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Orange Line (MBTA)

Inbound train at Assembly on its opening day in September 2014
Type Rapid transit
Status Operational
Locale Boston, Massachusetts
Termini Oak Grove
Forest Hills
Stations 20
Daily ridership 203,406 (2013)[1]
Opened 1901
Owner MBTA
Operator(s) MBTA
Rolling stock 01200 series
Line length 11 miles (18 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Electrification Third rail
Route map
Oak Grove
Malden Center
Mystic River
Sullivan Square
Community College
Charles River
North Station  Green 
Washington Street Subway
Haymarket  Green 
State  Blue 
Downtown Crossing  Red  Silver  Green 
Chinatown  Silver 
Tufts Medical Center  Silver 
Back Bay
Southwest Corridor
Mass Ave
Roxbury Crossing
Jackson Square
Stony Brook
Green Street
Forest Hills

The Orange Line is one of the four subway lines of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. It extends from Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, Boston in the south to Oak Grove in Malden in the north. It meets the Red Line at Downtown Crossing, the Blue Line at State, and the Green Line at Haymarket and North Station. It connects with Amtrak service at Back Bay and North Station, and MBTA Commuter Rail service at Back Bay, North Station, Ruggles station in Roxbury, and Forest Hills. From 1901 to 1987, it provided the first elevated rapid transit in Boston; the last elevated section was torn down in 1987 when the southern portion of the line was moved to the Southwest Corridor.

All stations on the Orange Line are handicapped accessible. These stations are equipped with high-level platforms for easy boarding, as well as elevators for easy platform access.


  • History 1
    • Construction 1.1
    • Closure of Atlantic Avenue Elevated and ownership changes 1.2
    • Orange Line naming 1.3
    • Rerouting of Charlestown and Everett service 1.4
    • Closure of Washington Street Elevated 1.5
    • Renovations during the Big Dig 1.6
    • Assembly 1.7
    • Winter issues and resiliency work 1.8
    • Historical routes 1.9
  • Station listing 2
  • Rolling stock 3
    • New trains 3.1
    • Facilities 3.2
  • References 4
  • External links 5



The Charlestown El running over the old Charlestown Bridge

The Main Line of the electric Boston Elevated Railway opened in segments, starting in 1901. It proceeded from Sullivan Square along the Charlestown Elevated to the Canal Street Incline near North Station. It was carried underground by the Tremont Street Subway (now part of the Green Line), returning above ground at the Pleasant Street Incline (now closed, located just south of Boylston station). A temporary link connected from there to the Washington Street Elevated, which in 1901 ran from this point via Washington Street to Dudley Square (which is most of what is now Phase 1 of the Silver Line).

Also in 1901, the Atlantic Avenue Elevated opened, branching at Causeway Street to provide an alternate route through downtown Boston (along the shoreline, where today there is no rail transit) to the Washington Street Elevated.

In 1908, a new Washington Street Tunnel opened, allowing Main Line service to travel from the Charlestown Elevated, underground via an additional new portal at the Canal Street Incline, under downtown Boston and back up again to meet the Washington Street Elevated and Atlantic Avenue Elevated near Chinatown. Use of the parallel Tremont Street Subway was returned exclusively to streetcars.

By 1909, the Washington Street Elevated had been extended south to Forest Hills. Trains from Washington Street were routed through the new subway, either all the way to Sullivan Square, or back around in a loop via the subway and then the Atlantic Avenue Elevated.

In 1919, the Charlestown Elevated was extended north from Sullivan Square to Everett, over surface right-of-way parallel to Alford Street/Broadway, with a drawbridge over the Mystic River.[2] The Boston Elevated had long-term plans to continue this extension further north to Malden, a goal which would only be achieved decades later, under public ownership and not via the Everett route.

