MBTA subway
Red Line train entering Alewife station November 2019
Red Line train entering Alewife station November 2019
LocaleGreater Boston, Massachusetts
Number of lines3 heavy rail (Red, Orange, Blue)
2 light rail (Green, Ashmont–Mattapan)
1 bus rapid transit (Silver)
Number of stations147 (list of stations)
5 under construction
Annual ridership224,427,006 (2019)[1]
Began operationSeptember 1, 1897 (Tremont Street subway)
Operator(s)Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)
Train length6 cars (rapid transit)
1-3 cars (light rail)
System length65.1 mi (104.8 km)
System map
An unofficial schematic map of the rapid transit system (plus non-BRT key bus routes) from 2013. The official MBTA map is an altered version of this map, which won a redesign contest in 2014.
An unofficial schematic map of the rapid transit system (plus non-BRT key bus routes) from 2013. The official MBTA map is an altered version of this map, which won a redesign contest in 2014.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) operates heavy-rail, light-rail, and bus transit services in the Boston metropolitan area, collectively referred to as the rapid transit, subway, or the T system.[2]

The color-branded lines consist of three heavy-rail lines (Red, Orange, and Blue), one branched light-rail system (Green), and a short light-rail line (the Ashmont–Mattapan High-Speed Line, colored as part of the Red Line). All except the Ashmont–Mattapan line operate in tunnels in the downtown area, but no route operates entirely underground. Only 31 out of the system's 147 stations are located underground. The five branches of the Silver Line bus are also shown as part of the rapid transit system. Three branches operate underground as bus rapid transit and charge rapid-transit fares; two branches operate entirely on the surface and charge lower bus fares.

The section of the Tremont Street subway between Park Street and Boylston Street stations, now on the Green Line, opened in 1897, making it the oldest transit subway in the United States still in use. (Only the short-lived Beach Pneumatic Transit demonstration line in New York City was built before.)


Streetcar number 1752, driven by the veteran motorman Jimmy Reed, is shown here after it became the first revenue car in the Boston subway system on September 1, 1897. This also marked the beginning of subway traffic in the United States.
Streetcar number 1752, driven by the veteran motorman Jimmy Reed, is shown here after it became the first revenue car in the Boston subway system on September 1, 1897. This also marked the beginning of subway traffic in the United States.

See also: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority § History

Opened in September 1897, the four-track-wide segment of the Green Line tunnel between Park Street and Boylston stations was the first subway in the United States, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The downtown portions of what are now the Green, Orange, Blue, and Red line tunnels were all in service by 1912. Additions to the rapid transit network occurred in most decades of the 1900s, and continued in the 2000s with the addition of Silver Line bus rapid transit and Green Line Extension.[citation needed] (See MBTA History and MBTA Future plans sections.)

Streetcar congestion in downtown Boston led to the establishment of subways and elevated rail, the former in 1897 and the latter in 1901. The Tremont Street subway was the first rapid transit tunnel in the United States. The grade-separated railways added transportation capacity while avoiding delays caused by intersections with cross streets.[3] The first elevated railway and the first rapid transit line in Boston were built three years before the first underground line of the New York City Subway, but 34 years after the first London Underground lines, and long after the first elevated railway in New York City.[4]

Various extensions and branches were added to the subway lines at both ends, bypassing more surface tracks. As grade-separated lines were extended, street-running lines were cut back for faster downtown service. The last elevated heavy rail or "El" inter-station segments in Boston – with the exception of the Red Line's still-active elevated tracks, connecting Charles/MGH station over Charles Circle to the Longfellow Bridge and the Cambridge Tunnel's northern portal – were at the extremities of the Orange Line: its northern end was relocated in 1975 from Everett to Malden, MA, and its southern end was relocated into the Southwest Corridor in 1987. However, the Green Line's Causeway Street Elevated remained in service until 2004, when it was relocated into a tunnel with an incline to reconnect to the Lechmere Viaduct.

The final section of elevated, between the Lechmere Viaduct and Lechmere station, was closed in 2020 for construction of the Green Line Extension. The extension is opening in two phases in 2022 with new branches from Lechmere to Union Square and Medford/​Tufts – the first rail expansion since 1987.



The rapid transit lines consist of 3 heavy-rail lines, 2 light-rail lines, and an underground bus rapid transit line.

