Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lost Streetcar Infrastructure

A PCC streetcar inbound from
Watertown Square passing through
Newton Corner
(Photo by J. Appleman, August 1966)
From the late 1800s through the 1940s, Boston and vicinity had a robust streetcar infrastructure, taking riders not only on trips downtown but also connecting neighborhoods.  

A streetcar near Union Square in Somerville
Beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1960s, this network was trimmed down until only four lines remain.  Three run along major arterials:  Commonwealth Avenue, Beacon Street, and Huntington Avenue.  The fourth was an early conversion from commuter rail, namely the Mattapan-Ashmont “High Speed” Line.  In the late 1950s, Boston picked up a second streetcar line converted from commuter rail when the Boston & Albany Railroad’s Highland Branch became the Riverside Line.

A colleague posted a narrated video of a trip from the streetcar yard at Arborway (once the terminus of the E Branch of the Green Line) to Mattapan yard (still a terminus of the “High Speed” Line.  The video illustrates that back in the day of less and slower auto traffic, the streetcar was an important mode of transport.   Link:

A PCC streetcar from Arborway to Mattapan travels along Cummings Highway.
(Still from the video.)

Approaching Mattapan Square .  (Still from the video.)
Over the years, many of the streetcar routes were first converted to “trackless trolley” (buses with overhead electric power lines) and later diesel buses.  The buses proved more flexible and less expensive to maintain and operate.

Streetcar in a median on Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester

PCC streetcar bound for Dudley Square in Roxbury leaves what is now Andrew Station on Southampton Street (Collection of Joe Testagrose, year unknown)
2-car train of PCCs cars heading to the Arborway on what is known at the E Branch of the Arborway on August 13, 1970.  (Photo by Joe Testagrose)

Today, the MBTA Light Rail System is the remnant of Boston's once extensive streetcar network, This includes the Green LIne with four routes converging on the Central Subway under the Back Bay and downtown, as well as the still-running Mattapan-Ashmont Line.

A Type 8 Light Rail Vehicle is running inbound on the E Branch at Huntington Avenue and Forsythe Street by Northeastern Avenue.  It is headed through the Central Subway to the Lechmere terminal in East Cambridge. 

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