Government Center (MBTA station)

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Government Center headhouse construction, November 2015.JPG
Construction of the new Government Center headhouse in November 2015
Location Near Boston City Hall at intersection of Tremont, Court and Cambridge Streets, Downtown Boston
Coordinates 42°21′34″N 71°03′34″W / 42.35944°N 71.05944°W / 42.35944; -71.05944 (Government Center MBTA Station)Coordinates: 42°21′34″N 71°03′34″W / 42.35944°N 71.05944°W / 42.35944; -71.05944 (Government Center MBTA Station)
Owned by MBTA
  Green Line (all branches)
Platforms 1 island platform (Blue Line)
1 triangular island platform (Green Line)
Tracks Blue Line: 2
Green Line: 2 plus non-revenue loop track
Opened September 3, 1898 (Green Line)
December 30, 1904 (Court Street station)
March 18, 1916 (Blue Line)
Closed November 15, 1914 (Court Street station)
March 22, 2014 (temporarily)[1]
Rebuilt March 22, 2014 – March 26, 2016[2]
Previous names Scollay Square (1898–1963)
Passengers (2013) 10,828 (weekday average boardings)[3]
Preceding station   MBTA.svg MBTA   Following station
Green Line Terminus
toward Riverside
Green Line
Green Line
toward Heath Street
Green Line
toward Lechmere
Blue Line
toward Wonderland

Government Center is an MBTA subway station located at the intersection of Tremont, Court and Cambridge Streets in the Government Center area of Boston. It is a transfer point between the Green Line and the Blue Line. With the Green Line platform having opened in 1898, the station is the third-oldest operating subway station (and the second-oldest of the quartet of "hub stations") in the MBTA system; only Park Street and Boylston are older. The station previously served Scollay Square before its demolition for the creation of Boston City Hall Plaza.

The station is closed from 2014 to 2016 for a major renovation, which includes retrofitting the station for handicapped accessibility and building a new glass headhouse on City Hall Plaza. The current renovation project will make the station fully accessible when it re-opens in March 2016. As of February 2016 the project is on budget and on schedule to reopen on March 26, 2016.[2]


Scollay Square[edit]

Brattle Loop shortly after the station's opening, with the side platform at left and the main platform at right

The northern section of the Tremont Street Subway opened on September 3, 1898, with a station at Scollay Square.[4] The station had an unusual platform design. The three-sided main platform served northbound and southbound through tracks plus the Brattle Loop track, one of two turnback points (the other Adams Square) for streetcars entering the subway from the north; a side platform also served the loop[5]:23 Boston Elevated Railway streetcars from Everett, Medford, and Malden (which formerly ran to Scollay Square on the surface) used Brattle Loop, as did cars from Lynn and Boston Railroad and its successors. The last of those, the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway, used the loop until 1935.[5]:23,38

On June 10, 1901, Main Line Elevated trains began using the through tracks through the Tremont Street Subway, while streetcars continued using the Brattle Loop.[4] The main platform was divided into separate sections for northbound and southbound elevated trains, each with separate staircases and ticket takers, with sliding platform sections to meet the high-level doors on the El cars. Passages under the Brattle Loop were built from each side to the Brattle Loop platform, which had its own staircases and ticket takers for streetcars. On July 9, 1904, streetcar passengers began paying fares to the streetcar conductors and the streetcar ticket office was repurposed for southbound El passengers.[6]:15

Court Street[edit]

Court Street station on an early postcard

On December 30, 1904, the East Boston Tunnel opened for streetcars from Maverick Square in East Boston to a one-track stub-end terminal at Court Street next to Scollay Square. A passageway was built connecting the two stations.[5]:39 On November 30, 1908, Elevated trains moved into the parallel Washington Street Tunnel and the through tracks returned to streetcar operations.[4] The separated platform areas were kept; the through tracks offered a free transfer to East Boston Tunnel streetcars (plus a small toll for use of the tunnel, separate from normal BERy fares), while the Brattle Loop platform was kept separate for "foreign" (non-BERy) cars on a separate fare system.[6]:23

Scollay Under[edit]

In 1912, the BERy began an extension of the East Boston Tunnel west to Bowdoin. Court Street station was abandoned and the passageway closed on November 15, 1914.[5]:39 The floor of the station was removed and the tunnel angled down through the former station to allow for the extended tunnel to proceed under the existing Scollay Square station.[7][8] Scollay Under opened on March 18, 1916, an island platform with staircases to Scollay station. The 1898-built main platform was extended during the project to accommodate expected loads of transferring passengers.[5]:39 On April 18, 1924, the East Boston Tunnel including Scollay Under was converted from low-platform streetcars to high-platform third-rail-powered rapid transit.[4] A portion of the low streetcar platform remained east of the new high platform.[7]

