An Animated History of the MBTA

An Animated History of the MBTA

Inspired by the map made by Bostonography for their post about the 100th anniversary of the Red Line in Boston opening (from Harvard Sq to Park St) I decided to see what the system would have looked like in the vernacular of the modern system map. The present system map didn’t come into being until the system-wide style modernization in 1967. Before then the maps didn’t use colors (or when they did it was different, as in the case where the “Red” line was colored blue). Lines were known by where they went, as in the Washington St subway or the Cambridge subway, or the Commonwealth Ave trolley.  The names were chosen (so the urban legend goes) because: Red Line went to Harvard (their school color being crimson), the Green Line went along the Emerald Necklace, the Orange Line went under Washington St which was in colonial times known as Orange St, and the Blue Line which went underwater.

So instead of just flashing a bunch of old maps that all look completely different, it made more sense to stick to one style and animate each year when the system was expanded (or contracted in many cases). I toyed with the idea of having text describing each change on the map but found that too confusing since you can’t control it for each slide (which I may create later).

Listed below are the changes to the system by year.  I refer to all lines by their present day names:

  • 1897: The original subway opens for Green Line trolleys from Allston to Park St.
  • 1898: Park St to North Station is opened with a trolley incline at North Station for all trolleys to the north of the city.
  • 1901: Orange Line opens in four segments: Sullivan Sq to North Station (elevated), North Station to Dover St (Atlantic Ave elevated), Dover St to Dudley Sq (elevated), and a routing though the Green Line subway from North Station to Pleasant Ave.
  • 1904: Blue Line opens as a trolley tunnel from Maverick Sq to Court Sq at Scollay Sq.
  • 1906: Atlantic Ave station opens on the Blue Line.
  • 1908: Washington St subway opens on the Orange Line, Green Line restored to trolley service.
  • 1909: Orange Line extended from Dudley Sq to Forest Hills.
  • 1912: Red Line from Harvard Sq to Park St opens; Green Line extended to Lechmere; Green St station on the Orange Line added.
  • 1914: Green Line extended to Kenmore Sq.
  • 1915: Red Line extended to Washington St.
  • 1916: Red Line extended to South Station; Blue Line extended to Bowdoin Sq.
  • 1917: Red Line extended to Broadway.
  • 1918: Red Line extended to Andrew.
  • 1919: Orange Line extended to Everett; Beach St station closes.
  • 1921: Arlington station added to Green Line.
  • 1922: Lechmere becomes terminal for Green Line trolleys.
  • 1924: Blue Line converted from trolley to heavy rail.
  • 1927: Red Line extended to Fields Corner.
  • 1928: Red Line extended to Ashmont.; Atlantic Ave el service cut back, rush hour service only from Dudley to North Station (Dashed Line).
  • 1929: Mattapan High Speed Line opens.
  • 1932: Green Line extended past Kenmore with portals for Watertown, Boston College, and Cleveland Circle trolleys; Charles St station added to Red Line.
  • 1938: Atlantic Ave elevated service ended.
  • 1941: Huntington Ave subway opened on Green Line from Copley to Arborway.
  • 1952: Blue Line extended to Suffolk Down.
  • 1954: Blue Line extended to Wonderland.
  • 1955: Science Park added to Green Line.
  • 1959: Riverside Line added to Green Line from Kenmore Sq to Riverside.
  • 1961: Pleasant St portal closed on Green Line.
  • 1963: Adams Sq station closed; Scollay Sq changed to Government Center; Mechanics station changed to Prudential (All Green Line).
  • 1965: Massachusetts station renamed Auditorium (Green Line).
  • 1967: Orange Line stations renamed: Friend-Union > Haymarket, Milk-State/Devonshire > State, Washington/Summer-Winter > Washington, Boylston-Essex > Essex.
  • 1969: Green Line Watertown “A” banch closed.
  • 1971: Red Line extended from Andrew to Quincy Center.
  • 1975: Orange Line Haymarket North extension opens from North Station to Malden Center; Charlestown elevated closed.
  • 1977: Orange Line extended to Oak Grove.
  • 1980: Red Line extended to Braintree.
  • 1983: Quincy Adams station added to Red Line.
  • 1984: Red Line extended from Harvard Sq to Davis Sq.
  • 1985: Red Line extended to Alewife.
  • 1987: Orange Line Southwest Corridor opened from Chinatown (renamed from Essex) to new Forest Hills; Washington St elevated closed; Green Line truncated to Heath St from Arborway.
  • 1988: Columbia changed to JFK/UMass; added to Red Line Braintree branch.
  • 1990: Auditorium renamed Hynes/ICA (Green Line)
  • 2002: Silver Line Phase I: Washington St opens.
  • 2004: Silver Line Phase II: South Boston to Logan Airport/City Point opened.
  • 2009: Silver Line to City Point discontinued; Silver Line Dudley Sq to South Station opened.