Closure of Atlantic Avenue Elevated and ownership changes

Rowes Wharf station on the Atlantic Avenue Elevated in 1942 - four years after closure - just before being demolished

Following a 1928 accident at a tight curve on Beach Street, the southern portion of the Atlantic Avenue Elevated, between South Station and Tower D on Washington Street, was closed (except for rush-hour trips from Dudley to North Station via the Elevated), breaking the loop; non-rush-hour Atlantic Avenue service was reduced to a shuttle between North and South Stations.[2] In 1938, the remainder of the Atlantic Avenue Elevated was closed, leaving the subway as the only route through downtown - what is now the Orange Line between Haymarket and Chinatown stations.

Ownership of the railway was transferred from the private Boston Elevated Railway to the public Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in 1947; the MTA was itself reconstituted as the modern Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in 1964.

Orange Line naming

Station sign at Boylston Street station in 1914. In 1967, the station was renamed to avoid confusion with the preexisting Green Line station a block away.

The line was known as the Main Line Elevated under the Boston Elevated Railway, and the Forest Hills–Everett Elevated (Route 2 on maps) under the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

After taking over operations in August 1964, the MBTA began rebranding many elements of Boston's public transportation network. On August 26, 1965, the four rapid transit lines were assigned colored names related to their history and geography. The Elevated became the Orange Line after Orange Street, an old name for the section of Washington Street immediately south of downtown, under which the Washington Street Tunnel runs.[2][3]

In January and February 1967, the four original Washington Street Tunnel stations were renamed. Transfer stations were given the same name for all lines: Winter and Summer stations plus Washington on the Red Line became Washington, Milk and State plus Devonshire on the Blue Line became State Street after the cross street, and Union and Friend plus Haymarket Square on the Green Line became Haymarket after Haymarket Square.[2] Boylston Street was renamed Essex to avoid confusion with nearby Boylston station on the Green Line.[2]

In May 1987, Essex was renamed Chinatown after the adjacent Chinatown neighborhood, and Washington renamed Downtown Crossing after the adjacent shopping district.[2] In March 2010, New England Medical Center station was renamed as Tufts Medical Center two years after the eponymous hospital changed its name.[2]

Rerouting of Charlestown and Everett service

Map of the original Main Line Elevated and related lines

The Boston Transportation Planning Review looked at the line in the 1970s, considering extensions to reach the beltway Route 128, with termini at Reading in the north and Dedham in the south. As a result of this review, the Charlestown Elevated - which served the Charlestown neighborhood north of downtown Boston and the inner suburb Everett - was demolished and replaced in 1975.

The Haymarket North Extension rerouted the Orange Line through an underwater crossing of the Charles River. Service in Charlestown was replaced with service along Boston and Maine tracks routed partially beneath an elevated section of Interstate 93, ultimately to Wellington and then to Oak Grove in Malden, Massachusetts instead of Everett. Rail service to Everett was replaced with buses.

Closure of Washington Street Elevated

View under Washington Street Elevated, looking south from Bartlett Street (1973)

Construction of Interstate 95 into downtown Boston was cancelled in 1972 after local protest over the necessary demolition. However, land for I-95's Southwest Corridor through Roxbury had already been cleared of buildings; moreover, the state had already committed to using this vacant land for transportation purposes.[4] As a result, instead of an 8-lane Interstate highway with a relocated Orange Line running in its median (in a manner similar to the Chicago Transit Authority's Dan Ryan and Congress and Jefferson Park lines), the space would be occupied by the realigned Orange Line, a reconstructed three-track mainline for Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and MBTA commuter rail and a linear park. After this re-routing was accomplished in 1987 the Washington Street Elevated was torn down, the last major segment of the original elevated line to be demolished.

Modern view from the platform at Chinatown station shows the remains of the Washington Street Tunnel that led to the Elevated, in the background. In the foreground, the tracks curve rightward into the Southwest Corridor.

Between April 30 and May 3, 1987, the Washington Street Elevated south of the Chinatown station was closed to allow the Orange Line to be tied into the new Southwest Corridor. On May 4, 1987, the Orange Line was rerouted from the southern end of the Washington Street Tunnel onto the new Southwest Corridor. Instead of rising up to elevated tracks, it now veered west at the Massachusetts Turnpike and followed the Pike and the old Boston and Albany Railroad right-of-way to the existing MBTA Commuter Rail stop at Back Bay. It then continued along new tracks, partially covered and partially open but depressed, to Forest Hills. This MBTA right-of-way is also shared by Amtrak as part of the national Northeast Corridor intercity passenger rail service.

