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MBTA subway

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MBTA subway
Red Line train entering Alewife station in April 2024
Red Line train entering Alewife station in April 2024
LocaleGreater Boston, Massachusetts
Number of lines3 heavy rail (Red, Orange, Blue)
2 light rail (Green, Ashmont–Mattapan)
1 bus rapid transit (Silver)
Number of stations153 (list of stations)
Annual ridership85,397,200 (heavy rail, 2023)
34,581,000 (light rail, 2023)[1]
Began operationSeptember 1, 1897 (Tremont Street subway)
Operator(s)Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)
Train length6 cars (rapid transit)
1-3 cars (light rail)
System length68.7 mi (110.6 km) – rail

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates rapid transit (heavy rail), light rail, and bus rapid transit services in the Boston metropolitan area, collectively referred to as the rapid transit, subway, or the T system.[2]

The color-branded lines consist of three heavy rail lines (Red, Orange, and Blue), one branched light rail system (Green), and a short light rail line (the Ashmont–Mattapan High-Speed Line, colored as part of the Red Line). All except the Ashmont–Mattapan line operate in tunnels in the downtown area, but no route operates entirely underground, and only 31 out of the system's 153 stations are located underground. The five branches of the Silver Line bus network are also shown as part of the rapid transit system. Three branches operate underground and charge rapid transit fares; two branches operate entirely on the surface and charge lower bus fares.

In 2023, the heavy rail lines had 85,397,200 rides,[1] or about 255,800 per weekday[3] in the first quarter of 2024, and comprised the fourth-busiest heavy rail system in the United States. In the same period, the light rail lines had 34,581,000 rides, or about 63,600 per weekday, and comprised the third-busiest light rail system in the United States.

The section of the Tremont Street subway between Park Street and Boylston Street stations, now on the Green Line, opened in 1897, making it the oldest transit subway in the United States still in use. (Only the short-lived Beach Pneumatic Transit demonstration line in New York City was built before.)


Streetcar number 1752, driven by the veteran motorman Jimmy Reed, is shown here after it became the first revenue car in the Boston subway system on September 1, 1897. This also marked the beginning of subway traffic in the United States.

Opened in September 1897, the four-track-wide segment of the Green Line tunnel between Park Street and Boylston stations was the first subway in the United States, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The downtown portions of what are now the Green, Orange, Blue, and Red line tunnels were all in service by 1912. Additions to the rapid transit network occurred in most decades of the 1900s, and continued in the 2000s with the addition of Silver Line bus rapid transit and Green Line Extension.[citation needed] (See MBTA History and MBTA Future plans sections.)

Streetcar congestion in downtown Boston led to the creation of underground subways and elevated rail, the former in 1897 and the latter in 1901. The Tremont Street subway was the first rapid transit tunnel in the United States and had a 24/7 service.[4] The grade-separated railways added transportation capacity while avoiding delays caused by intersections with cross streets.[5] The first elevated railway and the first rapid transit line in Boston were built three years before the first underground line of the New York City Subway, but 34 years after the first London Underground lines, and long after the first elevated railway in New York City.[6]

Various extensions and branches were added to the subway lines at both ends, bypassing more surface tracks. As grade-separated lines were extended, street-running lines were cut back for faster downtown service. The last elevated heavy rail or "El" inter-station segments in Boston – with the exception of the Red Line's still-active elevated tracks, connecting Charles/MGH station over Charles Circle to the Longfellow Bridge and the Cambridge Tunnel's northern portal – were at the extremities of the Orange Line: its northern end was relocated in 1975 from Everett to Malden, MA, and its southern end was relocated into the Southwest Corridor in 1987. However, the Green Line's Causeway Street Elevated remained in service until 2004, when it was relocated into a tunnel with an incline to reconnect to the Lechmere Viaduct.

The final section of elevated, between the Lechmere Viaduct and Lechmere station, was closed in 2020 for construction of the Green Line Extension. The extension opened in two phases in 2022 with new branches from Lechmere to Union Square and Medford/​Tufts – the first rail expansion since 1987.


Network map[edit]



The rapid transit lines consist of 3 heavy rail (Metro) lines, 2 light rail lines, and a bus rapid transit line. The heavy rail Red Line has two southern branches, while the light rail Green Line has four services (B, C, D, and E) that use four western and two northern branches. The Silver Line has five bus rapid transit routes; two run on Washington Street with different downtown terminals, while three run underground in the Seaport with surface branches.