The MBTA of today is hardly recognizable from the system a century ago.  This says a lot about the willingness of Boston to change and adapt itself to survive.  The many extensions from 1971 to 1987 were funded by transferring funds from canceled highway projects to mass transit.  During the 1990s the subway was neglected in favor of expanding commuter rail.  These suburban extensions were never paid for and are a huge reason the MBTA is steeped in so much debt today.

Now if you are anything like me (and obviously you are or you wouldn’t be here) you want to be able to take in each slide like it’s a fine scotch. I’ve created a gallery of each slide below so you can see each one and track the changes. The gallery viewer also has a slideshow function which works just like the animation above.

39 comments on “An Animated History of the MBTAAdd yours →

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  1. Also a bit more of an explanation about the Orange Line running through the Green Line from 1901 to 1908: The Orange Line trains used the outside tracks which ran all the way from North Station to Boylston. Trolleys from the north entered at North Station and looped back at Scollay Sq; trolleys from the west entered at Boylston and looped back at Park St.

  2. Nice maps!

    I’ve created a similar set of maps at which show the lines geographically (though only one map per decade).

    An important correction to your maps: after a major wreck on the curve near Beach Street on the Atlantic Ave elevated in July 1928, that part of the elevated was closed, and from then until 1938 the only service on the elevated was a shuttle between North Station and South Station.

    Additional nitpicks:
    – Until that point there were trains that ran Dudley – Atlantic Ave Elevated – Washington St Tunnel – Dudley, and also Dudley – Washington St Tunnel – Atlantic Ave Elevated – Dudley, using the downtown lines like a loop, but the way you’ve drawn the curve near North Station suggests there was no such service.
    – Similarly, during the 1901-1908 period there were also trains that ran Sullivan – Subway – Elevated – Sullivan and vice versa, so the junction near Dover should indicate this.
    – After the Lechmere viaduct opened, there was still a portal at North Station for trolleys headed out towards Charlestown and beyond, so you should probably show a dashed line branching off there as you do at other portals. Those services continued until 1949.

    If you’re interested in showing more of the surface segments of the Green Line (i.e. streetcars using the Tremont Street Subway) I’d be happy to share what I’ve learned about those, though before about 1930 information is less clear and I have had to resort to guesswork in places.

  3. I debated how detailed I wanted to make it. Since it was going to morph into the present map I wanted to keep it simple. Perhaps I’ll make a still from the 1920s which shows the different types of services including trolley lines.

    BTW I loved your map.

  4. Yeah, I can understand wanting to leave off the surface lines. But you really should fix the elevated, showing service between Dover and South Station after 1928 is just incorrect.

  5. One thing missing is that harvard was split into a few stops while they tore down the original station to build the current station and the extension to alewife. They had 3 temp stops for a couple years.

  6. Anon256 is incorrect about the Dudley-Dover portion. I have a 1938 Boston El system map, the last with the Atlantic Ave. el on it. The route desription on the back says “3 North Station-South Station via Atlantic Avenue, service between North Station-Dudley rush-hours”. Beach St. station closed in 1919, but rush-hour trains extended to Dudley used that segment until the end.

