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards (see MBTA accessibility).
The vehicles are all stored overnight at the North Cambridge Carhouse, the northern terminus of the 77A route. Trackless trolleys do not run on Sundays; instead, diesel buses cover the routes.
To expedite passenger boarding through a left-side door in the southbound Harvard Bus Tunnel, the 71 and 73 trackless trolley routes allow free entry for outbound trips, collecting fare upon later passenger exit from the vehicle. Diesel buses don't have a left-side door, so on Sundays, buses board in the northbound tunnel.
The 71 Watertown Square–Harvard Station via Mt. Auburn St. begins at the Harvard Bus Tunnel lower level and leaves via the south exit onto Mount Auburn Street. It heads west into Watertown, ending at Watertown Square.
At the Harvard end, to turn around, the trackless trolley exits the tunnel and makes a hard left onto Massachusetts Avenue and a right on Garden Street, and then turns right on Waterhouse Street and right on Massachusetts Avenue to return to the tunnel. The Watertown end has a loop on private right-of-way for turning around and picking up/dropping off passengers.
September 4, 1958, was the last day of streetcar service on the 71; trackless trolleys have run since then.
The 72 Huron Ave.–Harvard Station via Concord Ave. starts on the upper level and comes out the north end of the tunnel, using the path that the 71 uses to turn around. However, at the intersection of Garden and Waterhouse Streets, the 72 heads west on Garden Street, Concord Avenue and Huron Avenue and south on Aberdeen Avenue to end at Mount Auburn Street, intersecting the 71 and 73.
To turn around, the 72 leaves the south portal of the tunnel and turns left on Mount Auburn Street. It turns right on Eliot Street, right on Bennett Street and right on a private right-of-way called Bennett Alley to go straight across Mount Auburn Street into the tunnel. At the west end, the 72 simply makes a U-turn across the wide median of Aberdeen Avenue. On Saturday evenings and Sundays, the 72 is combined with the 75 bus and the route extends to Belmont center as a diesel bus (signed as route 72/75).
Streetcars last ran on the 72 on April 1, 1938; trackless trolleys have been running since then. In March 2013, the route was temporarily replaced with diesel buses to permit roadwork on Huron Avenue and reconstruction of the Conductor's Building in Bennett Alley. It will return to electric operation in 2017 when construction is complete.
The 73 Waverley Sq.–Harvard Station via Trapelo Road follows the same route as the 71 in Cambridge. It leaves Mt. Auburn St. to follow Belmont Street, which forms a border between Belmont and Watertown, then continues on Trapelo Road in Belmont to end at Waverley Square, with a loop at the Waverley commuter rail station on the Fitchburg Line. A short-turn loop exists at Benton Square, the intersection of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road.
September 4, 1958, was the last day of streetcar service on the 73 (and 71 and 77A), after which trackless trolleys have run. As a streetcar line, the turnback loop was further west along Trapelo Road at Cushing Square. Streetcars first ran to Waverley Square on October 1, 1898.
In September 2013, the route was converted to diesel buses for two years to permit diversions during roadway reconstruction in Belmont. Trackless trolley services was restored in December 2016. A small number of Benton Square short turns (added to the schedule in March 2016) continue to operate as diesel buses.
The 77A is a short-turn trip of the 77 Arlington Heights - Harvard Station via Massachusetts Avenue bus route. It is not a full-service route; it is primarily a designation for route 71 and 73 trolleybuses to run in revenue service while pulling in or out of the North Cambridge Carhouse. The route was originally a full-service short turn route; however, it became less necessary after the Red Line was extended to Porter and Davis stations in 1984. Since January 2005, the only 77A trips are pull-ins and pull-outs to take 71 and 73 buses to or from the carhouse. They are listed in the 77 schedule.
September 4, 1958, was the last day of streetcar service on the 77A, after which trackless trolleys have run. (Route 77 had already been running diesel buses since 1955.) Until around 1967, the route was numbered 82.