Line Route Inauguration Route length Number of stations
Green Line 1897 26.7 mi (43.0 km) 70
Orange Line Oak GroveForest Hills 1901 11 mi (18 km) 20
Blue Line WonderlandBowdoin 1904 6 mi (9.7 km) 12
Red Line
1912 22.5 mi (36.2 km) 22
Ashmont–Mattapan High-Speed Line Ashmont ↔ Mattapan 1929 2.5 mi (4.0 km) 8
Silver Line
2002 34
Heavy rail subtotal 39.5 mi (63.6 km) 52[note 1]
Light rail subtotal 29.2 mi (47.0 km) 78[note 2]
Total 68.1 mi (109.6 km) 153[note 3]


To-scale map of the Boston subway system from 2022

All four subway lines cross downtown, forming a quadrilateral configuration, and the Orange and Green Lines (which run approximately parallel in that district) also connect directly at two stations just north of downtown. The Red Line and Blue Line are the only pair of subway lines which do not have a direct transfer connection to each other. Because the various subway lines do not consistently run in any given compass direction, it is customary to refer to line directions as "inbound" or "outbound". Inbound trains travel towards the four downtown transfer stationsPark Street, State Street, Government Center and Downtown Crossing–and outbound trains travel away from these hub stations.[7]


Originally, transit lines in the region only used geographic names; though numbering was added to public maps in 1936. The three heavy rail lines were assigned numbers 1, 2, and 3; what is now the Green Line was assigned different numbers for each branch. However, riders generally continued to use the geographic names.[8] Colors were assigned on August 26, 1965, as part of a wider modernization under design standards developed by Cambridge Seven Associates, and have served as the primary identifier for the lines since then.[9] The numbers for the heavy rail lines and the Mattapan Line were retained in public information until 1966.[8] In 1967, the then-current five branches of the Green Line were lettered A through E.[8]

Cambridge Seven originally intended to use red, yellow, green, and blue for the four lines. However, yellow proved unsuitable, since some patrons would have difficulty reading yellow text on a white background; orange was substituted, and yellow eventually was used for the MBTA bus service's visibility markings and signage.[10] When sketching design concepts, Peter Chermayeff labeled the subway-surface light rail routes as the Green Line because they run adjacent to parts of the Emerald Necklace park system. The East Boston Tunnel became the Blue Line because it runs under Boston Harbor, and the Cambridge-Dorchester Tunnel became the Red Line because its northernmost terminus was then at Harvard University, whose school color is crimson. According to Chermayeff, the Main Line El "ended up being orange for no particular reason beyond color balance."[11] The MBTA and transit historians later claimed that orange came from Orange Street, an early name for the street that ran southwards down the Boston Neck to connect the Shawmut Peninsula to the mainland, for what is now part of Washington Street.[12][13][10]


The MBTA rapid transit system consists of 153 stations, with the 5 most recent stations opening on December 12, 2022 as part of the Medford/Tufts branch of the Green Line Extension project in Somerville.

Rolling stock[edit]

The MBTA is in the process of replacing its entire fleet of Red Line and Orange Line cars, which are over 40 years old, as of 2024.[14] The Blue Line cars were replaced in 2008. The Green Line has a variety of vehicles, some dating back to 1986, with the latest batch delivered in 2019.

All four transit lines use standard-gauge railway tracks (4 ft 8+12 in / 1,435 mm), but are otherwise incompatible, with varying loading gauges, car lengths, platform heights, and power collection systems as detailed in the chart below:

MBTA subway car dimensions[15]
Line Car length Car width Platform height Power
Red 69 ft 6 in (21.2 m) 10 ft (3.05 m) 49 in (1.24 m) Third rail
Orange 65 ft (19.8 m) 9 ft 3 in (2.82 m) 45 in (1.14 m) Third rail
Blue 48 ft (14.6 m) 9 ft 3 in (2.82 m) 41+12 in (1.05 m) Third rail, overhead line
Green 72–74 ft (21.9–22.6 m) 8 ft 8 in (2.64 m) 8 in (0.20 m) Overhead line

There are no direct track connections between lines, except between the Red Line and Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line, but all except the Blue Line have little-used connections to the national rail network, which have been used for deliveries of railcars and supplies.[16]