    Also, the Arborway Line was cut-back from Arborway to Brigham Circle in 1985, and service was restored between Brigham Circle and Heath St. in 1989.

    Also, Green St., not Egleston, was the infill station opened later on the Dudley-Forest Hills extension. Egelston opened at the same time as Forest Hills.

    I would also add that not showing the surface streetcar routes that fed into the subway until the Blandford/St. Mary’s and then Northeastern portals opened is probably confusing to viewers that don’t know the extent of surface streetcar operations. It makes it look like a huge expansion in 1932 when it really was just an underground Kenmore and extended portals that opened. Identifying the portal surface stops as stations can be confusing, since it implies there were underground stops and pre-payment areas there when there weren’t. The exception is Pleasant St., which did have wooden high-platform station when the Washington St. el used the Tremont St. subway.

  7. I’m thinking of adding a few streetcar lines, maybe much narrower lines, to indicate that there were in fact many more feeding into the Green Line. This should clear things a bit more when I add the A,B,C lines in 1932.

    I’ll look more into the Atlantic Ave el history before making any changes.

  8. This is fantastic. Definitely the result of a labor of love; it shows.

    Three things:

    – The most glaring omission for me was noted by Matt; during the Red Line northwest extension, from 1979 to 1983 the Red Line ended at Harvard/Brattle and from ca. 1981-1983 there was a second inbound only station at Harvard/Holyoke. Ca. 1983 the new Harvard station opened (and was sometimes referred to as “Harvard/Church”).

    – From 1897 to the present, the extent of the subway system isn’t the only thing that’s changed. A fun tweak – but not an easy one, to be sure – would be to show the development of the coastline during this time. The main developments would be the creation of Logan Airport and the filling out of Columbia Point.

    – I’ve had in the back of my mind a separate project to illustrate all of the proposed system expansions (the past futures, if you will) in a similar fashion, though probably in the more Cambridge Seven Helvetica-fest spider map style. It’d be an interesting counterpart to your futureMBTA map, since it’d show projects that were on the drawing table at one point or another and were subsequently shelved.

    – Lastly, how many total hours have you spent at the State Transportation Library?

  9. Wikipedia claims the Dover-South Station section was closed after 1928, but i think I put more faith in my actual 1938 map. Ward maps have scanned the map side of the 1936, 37, and 38 Boston El maps which all show the Dover-South Station segment as still in place. If you have paper copies of any of those maps, you can check the route service descriptions on the back side to confirm that North Station-Dudley rush hour service was still operated at those late dates.

    January 4,1919 is the date I have for Beach St. station closing, you can check to see if the Boston El annual report for that year or the Mass Railroad Commission report for that year documents that fact. Old newspaper archives should probably have a story.

  10. As a frequent “T” rider, I enjoyed this immensely. I’ve sent it around to friends and family. When I was a child, I used to ride into Boston on the “MTA” from Everett Station on the “elevated.” Causeway Street, where the Boston Garden is, was a dark and dreary place because of the elevated trains. Now it is a open and spacious thoroughfare that runs from the border of Boston’s Italian section, The North End, to the urban renewed West End.

    Thanks for this.

  11. I found the following text from an ad placed by the Boston El in the Jan 3 1919 Globe. Through service over the Atlantic Ave. El to Dudley was later resumed but Beach St. station never reopened after Jan 4, 1919:

    “Beginning Saturday, January 4, 1919, in order to
    permit the running of two-minute train service instead of three-minute as at present in the Washington-Street Tunnel and better accommodate the large majority of our patrons from the north and south the service be­tween Sullivan Square and Dudley Street via Atlantic Avenue will be discontinued.
    Atlantic Avenue will be served by a four-minute line
    of trains between North and South Stations in place of
    the present six-minute line. I

    – Beach Street Station will be closed.”

  12. @Gordon

    I’m probably going to make that Red Line change in the next version.