The station was renovated in 1928 with the removal of the original entrance kiosk, new lights, and improved fare collection equipment. Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway service to Brattle Loop ended on January 13, 1935, though some BERy streetcars continued to use it.[5]:38 The last Brattle Loop service was discontinued in 1952. The northbound platform was extended over the loop in 1954 to allow two 3-car trains of PCC streetcars to board simultaneously.[6]:23

Government Center[edit]

Riders at the then-newly renovated station in 1964

Boston City Hall Plaza replaced Scollay Square in the early 1960s. Scollay Square station was wholly renovated, and the northbound tunnel was realigned to accommodate the foundation of Boston City Hall. The work drastically altered the shape of Brattle Loop and provided a new northbound-to-southbound turnback loop. The stairways to the lower level were relocated, and a fare lobby was built in a low brick structure at the surface.[5]:23-24 The 1963-built headhouse was often described as resembling a bunker or a cave, even by MBTA management.[9] Government Center station was dedicated on October 28, 1963, though the new loop was not activated until November 18, 1964, when the Commonwealth Avenue line was extended from Park Street to Government Center.[4] Despite the new name, several tiles mosaics reading "Scollay Under" and "S" were still extant and gradually uncovered over the years.

On August 26, 1965, as part of a wholesale rebranding of the system, the newly formed MBTA designated the remaining streetcar routes as the Green Line and the East Boston Tunnel line as the Blue Line.[4] In 1968-69, a "Phase I" modernization added false ceilings, fluorescent lights, and other aesthetic upgrades.[6]:24

In the late 1970s, Mary Beams - an artist at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts - painted 19 murals which were placed along the wall behind the Brattle Loop. Although intended to be temporary, they received protective covers in the late 1980s and remained in good condition until the 2014 closure.[10]

On February 11, 1983, the Green Line "E" Branch was shut down by snow for several days; a Government Center-Lechmere shuttle ran in its stead - the first use of the Brattle Loop in three decades. Even after the "E" Branch resumed operations several days later, the shuttle service ran until June 21, 1997.[4] Since, the loop was used only for temporary car storage, largely during events at TD Garden.


The station, seen here in 2007, had low-level platforms with narrow clearances
Low brick headhouse (seen here in 2007) has been demolished for replacement with a taller glass enclosure
One of the historic "Scollay Under" signs visible before closure; several more were uncovered during deconstruction of the 1963-built station.

As of March 22, 2014, Government Center Station is closed for approximately two years while crews work to upgrade the station into a fully accessible, safer, modern, more comfortable facility. The current schedule is:

  • Construction Contract Award (NTP): July 2013
  • Prepare station for closure (electrical, structural, civil engineering): Second Quarter through Fourth Quarter 2013
  • Reconfigure roadways and sidewalks for station closure: Fourth Quarter 2013 to Second Quarter 2014. This work was to begin the week of November 18, 2013.
  • Close station for reconstruction: Second Quarter 2014
  • Reopen station: Second Quarter 2016
  • Completion of construction: Fourth Quarter 2016

Improvements will make Government Center Station wheelchair accessible and include new elevators, station entrance and lobbies, emergency exit-only structure on Cambridge Street between Court and Sudbury Street, escalators, LED signage, expanded fare collection area, upgraded back-up electrical power supply, improved interior finishes, station lighting, mechanical systems, and public address system. Additional vendor retail space will also be provided on both Green Line and Blue Line platforms. The platform levels will feature terrazzo flooring color-coded to the lines.[11]

During Government Center station's closure, Green Line trains will skip this station. The last downtown stop will generally be the following for each branch:

  • B Line (Boston College) will end at Park Street
  • C Line (Cleveland Circle) will end at North Station as usual
  • D Line (Riverside) will end at Park Street during rush hours and North Station at other times
  • E Line will end at Lechmere as usual

Bowdoin Station is open during all hours of subway service for the duration of Government Center's closure. A daily shuttle bus will operate in a loop from Haymarket station, stopping outside State Street Station, Government Center Station, and Bowdoin Station [12]

During the first two months of renovations, two additional Scollay Under tile signs were uncovered on the Blue Line level.[13] After the first sign was discovered in April, the MBTA announced that it would be restored and placed in the renovated station, similar to previously found mosaics at South Station and Arlington.[14] In total, two to three Scollay Under and two single-letter mosaics will be restored. An original faregate, ticket booth, and ceiling arches have also been found.[15][16]

The 1970s Mary Beams murals - made of house paint on plywood - would not meet fire code for installation in the rebuilt station. Instead, they were sold at auction in October 2015, with the proceeds going to an enamel commemorative panel and new artworks placed in the new station.[10]

