The Red Line is the longest subway line in the T. It is made up of two branches and a High Speed Light Rail Line. Both branches start at the Arlington/Cambridge border at Alewife. They both travel along the line into Somerville, Cambridge, Central Boston, and South Boston. In Dorchester the lines split after the JFK/UMass stop. The A branch travels to Ashmont and is the oldest branch, finished in 1924. At Ashmont you can transfer to the Mattapan High Speed Line which is a high speed light rail line which runs along the border of Boston and Milton, terminating in Mattapan. The second branch, the B branch, splits off after JFK/UMass, skipping Savin Hill, and makes its way to Braintree via Quincy. This branch was started in 1971 and was finally completed in the early 1980s. There is also a C branch which is any train headed towards Alewife from either branch.
The Red Line was originally envisioned as an elevated line, like the old Orange Line, that would go from Harvard Sq in Cambridge to Bowdoin Sq in Boston where it would connect with the Tremont St subway. After it was decided to keep trolley traffic and subway traffic separate in the Tremont St subway, a new plan emerged which had trains running elevated from Harvard Sq to Bowdoin Sq but then diving under Boston Harbor to Maverick Sq in East Boston, but due to disputes between the Boston Transit Commission (created by the state to plan the subway system) and the Boston Elevated Railroad Company (BERy, the corporation building the system) the tunnel under the harbor to East Boston was only built for trolleys. Eventually the tunnel was converted to heavy rail for the Blue Line but the clearances were far too narrow for the larger and wider elevated trains.
On the other side of the Charles River the people of Cambridge were up in arms about an elevated subway running down the main thoroughfare of the city, Massachusetts Ave. By the turn of the century elevated railroads were regarded as a dirty nuisance. There were also arguments over how many stations there were to be built. Some people wanted 5 stations so to better serve the city itself while others wanted fewer so that suburbanites could reach downtown Boston faster. Eventually it was decided to build the line as a subway with three stations, the terminal at Harvard Sq being a giant transfer station for trolleys coming in from the suburbs of Arlington, Belmont, and Watertown.
The original Red Line only went from Harvard Sq in Cambridge to Park St station in Boston. Slowly over the next few years the tunnel was extended to South Station via Downtown Crossing (Washington, as it was originally known). A little known fact is that the tunnel was constructed with two levels, the bottom level for subway trains and the top level for trolley cars to go from South Boston to Park St. The top tunnel was never used by trolleys but is currently used as the mezzanine from Park St to Downtown Crossing. There is also a section of tunnel from Downtown Crossing to South Station which is used as offices and storage. Soon the line was extended to Broadway in South Boston where a large underground two level trolley transfer station way built but this was rendered obsolete when the line was extended again to Andrew Sq where an even larger above ground transfer station was built and remains to this day, though it was completely rebuilt in the 1990s.
The first branch was built to Ashmont from Andrew Sq. It was built at grade along a former New York and New Haven Railroad line which served Dorchester and Mattapan. Two of the new stations, Fields Corner and Ashmont, were built as large transfer stations. Due to community opposition, however, the last leg of the line was built as a high speed trolley line from Ashmont to Mattapan. Had the subway been extended to Mattapan it was conceived to build a second branch from Andrew Sq into the heart of Dorchester along the Fairmont branch of the NY&NH Railroad, creating a giant loop serving Dorchester.
The second branch to Braintree was built later in 1971 but had been in the planning stages since the 1940s. Quincy and Braintree were both good sized cities with booming shipyards and large populations but were only served by commuter trains which were shut down in 1959. All throughout the 1960s plans were drawn up but no money was appropriated as traffic along the Southeast Expressway from Boston to Quincy built up. After the Freeway Revolt in 1970 monies from highway projects were transfered to rapid transit projects allowing the Braintree branch to finally be constructed.
At the other end, the new money allowed the Red Line to be extended from Harvard Sq to Alewife. This was also a plan from the 1940s (click here for a map). The original plan was to extend the Red Line out to Route 128 along the old Lexington Branch of the Boston and Maine Railroad that went from Alewife through Arlington, Lexington, and Bedford to Concord. Enough money was available to build the line to Arlington Heights with new stations at Porter Sq, Alewife, Arlington Center, and Arlington Heights. Due to the great work of Speaker of the House “Tipp” O’Neill in securing funds, an additional station was planned in Davis Sq in Somerville, a city that had no subway but one of the largest population densities in the state. Arlington residents didn’t like the idea of increased traffic and certain urban elements entering their quiet suburban town. The plan was eventually voted down and the line only got as far as Alewife, although the tunnels for the subway do actually extend into Arlington for storage. The Right-of-Way for the subway was eventually converted into the Minuteman Commuter Bike Path
I am going to break up the possible extensions geographically, those that head northwest from Alewife and Harvard, and those that head south and south east from Andrew Sq and Braintree. The first group are those that head northwest. There are 5 total proposals and an additional proposal for a high speed light rail line. A few of these proposals are taken from BERy, MTA, or MBTA records, but a few are of my own imagination.
