Boston Green Line Déjà vu.

After a long interval (33 years), I took a spin out the full length of MBTA’s Commonwealth Avenue Line.

On this most recent trip, my father and I rode from Park Street to the end of the line, made a few photos and returned to Copley.

The trip was longer than I remember; did the trolleys always crawl along the way they do now?

Here are two views from the front of the cars, exposed 33 years and a couple of blocks apart.

View from the front of a Boeing-Vertol LRV on June 19, 1983. Exposed on Ektachrome using a Leica 3A.
View from the front of a Boeing-Vertol LRV on June 19, 1983. Exposed on Ektachrome using a Leica 3A.
View at Boston College on June 25, 2016. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.
View at Boston College on June 25, 2016. Exposed using a Lumix LX7.


Today, Tracking the Light Looks Back!

5 comments on “Boston Green Line Déjà vu.

  1. Michael Walsh on said:

    The Boston system is rather disappointing compared, say, Köln, where even the street running is pretty lively. The underground sections are very primitive, more like a zoo that a transit system. Against that, there are great photo locations! On my visit there some years ago, a disabled passenger in a wheelchair was loaded, literally. The tram was stopped, the operator, a woman got out, put on heavy gloves, pushed an elevating platform with side rails on wheels up to the tram door. The wheelchair plus passenger entered the platform, the rails were put around him, and the platform was raised by a manual windlass, which was very very slow. When the passenger was in the tram, the the platform had to be moved away before the tram could proceed. The whole operation took several minutes! Fascinating, yes! Modern transit, no!

  2. Brian, the book you reference is the best I’ve found on the subject.

    For anyone interested: Boston’s Back Bay: The Story of America’s Greatest 19th Century Landfill Project, William A. Newman & Wilfred E. Holton, Northeastern University Press, 2006. Check out the map on pg. 108 and the photo of a gravel train passing through Newton on pg. 109.

    Another surprising fact about the Green Line’s D branch’s history is that it was to be the Boston end of an effort in the later 19th century to create a more direct overland route via Woonsocket to New Haven. The 1982 Vol. 13 Issue 3 of the New Haven RR Historical & Technical Association’s (NHRHTA) Shoreliner has an extensive article, “The Charles River Line”, by C. A. Brown containing a detailed timeline, detailed text, and many wonderful photos. Coincidentally (or not), Amtrak’s suggestions for future high-speed rail to Boston include more-or-less this routing via the old NY & NE near Woonsocket, but joining the NEC right before the Rt. 128 station.

  3. Thanks for the insight on the slowing of the Green Line.
    Many years ago, my family lived at Newton Centre on the old B&A Newton Highlands branch, and I enjoyed the PCCs, which were the subject of many early railway photos. I rarely visit Boston these days, and haven’t had a reason to ride the Comm Ave line in a long time. Both my father and I were surprised on the glacial speed of the cars.

    Incidentally, if you haven’t read it, Newman’s and Holton’s ‘Boston’s Back Bay’ offers a wealth of detail on operations on the Highlands branch in regards to the filling of Boston’s Back Bay. I’ve read this twice now as preparatory research for my B&A book.

    Brian Solomon

  4. ” . . . did the trolleys always crawl along the way they do now?”
    I live along the D line (a former B&A commuter line and the line on which after the Civil War most of the fill for the Back Bay traveled from excavations in the Newton-Needham area near today’s route 95/128). The trolleys for about a month have crawled at about 5 mph the entire length of each of the stations, have slowed down considerably at some switches, and have adhered very strictly to the speed limits . I’ve asked several operators why, and all that they are saying is that this is what they are ordered to do and have received no official explanation. This is NOT a working to rules type of action. And I don’t think the reason is to make “getting the shot” easier for photographers ;-]

  5. Robert Willoughby Jones on said:

    When I was a teenager in the 1960’s I rode the Commonwealth Avenue Line a few times. Ridership is much greater now plus there is a lot more congestion in auto traffic. The trip was faster then.

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