The Boston Subway: A Brief History Of The 'T'

MBTA Map
MBTA Map | © Michael Kvrivishvili/WikiCommons
Casey Campbell

Bostonians today have a love-hate relationship with the MBTA that more often than not leans towards the nastier side. Despite being a hub for innovation, Boston‘s subway system continues to be subpar, which may be due to the fact that it’s the oldest system in the country.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, most often referred to as the MBTA or the ‘T,’ is the public transportation system for Greater Boston. It is made up of bus routes, the commuter rail, a few ferries, and the subway system. In 2015, the Green Line and the Ashmont-Mattapan Section of the Red Line were the most used light-rail systems in the United States.

The beginnings of the MBTA originated in 1897 when the first Green Line cars were put to use. While this was the first local public transportation, trains that traveled out of the city existed decades before. Rails that ran from Boston to Portland, Maine and Western Massachusetts existed as early as 1833. The Old Colony Railroad and Middleborough/Lakeville Lines would open in 1845, connecting Boston to the South Shore (these are still names of Commuter Rail routes today). In 1853, the first streetcar was chartered in the city to connect the West End to Central Square and Harvard Square in Cambridge. This connection would become the Longfellow Bridge, a route still followed by the Red Line today.

© Matthew in Boston/Flickr

When it came time for the subway and elevated rail debut, the Metropolitan Transit Authority ran the system. You may have heard of the system from The Kingston Trio song about Charlie on the MTA. If you carry a Charlie Card today, you can thank this song for the name.

Park Street Station, today one of the busiest transfer stops that connect the Green and Red Lines, was opened in 1898. Park Street was the first rapid transit tunnel in the country. The precursor to the Orange Line would open in 1901, and the beginnings of the Blue Line – connecting East Boston under Boston Harbor – would come in 1904. The Cambridge Tunnel would open in 1912, which would later become the Red Line, one of the most popular routes today.

Today, the MBTA consists of the four main subway lines, 183 bus routes, 12 commuter rail routes, and a few other lines, including ferries connecting the South Shore and East Boston to downtown. In 2012, Keolis Commuter Services won with a bid of $2.68 billion to take over operations of the MBTA Commuter Rail. Since this purchase, Keolis has made efforts to increase punctuality of trains, tested new schedules, and cracked down on fare evasion.

As for the rail and bus services, the MBTA consistently faces criticism. Fares continue to rise annually, and in 2015, it was called one of the most indebted transit systems in the United States, with debt rising over $8 billion, including interest. Mechanical issues that lead to delays are also frequent announcements for MBTA users, especially during snowy winters. For now, Bostonians know what to expect from the oldest subway system in America, but they hope that plans are being made to fix outstanding issues soon.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?

Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world

Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.

Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.

Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.

We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.

Winter Sale Offers on Our Trips

Incredible Savings

X
Edit article