The Silver Line is split into two sections; the CNG- and diesel-powered Washington Street section runs entirely on the surface, but the Waterfront section runs through a dedicated tunnel under the South Boston Waterfront, in which diesel emissions would be problematic. Several routes branch out from the tunnel along routings where installation of overhead trolley wire would have been impractical, especially through the Ted Williams Tunnel (as overhead wires are expressly prohibited on interstate highways), so the Waterfront section uses dual-mode buses. The vehicles run as trolleybuses within the tunnel, then change to diesel power at Silver Line Way, and vice versa when inbound. Motor buses are not permitted to operate inside the South Boston Waterfront Tunnel.
Three routes run in the electrified Silver Line tunnel: SL1 to Logan Airport, SL2 to Design Center, and a shuttle route which short turns at Silver Line Way. One additional planned route to Chelsea will operate similarly to the SL1 and SL2.
Until early 2006, the Silver Line also used some of the then new Neoplan trackless trolleys pending the entry of the entire dual-mode fleet into service. Later that year the Neoplan trackless trolleys were transferred to the Harvard-based routes to replace the then-remaining Flyer trolleybuses.
Boston's first trolleybuses were built by Pullman-Standard in 1936. Boston Elevated continued to buy its trolleybuses almost exclusively from Pullman, and until 1950 Pullmans comprised the entire fleet with the exception of a small batch of five Twin Coach trolleybuses purchased in 1937. In 1952, Boston had more Pullman-built trolleybuses than any other city, with 438.:7 Meanwhile, 25 ACF-Brill trolleybuses built in 1950 were the only other purchase of non-Pullman trolleybuses until 1976. With several route closures in 1964, the Twin Coaches and the oldest Pullmans were retired, leaving only Pullmans built in 1947–51 in service. These were all replaced in 1976 by a fleet of 50 Flyer E800s. The Flyers were, in turn, replaced by new trolleybuses over the period 2004–06.
The present fleet is made up of vehicles built by Neoplan USA and fitted with Škoda electrical equipment. There are two distinct groups: The network serving Cambridge and vicinity uses a fleet of 28 40-foot (12 m) vehicles, while the Silver Line (Waterfront) uses a fleet of 32 dual-mode buses which are articulated and 60 feet (18 m) long. The rigid/standard trolleybuses (numbered 4101–4128) were delivered in 2003–04 and were the first low-floor trolleybuses in North America. Only No. 4101 arrived in 2003, in April, then returning to the factory for modifications. The first day of service for trolleybuses in this series was June 4, 2004. The dual-mode, articulated vehicles (numbered 1101–1132) were delivered in 2004–06 and are also low-floor vehicles.
- Murray, Alan (2000). World Trolleybus Encyclopaedia. Yateley, Hampshire, UK: Trolleybooks. p. 79. ISBN 0-904235-18-1.
- Sebree, Mac; Ward, Paul (1974). The Trolley Coach in North America. Los Angeles: Interurbans. pp. 32–39. LCCN 74020367.
- Wolinksy, Julian (Fall 1988). "Trackless But Loved in Boston". Bus World. Woodland Hills, California: Stauss Publications. pp. 6–10. ISSN 0162-9689.
- Priestley, John (July–August 1988). "North American Safari: Part 3". Trolleybus Magazine, pp. 83–88. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.
- Belcher, Jonathan (January 7, 2017). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district 1964-2016" (PDF). NETransit.
- Clarke, Bradley H. (1970). The Trackless Trolleys of Boston. Boston Street Railway Association.
- Box, Roland (July–August 2010). "More about the 2000s". Trolleybus Magazine No. 292, pp. 78–82. National Trolleybus Association (UK). ISSN 0266-7452.
- Trolleybus Magazine No. 257 (September–October 2004), p. 123.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Trolleybuses in Greater Boston.|
- MBTA - Silver Line
- MBTA - Route 71 Watertown Square - Harvard Station via Mt. Auburn St.
- MBTA - Route 72 Huron Ave. - Harvard Station via Concord Ave.
- MBTA - Route 73 Waverley Sq. - Harvard Station via Trapelo Road
- MBTA - Route 77 Arlington Heights - Harvard Station via Massachusetts Ave.
- nycsubway.org - Boston Transit: Trolleybuses
- Tom's Trolleybus Pix Boston Page