1. Alewife to Burlington via Arlington and Lexington
The first proposal is an extension northwest from Alewife under the Minuteman Bike Path through Arlington to Arlington Heights where, instead of following the bike path, the line would turn north under Route 3 through eastern Lexington and parts of western Woburn. The line would follow Route 3 until it reaches the area just south of Route 128 where the line would veer west to an Alewife-like park-and-ride facility. The line could stop here but it could also be extended into Burlington along the Burlington Mall road with 1 or 2 additional stations. There could be 6 to 8 stations along the entire line.
2. Alewife to Hanscom Airport via Arlington and Lexington
The second proposal is the original proposal from the MBTA for the Red Line extension in the 1980s. The line would be built below grade and at grade along the former Lexington Branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad, terminating at Hanscom Airport. The line would travel through Arlington Center and Lexington Center, both pedestrian friendly town centers with active street life and active night life. A park-and-ride station would be built near Route 128 in norther Lexington. The problem with this idea is that it would probably face the same opposition, if not more, that it did when it was first proposed. In the late 1990s and early 2000s there was a push by the operators of Hanscom to allow for more commercial flights but this was stopped due to intense public outcry. A subway to Hanscom would be seen by many as a step towards more commercial flights. There is also the development issue. Lexington and Arlington both have histories of NIMBYism and while the population demographics have changed since the original proposal, they have also grown accustomed to the Minuteman Bike Path. To keep construction costs down the MBTA would want to build the subway at grade rather than in a tunnel. This would mean destruction of the much loved bike path. While more people would be in favor of the subway if the bike path was saved, there would still be many people worried about increased traffic and development in already developed areas rather than allow for smart development in areas with high auto-dependency and more room for development.
3. Alewife to Route 128/I-95 via Route 2
Proposal 3 is the alternative proposal for extending the Red Line to Route 128. The line would be extended along the median of Route 2 from Alewife to Route 128. This would be the most straight forward and direct way to connect the Red Line with Route 128 but would not go through any developed areas, except southern Arlington and Arlington Heights, though an subway here would need to be in a tunnel under the highway due to topography and ROW. This extension would allow for transit-oriented development in southern Lexington and northern Waltham. The stations, 4 to 6 of them, would be located at highway interchanges which would mean that people would still need to maneuver around high speed cars. This kind of rapid transit/highway infrastructure exists in the suburbs of Chicago and is an affordable alternative but it would not allow for pedestrian oriented development the way other proposals would.
4. Alewife to Waltham via Belmont
The fourth proposal is an old BERy alignment that would use the Fitchburg branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad from Alewife to Waltham via Belmont. The extension would parallel the existing commuter rail OR would replace it with new commuter rail track being laid along the median of Route 2, the same alignment of proposal 3. The new extension would add additional stops in Waltham at Beaver Rd and Main St and could possibly be extended from Waltham Center to Route 128 to a large park-and-ride facility. This extension would serve a large, dense, transit dependent population while opening up Waltham the same way the Red Line extension did to Davis Sq in Somerville. Moody St in Waltham is already active at night and many people see Waltham as a more affordable alternative to Boston while still close to the city. If the Red Line was extended it would allow for the closure of the commuter rail station at Waverly which would speed up trains from Fitchburg. The station at Route 128 would also serve the large high-tech companies along Route 128. However due to ROW constrains, private property would have to be taken and the ridge along which the tracks run would need to be dug into.
5. Harvard to Waltham via Watertown
The fifth proposal is the only one that doesn’t begin at Alewife but rather just north of Harvard Sq. The line from here would turn west and travel under Brattle St to the border of Cambridge and Watertown where it would then follow the alignment of the abandoned Watertown Branch Railroad to Watertown Center and on to Waltham. The line could terminate in Waltham Center or could continue north and west around Prospect Hill to Route 128. This northern section would open up land for development north of Waltham, and this would be the biggest benefit to this extension. The land through which the ROW runs is either under-used industrial or commercial strip, including 2 malls. All this land could be redeveloped as dense TOD’s with large amounts of housing for students at Harvard and MIT. It would also serve a large amount of people who only have limited bus service into Boston and Cambridge as well as connecting Waltham to Boston. Unlike with the extensions through Arlington and Lexington, the current ROW is not a bike path, though once the line is built a bike path could then be constructed above or along side it.
