Old Colony Lines (MBTA)

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Inbound Campello.JPG
A train leaves Campello station on the Middleborough/Lakeville Line
Type Commuter rail line
System Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Status Operating
Locale Southeastern Massachusetts
Termini Boston South Station
Stations 17
Daily ridership

Plymouth/Kingston Line: 6,560 (2014)

Middleborough/Lakeville Line: 7,182 (2014)[1]
Opened 1997 (reopening)
Owner Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Operator(s) Keolis North America
Line length Middleboro/Lakeville Line: 35.6 miles (57.3 km)
Plymouth/Kingston Line: 35.1 miles (56.5 km) (Kingston)[1]
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Route map

The Old Colony Lines are branches of the MBTA Commuter Rail system, connecting downtown Boston, Massachusetts with the South Shore and cranberry-farming country to the south and southeast. The Middleborough/Lakeville Line winds south through Holbrook, Brockton, Bridgewater, Lakeville and Middleborough and the Plymouth/Kingston Line heads southeast from Braintree, roughly following Route 3 toward Weymouth, Abington, Whitman, Hanson, Halifax, Kingston and Plymouth. The Greenbush Line, part of the original Old Colony system but restored separately, heads east from north of Braintree station towards Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate. In fiscal year 2013, the Middleborough/Lakeville line averaged 7,182 one-way riders per weekday and the Plymouth/Kingston Line 6,560 riders for a combined daily ridership of 13,742 - a substantial decrease from daily averages over 19,000 several years before.[1]


The Old Colony system in 1893

Historically, train service extended beyond the current terminus of the three branches. Greenbush service continued on a now-abandoned right-of-way to Kingston, where it joined the Plymouth line. The Plymouth line extended into downtown Plymouth, and a branch connected to Middleborough through Carver. Trains continued southeast from Middleboro to four different termini on Cape Cod: Woods Hole, Hyannis, Chatham and Provincetown. Another major branch continued southwest to New Bedford, and another to Newport via Fall River

A number of minor branches also extended off the main lines. These included branches to Hull, East Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, North Hanover, and Fairhaven. None of those branches is currently operational.

The Old Colony under the New Haven[edit]

Passenger service along the Old Colony Railroad was discontinued in 1959. Despite high ridership, this line had been a source of problems for the New Haven Railroad, which leased the system. In 1935, the bankrupt New Haven attempted to default on its lease and return ownership of the line to the Old Colony stockholders, however, this drove the Old Colony, which had not run trains in over thirty years, to bankruptcy in one day and the New Haven was forced to run the trains by court order, with a provision that if losses exceeded a certain amount they could abandon the line. The Old Colony Division enjoyed a brief renaissance in the early 1950s under the pro-commuter term of President Frederick C. Dumaine, Jr., however this was not to last. The New Haven's accountants used somewhat dubious practices to shift a greater amount of debt to the Old Colony Division, and the railroad announced that all passenger service would end in 1958. An emergency subsidy was approved by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for another year, and service finally ended in 1959 with the opening of the Southeast Expressway, which runs alongside the Old Colony right-of-way in many sections. The bridge over the Neponset River burned soon afterwards, making any restoration of service significantly more difficult.

1971-present: Restoration of service[edit]

A train at South Weymouth station on the Plymouth/Kingston Line in 2013

As congestion and pollution became issues on the Expressway, projects were undertaken to revive service on these railways. In 1971, the South Shore Branch of the Red Line opened to Quincy Center, and in 1980 it was extended to Braintree. The line, with state-of-the-art park-and-ride stations, proved an instant success, leading proposals to restore commuter rail service past Braintree to gain strength. The Cape Cod and Hyannis Railroad ran passenger service from Cape Cod to Braintree (and briefly to Attleboro) in the 1980s, but failed when its state subsidy was ended amid budget cuts.

