Harvard station

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Harvard station platforms cropped.jpg
Interior of Harvard station, looking down from the secondary fare mezzanine. The outbound platform is to the left, with the inbound platform visible below to the right, and the central atrium visible in the far distance.
Location1400 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Coordinates42°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
Owned byMBTA
Line(s)Cambridge Tunnel
Red Line Northwest Extension
Platforms2 split platforms
ConnectionsBus transport MBTA Bus: 1, 66, 68, 69, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 77, 77A, 78, 86, 96
Bicycle facilities21 spaces
Disabled accessYes
OpenedMarch 12, 1912
RebuiltSeptember 6, 1983
Passengers (2013)23,199 (weekday average boardings)[1]
Preceding station MBTA.svg MBTA Following station
toward Alewife
Red Line Central
toward Ashmont or Braintree

Harvard is a rapid transit and bus transfer station in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Located at Harvard Square, it serves the MBTA's Red Line subway system as well as MBTA Buses. Harvard averaged 23,199 entries each weekday in 2013, making it the third-busiest MBTA station and the busiest outside the four downtown "hub" stations. Only Downtown Crossing and South Station handled more passengers.[1] It is also an important transfer point, with subway, bus, and trackless trolley (trolleybus) service all connecting at the station. Five of the fifteen key MBTA bus routes, with one extended late-night service, stop at the station.

Harvard station is located directly beneath Harvard Square, a transportation, business, and cultural focal point in Cambridge. The Red Line rail platforms lie underneath Massachusetts Avenue just north of the center of the square. Many connecting surface transit routes are served by the Harvard Bus Tunnel, which descends from Mass Ave near Cambridge Street, runs southward under Harvard Square, and then westward under Brattle Street, emerging onto Mount Auburn Street. The primary station entrance leads to a central atrium fare lobby under Harvard Square; there is also a secondary fare lobby for the Red Line toward the north end of the station, with entrances at Church Street and opposite it, near Harvard's Johnston Gate; and an unpaid entrance to the bus tunnel at Brattle Square.


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 1912 original entry structure was first replaced by the Harvard Square Subway Kiosk in 1928, and this later structure is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Harvard Bus Tunnel also opened in 1912, originally serving streetcars, which were eventually replaced by buses and trackless trolleys (trolleybuses). Trackless trolleys began to use the tunnel in 1938, while streetcar service in the tunnel was discontinued in 1958.[2] Diesel buses began using the tunnel in 1965.[3]

Former stations[edit]

Simplified map of the current and former stations

There have been a total of five stations on the Red Line in and around Harvard Square. The original 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. The original station opened March 23, 1912, and closed permanently on January 30, 1981.[4] The surviving eastern end of the original outbound side platform, built to accommodate passengers alighting at the former terminus, is still visible from passing trains.

The lead tracks to Eliot Street 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.[5] 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 faregates; instead, employees collected fares for special service to events such as the Harvard–Yale football games.[4] It opened on October 26, 1912, and the last known use was on November 18, 1967.[6]

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. A $1.4 million construction contract was approved on December 7, 1977, with a groundbreaking ceremony on January 23, 1978.[7] The station was open from March 24, 1979 to September 1, 1983, and was the northern terminus of the Red Line during that period.[6] The temporary station was completely demolished, and parts of the Kennedy School of Government now occupy the space.

"Harvard/Holyoke" station was located in the main Red Line tunnel east of the current station, at Massachusetts Avenue and Holyoke Street. Although it served inbound passengers only, the temporary station was fully built with tile walls and other durable details. It was open from January 31, 1981, to September 1, 1983.[6] The abandoned side platform is still visible from inbound Red Line trains.

Current station[edit]

In this panorama of the station's central atrium, the entrance to the lower and upper busways can be seen in the left distance, and the row of faregates leading to the Red Line platforms can be seen to the right.

The historic headhouse structure had been far too small for the volume of passenger traffic, so it was reinstalled slightly north of its original location, and repurposed as a news stand carrying local and international publications. A new modern headhouse was built south of the original location, affording a generous entry into a deep, spacious underground atrium serving as the station lobby. From this space, passengers may pass through faregates to reach new train platforms to the north. An elevator is also installed near the main entrance structure.

A new secondary fare collection mezzanine and entrances were built north of the central atrium, affording direct access to the train platforms from just outside the walled enclosure of Harvard Yard, and also across Massachusetts Avenue at the corner of Church Street. To the west of the central atrium, passengers may gain unpaid access to boarding areas for the Harvard Bus Tunnel. Near the far end of the upper bus tunnel is an exit and entry structure located in Brattle Square, including a second elevator for handicapped access to the station.

The Church Street secondary entrance to the new station opened on September 6, 1983; the main entrance opened on March 2, 1985.[8][9] John H. "Muggsie" Kelly, a construction foreman with the Perini Corporation, was killed when a crane fell over on May 18, 1982, during the construction of the current Harvard station. A memorial plaque honoring Kelly, located near Johnston Gate, was dedicated in October 1985.[10][11]

Station layout[edit]

Main headhouse, located in Harvard Square
G Street Level Exit/Entrance
B1 Mezzanine Fare mezzanine
Upper platform level
Outbound      Red Line toward Alewife (Porter)
Side platform, doors will open on the left
Lower platform level
Inbound      Red Line toward Ashmont/Braintree (Central)
Side platform, doors will open on the right

One of the most complex subway stations of the MBTA system, Harvard has separate side platforms for rail on two levels, with outbound (northbound) trains on the upper level and inbound (southbound) trains on the lower level.[4] The station is one of four stations in the MBTA system to have bi-level split platforms.[12]

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.

Harvard Bus Tunnel[edit]

This portal onto Mount Auburn Street accommodates both trackless trolleys and buses serving areas to the north and west of the station. Open door on the left is for a storage area.

