MBTA Delays Red-Blue Connector, Offers History Lesson

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Eighty years ago, trains ran from Maverick to Harvard with no transfers.

Alas, the Red-Blue connector most remain a part of history and not a new reality.

Universal Hub reported yesterday that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will hold hearings Thursday regarding the T’s proposal to shelve the Red Line-Blue Line connector between Charles/MGH and Bowdoin stations. The T has been legally committed since the mid-1980s to extending the Blue Line tracks under Cambridge Street and building a new train platform under the current Charles/MGH station. The project has been delayed for years due to budget constraints, and tomorrow’s hearings are yet another hiccup in the process. But few remember the plan proposes rebuilding just such a track connection that existed in the early 20th century.

Currently, trains arrive at Bowdoin from Government Center to discharge passengers, then make a loop west of the station and appear on the opposite track to load passengers for the trip to Logan Airport and Wonderland. Adjacent and west of the turnaround loop are a set of tracks that run a short distance under Cambridge Street, till about where Russell Street corresponds on the surface.

These track stubs are currently used for car storage, but in the first half of the 20th century there was a portal at Joy Street that brought the tracks above-ground and connected with the Red Line elevated at the Longfellow Bridge. In the 1910s and 1920s, trolleys, much smaller than current Blue and Red Line rapid transit cars, ran passenger service from Maverick Square in East Boston, below the harbor and under Scollay and Bowdoin Squares, and through the Joy Street incline to Harvard Square. No transfers, no gripes, no environmental impact statements.

Service was discontinued as the lines converted to modern rapid transit lines in the mid-1920s, but the route was still used to aid repairs on the Blue Line. Until the Orient Heights Yard and station were built in 1952, Blue Line trains were repaired at the Eliot Shops near Harvard Square. They also utilized the Joy Street portal and connected to the Red Line on the same route. Following the opening of Orient Heights, Blue Line trains could be serviced in East Boston and the portal on Cambridge Street was sealed and the connecting tracks were removed. Thanks to the ever-amazing nycsubway.org for the succinct history of the Blue Line and for great discussion threads on Railroad.net and ArchBoston.

I haven’t delved into the ridership impact studies, but $750 million for 1500 feet of track seems steep. Plus, are Red Line riders that disenchanted with the Silver Line that they’d prefer two connections to get to Logan?

Additional photos in this post are used under Creative Commons, public domain rights, via Wikimedia Commons.