Beneath the Streets in Boston: Exploring America's Oldest Subway

The Boston Metro, also known as the "T," holds the distinction of being the oldest subway system in the United States, beating its...

The Boston Metro, also known as the "T," holds the distinction of being the oldest subway system in the United States, beating its closest rival, New York by more than seven years. It began operations on September 1, 1897, with a 1.5-mile stretch of track running from Park Street to Sullivan Square and addressed a particularly painful issue of street traffic congestion in the growing metropolis. With its rich history, a mix of vintage and contemporary cars, and the diverse architectural styles of its stations, the Boston Metro system holds a special place in the hearts of Bostonians, who view it as more than just a transportation system but an essential aspect of their city's identity. 
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Boston and New York were locked in an intense rivalry to establish the first underground transportation network in the United States. Eventually, Boston took the lead and inaugurated its subway system on September 1, 1897, marking a significant milestone in the country's transportation history. This historic achievement solidified Boston's status as a pioneer in urban transit and set the stage for the development of subway networks across North America.
Prior to the construction of the subway, the streets of Boston were crowded with a mix of pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages, and streetcars, causing significant traffic congestion. The need for a solution became evident, and the idea of an underground transportation system gained traction. 
However, the concept of riding on an underground train was initially met with skepticism and even fear. Some people believed that descending into the depths of the earth, away from natural light, would bring them closer to the devil. This fear was gradually overcome as the benefits of an underground transportation system became apparent, and the Boston subway gained acceptance among the general public.
Building the subway tunnels presented considerable challenges due to the dense urban environment and the presence of existing infrastructure. Boston's older streets were narrow and winding, making it difficult to carve out space for the tunnels. The construction required extensive excavation and removal of earth and rock, often resulting in disruption to surrounding areas.
Furthermore, the Green Line, with its street-level tracks and tunnels, posed unique challenges. The line featured sharp turns and tight clearances, which were necessary to navigate the narrow streets and negotiate existing structures during its construction. However, these sharp turns present obstacles to using longer trains on the Green Line today.
Speaking of the colours of the subway lines whose designations have become iconic and deeply associated with the Boston Metro. 
The Red Line acquired its colour from Harvard University and its crimson-coloured emblem. 
The Blue Line, serving the waterfront neighbourhoods of East Boston and Revere, draws its colour from the connection to the ocean and the vast bodies of water surrounding the city. 
The Green Line got its colour as it runs through Boston's parklands, including the Boston Common, Public Garden, and the Emerald Necklace Park system.
The colour of the Orange Line was simply chosen to differentiate it from the other lines, providing a distinct identity within the Boston Metro system. 
The oldest subway stations in Boston, which were part of the initial Boston Metro system, were designed in a distinct architectural style known as "Subway Revival" or "Boston Elevated Style." This architectural style was prevalent during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is characterized by a blend of Beaux-Arts and Renaissance Revival influences. 
The subway stations of that era featured ornate and decorative elements, showcasing grandeur and attention to detail. 
The entrances to the subway stations were often marked by prominent façades featuring decorative elements such as arches, columns, and pilasters. 
The more modern stations are characterized by sleek lines and contemporary aesthetics.
At present, the Boston Metro operates with a variety of rolling stock, including different generations of subway cars. My all-time favourites are the type 7 cars used on the Green Line that were introduced in the 1980s and feature a distinctive appearance with a boxy shape and large windows. They are not-so-distant cousins of Toronto's CLRV and ALRV.
These type 7 cars are not fully accessible by people with limited mobility, that's why they are always complimented with the type 8 cars.
The Boston Metro has a few oddities. One of them is the Ashmont–Mattapan High-Speed Line or simply Mattapan Trolley, an extension of the Red Line south of Boston. 
It operates vintage PCC (Presidents' Conference Committee) streetcars manufactured in the 1940s that have been meticulously preserved and offer passengers a nostalgic and historic transit experience.
The line features a scenic route that runs along the picturesque Neponset River, offering passengers breathtaking views during their transit. This connection to nature adds a distinctive touch to the line, making it a favourite among both locals and visitors seeking a charming and scenic mode of transportation.
Another oddity is the Silver Line. Despite it being featured on the city's subway map, the Silver Line is not a train line, but a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. It operates as a bus on surface streets but switches to a light rail mode when it enters a tunnel, providing a seamless transition for passengers.
Three of five branches of the Silver Line use dual-motor trolley buses. They function as electric trolleybuses along the route from South Station to Silver Line Way, while operating as regular diesel buses on the surface branches.
Sadly but expectedly, the MBTA is replacing all of its Silver Line trolleybuses, which are difficult to operate and maintain, with regular hybrid buses. 
Update as of September 2023: All the trolleybuses have already been replaced with hybrid buses, however, MBTA has not had a chance to take down electric wires yet. Interestingly, the one I took these pictures of (#1120) is going to be preserved in a museum. So I guess, I'll see it some time again in future!
Like many metro systems, the Boston Metro has faced its fair share of challenges. One notable issue has been the procurement of rolling stock. Rather surprisingly, the MBTA keeps purchasing foreign-made subway cars instead of domestic ones, sparking debates about supporting local industries and even national security. 
I was very disappointed to learn that the newest subway cars used on the Orange and Red Lines are made by a Chinese manufacturer. Given my strong apprehension about the increasing security risks to the US posed by China, I find it difficult to understand the rationale behind this choice.

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