MBTA subway fares are $2.40 regardless of fare medium (CharlieCard, paper ticket, or cash), with two transfers on MBTA bus local routes allowed. Daily, weekly, and monthly passes are also available, and MBTA Commuter Rail passes for these time periods are valid for subway fares.[17] Discounted fares are available for groups including adults over 65, people with disabilities, certain schoolchildren, and young adults with low incomes. Children under 11, legally blind people, and certain government workers are allowed to ride free of charge.[18]

All Blue, Orange, and Red Line stations are fare controlled with faregates, as are underground Green and Silver Line stations (plus the aboveground Science Park and Riverside stations). Green Line Extension stations require proof of payment verification at a fare machine. All other aboveground Green and Silver Line stations require payment when boarding the vehicle.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Transit Ridership Report Fourth Quarter 2023" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association. March 4, 2024. Retrieved March 14, 2024.
  2. ^ "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014.
  3. ^ "Transit Ridership Report First Quarter 2024" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association. May 23, 2024. Retrieved May 31, 2024.
  4. ^ "Boston used to have 24-hour train service. Will all-night MBTA service ever exist?". August 22, 2023.
  5. ^ "Famous Firsts in Massachusetts". Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Archived from the original on February 8, 2007. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  6. ^ "New York Subway's "Remembering the Ninth Avenue El" article". Archived from the original on August 18, 2014. Retrieved September 4, 2017.
  7. ^ Ferry, J. Amanda (May 20, 2003). "Boston's subway". Boston.com. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Belcher, Jonathan. "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). Boston Street Railway Association.
  9. ^ "Cambridge Seven Associates Website". C7a.com. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011.
  10. ^ a b Ba Tran, Andrew (June 2012). "MBTA Orange Line's 111th anniversary". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on July 21, 2017. The Everett-Forest Hills Main Line Elevated was renamed the Orange Line on August 25, 1965. The name comes from a section of Washington Street between Essex and Dover streets that had the name Orange Street until the early 19th century, said Clarke. However, according to architecture firm Cambridge Seven Associates, the Orange Line's color was a design choice after the yellow color option did not test well.
  11. ^ Byrnes, Mark (September 17, 2018). "How Boston Got Its 'T'". CityLab. I remember sitting in my Cambridge office preparing for a meeting with the MBTA in which I would be proposing colored lines. I had markers in front of me and I chose red for the line that went to Harvard since it's a well-known institution whose main color is crimson. One line went up the North Shore of Boston up to the coastal areas, so it seemed obvious to call that the Blue Line. The line that serves Olmsted's Emerald Necklace was an obvious choice for green. And then the fourth line ended up being orange for no particular reason beyond color balance.
  12. ^ Sanborn, George M. (1992). A Chronicle of the Boston Transit System. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on August 18, 2015. Retrieved September 17, 2016 – via MIT.
  13. ^ "Curiosity Carcards" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 13, 2018. Retrieved September 18, 2018.
  14. ^ Bienick, David (March 28, 2024). "MBTA to pay up to $148M more to speed delivery of new subway cars". WCVB. Retrieved June 23, 2024.
  15. ^ Robin Washington (February 25, 2015). "On the T, One Sized Doesn't Fit All". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  16. ^ Discussion of rail intereconnections[permanent dead link]. The Red Line connection is at JFK/UMass, the Orange Line at Wellington (last used ca. 1981), and the Green Line at Riverside. Tractor trailer trucks may also be used to deliver train cars from the manufacturer. http://groups-beta.google.com/group/ne.transportation/browse_frm/thread/e6ba611be5abb7a/6c500ca982d60b28[permanent dead link]
  17. ^ a b "Subway Fares". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved March 29, 2023.
  18. ^ "Reduced Fares". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved March 29, 2023.


  1. ^ There are 2 heavy-rail-exclusive stations which act as interchanges and use multiple heavy-rail lines, and were not counted more than once in this total: Downtown Crossing and State.
  2. ^ This subtotal includes counting interchange stations between light and heavy-rail lines multiple times for every line they utilize.
  3. ^ There are 12 stations which act as interchanges: 11 of them connect two lines, and 1 connects three (Downtown Crossing). For this reason, these were not counted more than once in this total: Tufts Medical Center, Chinatown, Boylston, Park Street, Downtown Crossing, South Station, State, Government Center, Haymarket, North Station, Airport, and Ashmont.

External links[edit]