West of the subway platforms is the 1,380-foot (420 m)-long Harvard Bus Tunnel, which offers passengers underground weather-protected connections to buses and trackless trolleys.[13] All passenger connections between rail and surface transit (even in the bus tunnel) must pass through the faregates in the central atrium, or the faregates in the secondary mezzanine.

The parallel bus tunnels serving opposite directions share common portals north and west of the station, and traverse approximately 0.25 miles (0.40 km) underground from portal to portal. The tunnels approach from the north, splitting from Massachusetts Avenue and descending through Dawes Island Park, in the median. Underground, near their closest approach to the central atrium of the station (beneath Harvard Square), the tunnels turn westward, travel beneath Brattle Square, and eventually emerge onto Mount Auburn Street.

The Harvard Bus Tunnel splits underground to a stacked configuration, with the northbound tube on top. Both bus tubes are served by side platforms, located at the southern edges of the curved tunnels. This means that passenger loading and unloading for westbound buses which lack left-side doors requires awkward passenger movements across the vehicle path, and boarding/alighting through doors facing a blank wall. Unlike the buses, MBTA trackless trolleys are specially equipped with a wide left-side door, to ease faster boarding in the tunnel.

To further expedite boarding in the tunnel, both buses and trackless trolleys allow free entry for certain routes, not collecting fares until 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.

The Harvard Bus Tunnel is equipped with dual overhead wires to power trackless trolleys, as well as ventilation fans to remove diesel exhaust. For safety reasons, vehicles using compressed natural gas (CNG) are banned from the tunnel, as are all non-MBTA vehicles.

A project to make repairs to the deteriorated pavement, replace the trolleybus wire, replace lighting, improve wayfinding, and add automatic doors to the main station area is taking place in 2019 and 2020.[13] On June 23, 2019, the upper busway was temporarily closed; most buses used the lower busway for boarding and surface stops for alighting, while routes 71 and 73 ran on the surface only.[14] The upper busway reopened and the lower busway closed on October 21.[15]


Like all other heavy rail Red Line stations, Harvard is fully wheelchair accessible. The station features two redundant elevators for street level access (in different locations), so that either may be used while the other is out of service. Wheeled travel within the station is via wide, sweeping ramps from one level to another. The main elevator in Harvard Square was closed in 2018 for an 18-month replacement with a larger glass elevator. The new elevator, which has copper sheeting on the kiosk, opened on October 31, 2019.[16]

Bus connections[edit]

Trackless trolley from Belmont discharging passengers in Harvard Bus Tunnel, upper level
This trackless trolley bound for Watertown has a wide left-side door to speed passenger boarding in the lower-level tunnel

A number of routes use the Harvard Bus Tunnel; all board on the upper level except for route 71 and 73 trolleybuses:

Several other routes stop at street level near the north headhouse:

  • 1: Harvard - Dudley via Massachusetts Avenue
  • 66: Harvard - Dudley via Allston
  • 68: Harvard - Kendall/MIT
  • 69: Harvard - Lechmere
  • 86: Sullivan - Reservoir (southbound buses)

Public artwork[edit]

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.[17]

Four of the original twenty artworks were located at Harvard station.[18] The first two are located within the station interior, while the remaining two were located outdoors:

  • 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 is mounted on the wall of the upper Harvard Bus Tunnel so that it is visible 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.
  • 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 freestanding grouping of pillars made up of various shapes that intersect at odd angles using many different types and polishes of granite. Previously located just north of the news stand which is also north of the main station entrance, the sculpture was removed in 2013 due to deterioration, with plans to refurbish and relocate it elsewhere. See the Arts on the Line article for further details.


As a vital interchange station, Harvard is a proposed stop on the MBTA's planned Urban Ring Project.[19] The Urban Ring would be a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Line designed to connect the current MBTA Lines to reduce overcrowding at the downtown stations, as well as decreasing trip times.



  1. ^ a b "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014.
  2. ^ Wolinksy, Julian (Fall 1988). "Trackless But Loved in Boston". Bus World. Woodland Hills, California: Stauss Publications. pp. 6–10. ISSN 0162-9689.
  3. ^ Clarke, Bradley H. (1970). The Trackless Trolleys of Boston. Boston Street Railway Association. p. 18.
  4. ^ a b c O'Regan, Gerry. "MBTA Red Line". nycsubway.org. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  5. ^ Bierman, Noah (December 26, 2009). "Transit archeology: Tour of abandoned subway network offers a glimpse of how the T was built". Boston Globe.
  6. ^ a b c Belcher, Jonathan. "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). NETransit.
  7. ^ A Chronicle of the Boston Transit System. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 1981. p. 12 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ Red Line Northwest Extension. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. May 3, 1985. p. 13 – via Internet Archive.
  9. ^ Crocket, Douglas S. (September 4, 1983). "As projects end, some changes in T". Boston Globe. p. 23 – via Newspapers.com. open access
  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. ^ The other three are Porter, State, and North Station.
  13. ^ a b "Harvard Square Station Busway Improvements". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. May 2, 2019.
  14. ^ "Harvard Station Busway Improvements" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. May 15, 2019.
  15. ^ "77 Arlington Heights - Harvard: Alerts". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. October 17, 2019. Archived from the original on October 18, 2019.
  16. ^ "General Manager's Remarks" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. November 4, 2019.
  17. ^ Red Line Northwest Extension Pamphlet page 5. The Davis Square Tiles Project. Accessed May 31, 2010
  18. ^ Arts on the Line:Harvard Square MBTA Station Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine. Cambridge Arts Council. 2002. Accessed May 30, 2010
  19. ^ [1] Archived July 8, 2011, at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]