By September 2014, demolition was complete and the steel frame of the new glass headhouse had been erected. At that point, the project was on schedule and on budget.[15] In July 2015 the MBTA announced that the project was still on schedule for a Spring 2016 reopening.[11] In August 2015, the MBTA revealed that the glass used on the headhouse was defective due to poor workmanship, with failed seals between the double-paned glass causing fogging. The glass will be replaced at the contractor's expense and will not affect the project's schedule.[17]

On February 2, 2016, the MBTA announced that the station would reopen on March 26, 2016 and that the project was within its budget.[2]

Green Line congestion and Red-Blue Connector[edit]

The Red and Blue Lines are the only pair of rapid transit lines in the MBTA system that lack a direct transfer connection. Before the Government Center station was closed for reconstruction, the Green Line was the most convenient way to transfer between the Blue Line and the Red Line, thus causing the short Green Line segment between Government Center station and nearby Park Street station to be especially congested during peak travel times. This bottleneck, combined with tight platform clearances on the Green Line outbound side at Government Center, has been the cause of significant delays and crowding on the Green Line. In the past, an underground pedestrian passage had been proposed, paralleling the Green Line tracks and connecting the two stations (similar to the Winter Street Concourse between Park Street and Downtown Crossing), but this idea was dropped in favor of a direct transfer connection between the Blue and Red Lines, at Charles/MGH station. However, there are no active plans to build this link, and the Green Line connection will presumably resume its role once Government Center station reopens.

It also is possible to transfer between the Red and Blue Lines by traveling one stop on the Orange Line between State and Downtown Crossing stations, but this path involves navigating a longer and more convoluted path through stairs and passages of those stations. For the duration of Government Center's closure, this is the only connection using the MBTA subway system.

In popular culture[edit]

In the folk song "M.T.A.," popularized by the Kingston Trio, Government Center Station, then still called Scollay Square, is where fare-hike protester Charlie's wife gives him his lunch: "Through the open window she hands Charlie a sandwich as the train comes rumbling through!"

Government Center station was featured in the video game Tony Hawk's Underground 2 in the Boston level.

The new station headhouse was featured on a monthly architectural review by the social commentator and critic James Howard Kunstler.[18]


  1. ^ Powers, Martine (22 March 2014). "Government Center closing for 2 years for upgrades". Boston Globe. Retrieved 20 May 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Vaccaro, Adam (2 February 2016). "Government Center T station to reopen March 26". Boston Globe. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  3. ^ "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14 ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014. Retrieved 30 July 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Belcher, Jonathan (27 June 2015). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district 1964-2015" (PDF). NETransit. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Clarke, Bradley H.; Cummings, O.R. (1997). Tremont Street Subway: A Century of Public Service. Boston Street Railway Association. ISBN 0938315048. 
  6. ^ a b c d Chasson, George Jr. (1987). Lonto, Arthur J., ed. "Boston's Main Line El: The Formative Years 1879-1908". Headlights (Electric Railroader's Association) 49. 
  7. ^ a b Belcher, Jonathan. "Remnants of Abandoned Stations, Tunnels, and Station Entrances found on the MBTA". NETransit. Archived from the original on 12 November 2007. 
  8. ^ Bierman, Noah (26 December 2009). "Transit archeology: Tour of abandoned subway network offers a glimpse of how the T was built". Boston Globe. Retrieved 12 August 2015. 
  9. ^ Weir, Richard (4 October 2010). "Redesign fits Government Center to a T". Boston Herald. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Gay, Malcolm (17 September 2015). "MBTA tracks down artist who created iconic murals". Boston Globe. Retrieved 1 October 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Dungca, Nicole (31 July 2015). "Is Government Center station still on track?". Boston Globe. Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  12. ^ MBTA > Riding the T
  13. ^ Powers, Martine (7 May 2014). "Second ‘Scollay Under’ sign found at Government Center". Boston Globe. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  14. ^ Powers, Martine (7 April 2014). "‘Scollay Under’ sign uncovered at Government Center station". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 8 April 2014. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  15. ^ a b Crimaldi, Laura (21 September 2014). "Government Center T station to feature glass entryway". Boston Globe. Retrieved 22 September 2014. 
  16. ^ Fiore, Rebecca (23 June 2015). "Scollay Square signs to remain after Government Center overhaul". Boston Globe. Retrieved 24 June 2015. 
  17. ^ Deehan, Mike (24 August 2015). "MBTA: Green Line Somerville Extension Faces $1B Overrun; Gov't Center Glass Needs To Be Replaced". WGBH. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
  18. ^ Kunstler, James Howard. "Eyesore of the Month". James Howard Kunstler. Retrieved 2015-05-05. 

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