The traditional heavy-rail lines include the Blue Line, which is a former trolley line running from Revere to downtown Boston; the Orange Line, which was converted from an elevated line running from Roxbury to Malden; and the Red Line, running from Cambridge to either Ashmont or Braintree.

The light-rail lines include 4 Green Line branches which terminate in Brighton, Brookline, Newton, and Roxbury, and the solely Red Line-linked Mattapan High Speed Line.

Three branches of the Silver Line, the SL1, SL2, and SL3, operate in tunnels for part of their length, with direct transfers at South Station. These three lines use the higher subway fare, while SL4 and SL5 follow bus fare rules.

Line Color Route Inauguration Route length Number of stations
Green Line Green B: Government CenterBoston College
C: Government Center ↔ Cleveland Circle
D: North StationRiverside
E: Union SquareHeath Street
1897 23 mi (37 km) 65
Orange Line Orange Oak GroveForest Hills 1901 11 mi (18 km) 20
Blue Line Blue WonderlandBowdoin 1904 6 mi (9.7 km) 12
Red Line Red AlewifeAshmont
Alewife ↔ Braintree
1912 22.5 mi (36.2 km) 22
High Speed Line
Ashmont ↔ Mattapan 1929 2.6 mi (4.2 km) 8
Silver Line Silver SL1: South StationLogan International Airport
SL2: South Station ↔ Design Center
SL3: South Station ↔ Chelsea
SL4: South Station ↔ Nubian Square
SL5: Downtown Crossing ↔ Nubian Square
2002 33
Heavy rail subtotal 39.5 mi (63.6 km) 52
Light rail subtotal 25.6 mi (41.2 km) 73
Total 65.1 mi (104.8 km) 147


To-scale map of the Boston subway system from 2003
To-scale map of the Boston subway system from 2003

All four subway lines cross downtown, forming a quadrilateral configuration, and the Orange and Green Lines (which run approximately parallel in that district) also connect directly at two stations just north of downtown. The Red Line and Blue Line are the only pair of subway lines which do not have a direct transfer connection to each other. Because the various subway lines do not consistently run in any given compass direction, it is customary to refer to line directions as "inbound" or "outbound". Inbound trains travel towards the four downtown transfer stationsPark Street, State Street, Government Center and Downtown Crossing–and outbound trains travel away from these hub stations.[5]

The Green Line has four branches in the west: "B" (Boston College), "C" (Cleveland Circle), "D" (Riverside), and "E" (Heath Street). The A branch formerly went to Watertown, filling in the north-to-south letter assignment pattern, and the E branch formerly continued beyond Heath Street to Arborway.

The Red Line has two branches in the south—Ashmont and Braintree, named after their terminal stations.


Originally, transit lines in the region only used geographic names; though numbering was added to public maps in 1936. The three heavy-rail lines were assigned numbers 1, 2, and 3; what is now the Green Line was assigned different numbers for each branch. However, riders generally continued to use the geographic names.[6] Colors were assigned on August 26, 1965, as part of a wider modernization under design standards developed by Cambridge Seven Associates, and have served as the primary identifier for the lines since then.[7] The numbers for the heavy-rail lines and the Mattapan Line were retained in public information until 1966.[6] In 1967, the then-current five branches of the Green Line were lettered A through E.[6]

Cambridge Seven originally intended to use red, yellow, green, and blue for the four lines. However, yellow proved unsuitable, since some patrons would have difficulty reading yellow text on a white background; orange was substituted, and yellow eventually was used for the MBTA bus service's visibility markings and signage.[8] When sketching design concepts, Peter Chermayeff labeled the subway-surface light rail routes as the Green Line because they run adjacent to parts of the Emerald Necklace park system. The East Boston Tunnel became the Blue Line because it runs under Boston Harbor, and the Cambridge-Dorchester Tunnel became the Red Line because its northernmost terminus was then at Harvard University, whose school color is crimson. According to Chermayeff, the Main Line El "ended up being orange for no particular reason beyond color balance."[9] The MBTA and transit historians later claimed that orange came from Orange Street, an early name for the street that ran southwards down the Boston Neck to connect the Shawmut Peninsula to the mainland, for what is now part of Washington Street.[10][11][8]


Main article: List of MBTA subway stations

The MBTA rapid transit system consists of 147 stations, with another 5 in construction as part of the Green Line Extension project in Somerville.

