The Orange Line has changed more since it was first built than any other transit line in Boston. If you were to compare today’s Orange Line with yesterdays, there are few similarities.
The old Orange Line was known as the Main Line or “El” because most of it was on elevated track. It ran from Everett, though Charlestown, over the Charlestown Bridge, turned toward North Station, and then descended underground before Haymarket Sq. If you go by the Charlestown bridge you can see there is a center structure where the trains used to run and if you look at the pavement you can see where the supports once were. The underground portions of the Orange Line are just as curious as the elevated tracks. The platforms of each station are built not directly across from one another, like in most subway stations, but diagonal. That is to say if you were to look down the track from the platform you are standing on you would see the other platform. The strangest of all these platforms is at State. The outbound and inbound platforms are almost a block apart and on top of each other and there is a long walkway in-between.
In the early 1970s there were plans to extend the Orange Line. But instead of building elevated track, it was decided that it would be better to tear down the track, which was considered a blight to the neighborhoods through which it ran, and build a new line along the commuter rail track to Reading. The El from North Station to Everett was torn down and the northern part of the Orange Line as it is today was built from Haymarket to Oak Grove in Malden. The original plans had the line running to a park-and-ride station at I-93 in Reading but opposition from residents along the line stopped it at Oak Grove and commuter rail service was added for the rest of the route. The Orange Line from Community College to Wellington was built with a third track (which is rarely used now) intended for express service from Reading to North Station and was the only express trackage ever built for the system.
Meanwhile in the early 1970s, the Southwest Expressway helped usher in the death of the southern part of the El. The Southwest Expressway was an extension of I-95 up into Boston from Canton along the commuter rail line. Where about Ruggles station is today would have been a large highway interchange where I-95 would have met up with another unbuilt highway, the Inner Belt. These highway projects would have displaced many people and left huge elevated highways through the centers of Roxbury and Cambridge. After long public battles, Governor Francis Sargent declared a moratorium of all highways to be built inside Route 128. Plans had been in place to build the relocated Orange Line next to the highway, much like the El is Chicago, and the cancellation of the highway projects delayed the opening of the Orange Line relocation by almost a decade. An interesting fact is that the New England Medical Center station was built in the late 1960s for just this extension but due to the delay did not open for service until 1987!
The original plans called for replacing commuter rail service to Needham through West Roxbury and extending a branch of the Orange Line down through Hyde Park to a park-and-ride station at I-95/128. Community opposition in Needham stopped the extension there and funding was never found for the extension to I-95. Work began on the Southwest Corridor in the late 1970’s and was completed in 1987. The very day it opened, the El closed for good along Washington St. in Roxbury.
1. Back Bay to Riverside via Newton
This extension would branch off at Back Bay station and follow the Commuter Rail and Mass Pike out to Riverside. The commuter rail stations along this stretch would be eliminated to speed up service and all local traffic would be handled by the Orange Line.
2. Forest Hills to Needham via West Roxbury
This extension would replace commuter rail service along the Needham Branch through Roslindale and West Roxbury. All stations would be switched over to Orange Line service. A more realistic extension would be to keep the current Commuter Rail service and extend the Orange Line one stop to Roslindale Center (from Forest Hills) since Roslindale Center acts as a major bus transfer station. This would speed up travel for commuters coming from the south since bus service could be truncated.
3. Forest Hills to Dedham via West Roxbury
This plan would extend the Orange Line through West Roxbury but curve south at Temple St in West Roxbury and follow an abandoned ROW along the Veterans of Foreign Wars Parkway to Washington St at the Dedham Mall. The branch could br further extended (#5) to Readville along another abandoned ROW.
4. Forest Hills to Hyde Park
This would follow the original plan to extend Orange Line service to I-95/128 through Hyde Park. This would expand service to areas of Roslindale and Hyde Park that are not currently served by any rail transit.
6. Chinatown to Hyde Park via Roxbury
This would be the most expensive expansion plan by far but would serve the most number of undeserved communities. Branching off from the Orange Line after Chinatown the new branch would run under Washington St to Dudley Sq in a tunnel with stations near the old El stations (Dover and Northampton would be changed to Union Park and Mass Ave, respectively). After Dudley Sq the line would run under Warren St to Grove Hall where it will meet up with the Fairmount Commuter Rail line and run to Readville and on to I-95/128.
1. Community College to Woburn via West Medford
This proposal is an alternative (though not official) to extending the Green Line to West Medford. The extension would follow the Lowell Commuter Rail line past West Medford to Woburn Center.
2. Wellington to Medford Center
This proposal would create a new branch that would split off the Orange Line past Wellington and follow an abandoned ROW to Medford Center. A major obstacle to this extension is that much of the ROW has been built upon and would be very costly.
3. Oak Grove to Reading
When the Orange Line was originally relocated from the Charlestown El, the plan was to extend it to Route 128 in Reading. However, NIMBYism prevailed and the Orange Line was stopped at Oak Grove and the rest of the route got Commuter Rail. If you look at the line today you will see a third track that is rarely used from North Station to Wellington. This was to be an express track. If the Orange Line is extended north, the express track should be extended as well. The line would extend along the current commuter rail with an express track.
4. Wellington to Revere via Malden
This extension would use an abandoned ROW which runs through Everett, Malden, and Saugus to Lynn. The extension would only use the area which runs through Malden and terminate at a park-and-ride at Linden Sq to serve Route 1.
5. Sullivan Sq to Revere via Everett
Until the extension to Oak Grove was built in the 1970s the Orange Line ran into Everett across the Mystic River (remnants of an abandoned attempt to extend the Orange Line to Malden in the 1920s.) This extension would retrace the route but continue as a subway into Everett up to Malden, terminating at a park-and-ride at Linden Sq.
6. Sullivan Sq to Chelsea via Everett
This extension would parallel the Newberryport Commuter Rail line into Chelsea or possibly run in a tunnel under the Revere Beach Parkway.
Saugus High Speed Line
Instead of extending the Orange Line all the way out, another idea is to build it short spur to Linden Sq and and a High Speed Trolley Line like the Mattapan Branch of the Red Line. It would start at Liberty Sq. in Lynn at the train station. There it would head along Market St. to City Hall Sq. and go west along the Lynn Commons creating a nice boulevard effect. After that the tracks would enter a reserved ROW and connect with the abandoned train line. After traveling through Sagus, Malden, and Everett the line would go over the Mystic River and terminate at Sullivan Sq.