    I actually thought about changing the coast line! I decided to stick to the subway, but maybe in the future if I’ve got some free time.

    I’ve spent a good long amount of time there back when I lived in Boston. I could live there.

  13. Re: Lechmere, I believe there were originally streetcar lines leaving from that point. I don’t know if that was a transfer or if you could continue in the same car but I’m sure at one time it was the same car if it was the same company with the same charter. (I know adding streetcar lines, other than what you already have, would truly complicate things.) You do show the subway portals for the historical Park St Under subway so it would be consistent to portray Lechmere and also Dudley as portals. There was a transfer station at Dudley between the El (“orange”, aka BERy) and the surface streetcar lines which was an elevated station so I would have made that a green terminal (like Arborway) connected to a portal, or I would have depicted the entire lines because why not? Also missing is the Mattapan-Ashmont high-speed line, which has a dedicated right of way just like the “D” line.

    Maybe if you want to get fancy you could depict the streetcars, trackless, bus, and commuter rail lines with grayed out tracery, which would better depict the rich history of traction in Eastern Massachusetts and perhaps give a feel for where they built on past infrastructure and where they built new over the years.

  14. Hey Van, long-time fan of your work here. These maps are awesome; as others have said, it’s really great to see the development of the system in one consistent depiction. Any chance of hi(gher)-res versions of these going up on Flickr? I’d love to be able to peruse the individual slides in greater detail than shows up when I click on them at the end of the post.

    Can’t wait to see the next version!

  15. @Mary Frances: The above maps already depict Lechmere as a portal from its opening in 1912 until 1922, during which period streetcars from the subway ran through Lechmere and out along the surface to Harvard and Clarendon Hill. In 1922 a loop was built at Lechmere and streetcars from the subway terminated there, with passengers transferring to different streetcars to continue to other destinations in Cambridge; this change is also correctly shown by the maps. I don’t understand you argument for showing streetcars at Dudley at all; there was an off-street streetcar terminal there but lots of T stations had off-street streetcar terminals (which are often off-street bus terminals today). I also don’t understand your statement about the Ashmont-Mattapan line; it is shown correctly from 1929 onwards. As for other surface lines, there were just way too many lines in the early days (1920s and earlier) to show cleanly on a schematic map like this; it would be like trying to show every bus route on such a map today.

    @anotheranon: Thanks for the correction on the Atlantic Ave El, there seems to be a lot of inconsistent information on this. If service south of South Station was rush-hour only in 1938 then do you know when off-peak service was cut?

  16. Off-peak service south of South Station was cut year-round in Jan 1919, but would resume in the summer time each year. There was greater demand for service to the wharfs in the summer. Note that the Beach St. wreck was on July 28, 1928, a Sunday ,when the summer schedule was in effect.

  17. I’ve updated the map to show that Beach St was closed after 1919 and the suspended service along the Atlantic Ave el. (Clear your cache if you don’t see the changes).

    My next version will include the Harvard station changes. Still not sure the best way to show the old trolley lines without making the whole thing too cluttered.

  18. Besides the Harvard station dates, the Arborway close, partial reopen dates should be changed as follows:

    March 1980: E Arborway line closed Arborway to Brigham Circle
    June 1982: E Arborway line restored between Brigham Circle and Arborway
    December 28, 1985: E Arborway line cut-back from Arborway to Brigham Circle (this time for good)
    November 1989: E line extended back to Heath from Brigham Circle

    There were other times when lines would be closed for 6-12 months for track reconstruction, but the first 2-year closure of the Arborway line from 1980 to 1982 and then the four year closure of service between Brigham Circle and Heath St. from 1985 to 1989 were far longer than that and are worthy of note in a history of the service. Right now you have the Arborway line cut back from Arborway to Heath in 1987, and that doesn’t match any of the actual dates or service patterns

  19. @anotheranon: What is your source regarding the seasonal off-peak Dudley-Atlantic service?