Rolling stock

Main articles: Blue Line (MBTA) § Rolling stock, Green Line (MBTA) § Rolling stock, Orange Line (MBTA) § Rolling stock, Red Line (MBTA) § Rolling stock, and Silver Line (MBTA) § Rolling stock

The MBTA is in the process of replacing its entire fleet of Red Line and Orange Line cars, which are over 40 years old, by 2023. The Blue Line cars were replaced in 2008. The Green Line has a variety of vehicles, some dating back to 1986, with the latest batch delivered in 2019.

All four transit lines use standard-gauge railway tracks (4 ft 8+12 in / 1,435 mm), but are otherwise incompatible, with varying loading gauges, car lengths, platform heights, and power collection systems as detailed in the chart below:

MBTA subway car dimensions[12]
Line Car length Car width Platform height Power
Red 69 ft 6 in (21.2 m) 10 ft (3.05 m) 49 in (1.24 m) Third rail
Orange 65 ft (19.8 m) 9 ft 3 in (2.82 m) 45 in (1.14 m) Third rail
Blue 48 ft (14.6 m) 9 ft 3 in (2.82 m) 41+12 in (1.05 m) Third rail, overhead line
Green 72 ft (21.9 m) 8 ft 8 in (2.64 m) Low (varies) Overhead line

There are no direct track connections between lines, except between the Red Line and Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line, but all except the Blue Line have little-used connections to the national rail network, which have been used for deliveries of railcars and supplies.[13]


See also: Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority § Fares and fare collection, and CharlieCard

As of July 1, 2019, MBTA fares are based on the trip type. A one-way ticket costs $2.40 whether loaded onto a reusable, fare-loadable CharlieCard, purchased as a single-use paper ticket, or paid in cash onboard the Green Line. The monthly LinkPass (which includes unlimited travel on rapid transit and bus) costs $90 per month. Daily and weekly passes are available at $11 and $22.50, respectively, and discounts are provided to seniors and high school students. Children up to 11 years old ride free when accompanied by an adult; limit 3.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "MBTA Open Data Portal: Monthly Ridership by Mode". Retrieved April 27, 2022.
  2. ^ "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014.
  3. ^ "Famous Firsts in Massachusetts". Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Archived from the original on February 8, 2007. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  4. ^ New York Subway's "Remembering the Ninth Avenue El" article
  5. ^ Ferry, J. Amanda (May 20, 2003). "Boston's subway". Boston.com. Retrieved February 27, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Belcher, Jonathan. "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). Boston Street Railway Association.
  7. ^ "Cambridge Seven Associates Website". C7a.com. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011.
  8. ^ a b Ba Tran, Andrew (June 2012). "MBTA Orange Line's 111th anniversary". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on July 21, 2017. The Everett-Forest Hills Main Line Elevated was renamed the Orange Line on August 25, 1965. The name comes from a section of Washington Street between Essex and Dover streets that had the name Orange Street until the early 19th century, said Clarke. However, according to architecture firm Cambridge Seven Associates, the Orange Line's color was a design choice after the yellow color option did not test well.
  9. ^ Byrnes, Mark (September 17, 2018). "How Boston Got Its 'T'". CityLab. I remember sitting in my Cambridge office preparing for a meeting with the MBTA in which I would be proposing colored lines. I had markers in front of me and I chose red for the line that went to Harvard since it’s a well-known institution whose main color is crimson. One line went up the North Shore of Boston up to the coastal areas, so it seemed obvious to call that the Blue Line. The line that serves Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace was an obvious choice for green. And then the fourth line ended up being orange for no particular reason beyond color balance.
  10. ^ Sanborn, George M. (1992). A Chronicle of the Boston Transit System. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on August 18, 2015. Retrieved September 17, 2016 – via MIT.
  11. ^ "Curiosity Carcards" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2012.
  12. ^ Robin Washington (February 25, 2015). "On the T, One Sized Doesn't Fit All". Boston Globe. Retrieved January 21, 2019.
  13. ^ Discussion of rail intereconnections. The Red Line connection is at JFK/UMass, the Orange Line at Wellington (last used ca. 1981), and the Green Line at Riverside. Tractor trailer trucks may also be used to deliver train cars from the manufacturer. http://groups-beta.google.com/group/ne.transportation/browse_frm/thread/e6ba611be5abb7a/6c500ca982d60b28
  14. ^ "Fares Overview | MBTA".