High Speed Lines
One of the most over looked parts of the entire MBTA system is the Mattapan High Speed Line. This is a trolley line that runs on its own ROW through extreme southern Dorchester and Milton. It goes from Mattapan Sq to Ashmont Station through a nice suburban area and is very popular (like the D branch of the Green Line). The proposal (number 6 on the map) shows a collection of different ideas as one large network. The lines would use the Watertown Branch ROW and the Lexington Branch ROW to form a large crescent, connecting to the subway system at Alewife or extending to Porter Sq along the commuter rail tracks. As this would be light rail the line would run at grade and could contain more stations. It would also help preserve the suburban feel many of the communities through which it would run have while connecting them to the central subway faster than a bus. The lines would also be much cheaper than a conventional subway and if the demand rose enough the line could easily be converted to heavy rail if it was constructed properly to begin with.
The second section is those extensions that would head south and southeast, either from Andrew Sq in South Boston or Braintree. There are large sections of Dorchester that go under served while a lightly used commuter rail line with few stops puts transit out of their reach. Also, the south shore of Boston is the fastest growing area of the state and the Southeast Expressway is constantly clogged with congestion, spewing toxins over Dorchester and South Boston. The extension to Braintree in the 1980’s helped but development kept coming. Restoration of the Old Colony commuter rail lines to the south shore also have helped but development still remains suburban and auto-dependent.
1. Crosstown from Central Sq to Andrew Sq via Mass Ave
The first proposal is a “crosstown” line that would spur off the Red Line between Central Sq and Kendal Sq in Cambridge and travel under Mass Ave through the Back Bay and South End in Boston, either connecting to the Red Line before or after Andrew. The line could be color-coded differently and possibly run from Harvard Sq to JFK/UMass allowing people to bypass the congested central “square” of the subway lines downtown. It would work the same way a highway bypass would work, diverting people away from downtown who need to get to Cambridge or Dorchester. The line would also connect Harvard and MIT to the Longwood Medical Area and the Boston Medical Center, along with UMass Boston. If the Urban Ring seems too expensive and complicated, this could be a good alternative.
2a/2b. Andrew Sq to Route 128/Mattapan via Fairmont
These proposals go back to the original BERy idea to create a rapid transit loop through Dorchester. 2b would complete the loop, starting at Andrew Sq running to Edward Everett Sq and under Columbia Rd where it would connect with the Fairmont commuter rail ROW, following that south to Mattapan. 2a would continue the line all the way along the Fairmont branch to Route 128. This would serve a large population of transit dependent people who’s only access to downtown is by bus. This proposal is also the idea behind the Indigo Line which would construct additional stations along the commuter rail branch. As this is currently underway, and the fact that this is the only other train route into the city from the southwest, the prospect of converting the line to rapid transit is low but is still possible.
3. Andrew Sq to Dedham Center via Fairmont
Proposal three is a short spur off of proposal 2a using an abandoned stretch of track from Readville to Dedham Center. The extension would have 2 stations and serve a medium density neighborhood. As this proposal is only feasible if the previous one is constructed, the chances for this are low.
4. Quincy Adams/Braintree to Weymouth
This proposal has the Red Line creating a forked tongue at its southern end. There is an interchange just between Quincy Adams station and Braintree station that is currently used for the Greenbush commuter rail branch. This short extension would serve Weymouth and eastern Quincy. Trains would either travel to Weymouth first and then to Braintree before heading back to Boston or vice-versa. This would catch traffic coming off of Route 3a that would either come into the city via I-93 or fill up the garages at Quincy Adams and Braintree.
5a/5b. Braintree to South Weymouth, Brockton, or Route 24
These proposals are open ended. The south shore is currently booming and is in desperate need of transit. The Old Colony commuter rail branches are a good start but rapid transit would be able to serve more people more of the time. The Red Line could possibly be extended to any number of towns south of Braintree: South Weymouth Air Station is going to be converted into a housing and retail complex and rapid transit would enable smart growth in the area. An extension to Route 24 in Randolph would take cars off the road before they got to Route 128 and I-93, and an extension to Brockton, though quite far, would be a huge boon to a city seen as an affordable alternative to Boston. There are many different possibilities so it is best to keep all options open.