Middleborough/Lakeville and Plymouth/Kingston[edit]

Freight service continued on the Cape Main Line through Brockton and Middleborough and the Old Colony mainline to Plymouth even after passenger service ended, so the lines were not abandoned when restoration planning began around 1990. Both lines received a full restoration for 59 miles per hour (95 km/h) passenger service, including passing sidings and fully handicapped accessible stations with full-length high-level platforms. Tracks were laid parallel to the Red Line along the original right-of-way, including a new two-track bridge over the Neponset River. The first trains ran on September 26, 1997, with full rush hour service on the 29th.[2]

The fork at the end of the line creates operational issues - a single train cannot serve both terminal stations efficiently. Three daily trips run to both Kingston and Plymouth sequentially, which doubles travel time from Kingston to Boston during much of the day (Kingston is first on all weekday and one weekend trip). Between Kingston and Plymouth, the train is simultaneously acting as an inbound train (from the first station to Boston) and an outbound train (from Boston to the second station). Keolis and the MBTA may address the unusual routing during schedule changes in late 2015.[3]


The trench through downtown Hingham that caused substantial delays to the completion of the Greenbush Line
Main article: Greenbush Line

The third leg of the project, the Greenbush Line, was planned to reopen at the same time. However, this line faced a number of different challenges. Unlike the other two, the line had been entirely abandoned by the 1970s, without even freight service running, so the right-of-way had to be completely rebuilt. In addition, the line had many more grade crossings than the other two, and some residents voiced concerns about the noise and disruption caused by the train running on the old right-of-way through downtown Hingham. After a number of lawsuits, the MBTA and Hingham came to an agreement to build a tunnel underneath the downtown area, which allowed the project to again progress. Revenue service began on October 31, 2007.[2] On schedules and maps, the Greenbush Line is treated as a separate service and not part of the two Old Colony Lines.

Weekend service and tie replacement[edit]

Plymouth station is only served by off-peak weekday service; it was also served by some weekend trains until weekend service on the line was cut in 2012.

Weekend and off-peak service on the Old Colony Lines (including the first service to Plymouth which is not served during rush hours) began as planned on November 29, 1997, two months after rush hour service began. Greenbush service included weekend and off-peak service from the beginning of operations.[2]

In May 2010, the MBTA announced a plan to temporarily stop all weekend service and to replace non-peak weekday service with buses. The shutdowns are for the purposes of replacing defective concrete ties, which have begun failing far earlier than expected, with wooden ones.[4] Tie replacement started in March 2011 and was substantially complete by September, although the full project - which includes grade crossing and bridge work - was expected to take until the summer of 2012.[5] As of May 26, 2012 the entire project is complete.

The CapeFLYER runs over the Middleborough/Lakeville Line on its way to Hyannis on summer weekends.

On March 28, 2012, the MBTA announced that Plymouth/Kingston Line service would no longer operate on weekends, as with the Needham Line and Greenbush Line. The move came as a part of fare increases and service cuts in order to close the agency's operating budget shortfall for the following year. Weekend service was eliminated beginning July 7, 2012; weekend service was kept for the first week of the new fiscal year to allow for service on the July 4th holiday. Middleborough/Lakeville service continues to operate on weekends.[2]

In early 2014, local and state officials began agitating for the return of weekend service on the Plymouth/Kingston Line.[6][7] On October 7, 2014, the MBTA announced the return of weekend service on the Plymouth/Kingston Line, as well as weekend service on the Greenbush Line and Saturday service on the Needham Line. The restored weekend service began on December 27, 2014.[8]

Prior to the return of weekend service on the Kingston/Plymouth Line, the MBTA held special weekend service to Plymouth for 2 weekends leading up to the 2014 Thanksgiving holiday. The two trains per day were intended only for tourists going to Plymouth; they did not run on schedules allowing day trips to Boston.[9]

Cape Cod service[edit]

The CapeFLYER service to Hyannis, Massachusetts on Cape Cod via the Middleborough/Lakeville Line began in May 2013. The service is operated by the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) in collaboration with the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), using standard MBTA commuter equipment. The CapeFLYER is the first regular passenger service to Cape Cod from Boston since the 1960s.[2]


  1. ^ a b c "2014 Bluebook 14th Edition" (PDF) (14 ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Belcher, Jonathan (23 April 2012). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). NETransit. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  3. ^ Dungca, Nicole (4 October 2015). "Rail trip from Kingston shows MBTA’s ‘scheduling anomalies’". Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 October 2015. 
  4. ^ "MBTA Old Colony tie project will require weekend shutdowns". Trains Magazine. 4 May 2010. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  5. ^ "Old Colony Commuter Rail Tie Replacement Project". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  6. ^ Barnes, Jennette (9 April 2014). "Revival of train service sought". Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Trufant, Jessica (24 June 2014). "Push for restored weekend rail service continues". Patriot Ledger. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Commuter Rail: Weekend Service Returning on 3 Lines" (Press release). Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 7 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Take the Special Seasonal Weekend Train to Plymouth!" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 

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