  20. The E branch was there before 1941 – it split off right before Arlington and ran on the surface – I will have to check for when that routing was first used all the way to Arborway.

  21. 1903 was the first year that service from Jamaica Plain carhouse on Centre St. ran through to Park St. subway via South Huntington and Huntington, through service from Arborway without a transfer at JP carhouse began in 1915.(source: Tremont St. Subway: A Century of Service by the BSRA).

    The seasonal resumption of through service from Sullivan to Dudley via Atlantic Ave. was noted in Boston El newspaper ads of schedule changes.

  22. Also interesting to note a few proto-rapid-transit (i.e. frequent, local, urban, grade-separated) lines not shown on the map above:

    Until its closure in 1940, the Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad ran trains every 15 minutes from East Boston to Lynn along the right-of-way used today by the outer part of the Blue Line, and stopping at most of the same stations. While not integrated into the elevated and subway system, it was in many respects similar to rapid transit service. The lack of a direct connection to downtown Boston (passengers had to take a ferry across the harbour) led ridership to decline and the line to close; it lay dormant for 12 years before being integrated into the Blue Line.

    In 1900 the New Haven Railroad also ran trains every 15 minutes from South Station to Forest Hills along what is now mostly part of the Orange Line, again stopping at most of the same stations. After the elevated opened to Forest Hills, the New Haven found it was unable to compete, and more or less gave up on local service to focus on less frequent service to points further out (which has continued to be the focus of commuter rail on the line to this day) and the corridor was without frequent local service until the Orange Line was relocated there in 1987.

  23. I would like to see something similar for the many surface streetcar lines that still existed in the ’50s when I was a lad.

  24. Really well done. I can imagine how many construction workers (laborers, sand hogs, electricians and carpenters) these ongoing projects put to work. Dukakis got it right. Public transportation is an investment in our future

  25. Also, I wonder how many miles of abandoned tunnels are under our streets. I would love to find them and look through the grime and dust back 115 years

  26. This is AWESOME. I’m obsessed with the MBTA and am fascinated with the maps, trolley cars, etc. Can you make it to slow down. It was too fast!!!

  27. My apologies if this was asked already, but what software did you used to create these beautiful diagrams?
    Thank you for sharing them.

  28. Van, your work has rekindled SO many memories. I grew up in Boston and lived in the area until I moved to Ohio 30 years ago. I still dream of my years riding the subway… Riding back and forth between Revere and East Boston to and from school (Dom Savio) on the Blue Line, & riding the Orange, Red, & Green Lines around town with family and to hang out with friends who lived in the City. The T was so much a part of the fabric of my life that I think I’ve underestimated the impact it had on me. My family never owned a car. Some of my earliest & fondest memories are shopping trips into Filene’s, Jordan’s. Gilchrist, etc. from Revere with my Mom and Dad. One Christmas tradition was my parents, sister and me going into town on the Blue Line (we would typically take a trackless trolley from Broadway in Revere to the Wood Island Park Blue Line station), getting off at Devonshire (now State Street) and walking the pedestrian tunnel to the Orange Line stop so we could get on at Milk and ride the 1 stop to Summer-Winter. We would see the Christmas display at Jordan Marsh, then walk up to Tremont and have supper at the Coach Grill. An especially vivid memory: on a trip into town with my parents – I was probably 5 or 6 years old – walking with a bunch of other pedestrians in the walking tunnel between Devonshire and Milk and hearing a train approaching from behind/beside us. Everyone would start running like hell to catch the train at Milk… In addition to the impressive noise the approaching train would make, there was the rush of musty air that I’d feel and smell. It was a mixture of exhilaration and just a bit of fear for me at the time…; – )

    I truly appreciate the amazing work and research you’ve done… Thank you. Truly a labor of love…: – )

  29. Hello, I am currently working on a site that chronicles the development of the MBTA and its different lines. I was a wondering if I could use these images. I would include a link to your site and proper recognition for your work. Thank you for the great information!

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