While ending more or less at the same terminus (Forest Hills), the new routing bypassed significantly to the west of its previous route on Washington Street; local residents were promised replacement service. Originally, plans provided for light rail vehicles street running in mixed traffic, from Washington Street to Dudley Square, then diverting southeastward on Warren Street towards Dorchester. In 2002, Phase 1 of the Silver Line bus rapid transit was added to connect Washington Street to the downtown subways, attempting to address this service need. This replacement service was controversial, as many residents preferred the return of rail transportation.

Renovations during the Big Dig

Haymarket and North Station received major renovations during the Big Dig in the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, as the Causeway Street Elevated portion of the Green Line was buried, its physical connection to the Orange Line was improved to make transfers easier, the Canal Street Incline was finally closed, and the Green Line was re-rerouted through a new portal closer to the river, near the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge.


Assembly station on its first day of service in September 2014

In the early 2000s, Somerville began planning an infill station between Sullivan and Wellington to serve the new Assembly Square development. The $57 million station was funded by the state's Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, FTA Section 5309 New Starts program, and Federal Realty Investment Trust (the developer of Assembly Square).[5] Construction began in late 2011 and finished in mid 2014.[6] The new station, Assembly, opened on September 2, 2014.[7] It was the first new station on the MBTA subway system since 1987.[7]

Winter issues and resiliency work

During the unusually brutal winter of 2014-2015, the entire MBTA system was shut down on several occasions by heavy snowfalls. The aboveground sections of the Orange and Red lines were particularly vulnerable due to their exposed third rail, which iced over during storms. When a single train stopped due to power loss, other trains soon stopped as well; without continually running trains pushing snow off the rails, the lines were quickly covered in snow. (Because the Blue Line was built with overhead lines on its surface section due to its proximity to corrosive salt air, it was not subject to icing issues.)

During 2015, the MBTA is implementing its $83.7 million Winter Resiliency Program, much of which focused on preventing similar issues with the Orange and Red lines. The Southwest Corridor section of the Orange Line is located in a trench and is protected from the worst weather, but the the 1970s-built Haymarket North Extension had older infrastructure and was in worse shape. From Sullivan Square north, it is exposed to the weather and largely built on an embankment, rendering it more vulnerable. That section is receiving new heated third rail, switch heaters, and snow fences to reduce the impacts of inclement weather.[8][9] The work requires bustitution of the line from Sullivan Square to Oak Grove on many weeknights.[10]

Historical routes

Station listing

Station Time to
Downtown Crossing
Opened Transfers and notes
Handicapped/disabled access Oak Grove 16 March 20, 1977
Handicapped/disabled access Malden Center 14 December 27, 1975 Commuter Rail: Haverhill/Reading Line
Handicapped/disabled access Wellington 11 September 6, 1975
Handicapped/disabled access Assembly 10 September 2, 2014 Infill station
Handicapped/disabled access Sullivan Square 8 April 7, 1975 Separate station from one on the Charlestown Elevated closed April 4, 1975
Handicapped/disabled access Community College 6 April 7, 1975 Serves Bunker Hill Community College
Handicapped/disabled access North Station 4 April 7, 1975 Green Line and Commuter Rail north side lines.
Amtrak: Downeaster
Handicapped/disabled access Haymarket 3 November 30, 1908 Green Line
Originally Friend-Union until January 25, 1967
Handicapped/disabled access State 2 November 30, 1908 Blue Line
Originally Milk-State until January 24, 1967
Handicapped/disabled access Downtown Crossing
November 30, 1908 Red Line, Green Line and Silver Line
Originally Winter-Summer until January 22, 1967, then Washington until May 3, 1987
Handicapped/disabled access Chinatown 2 November 30, 1908 Silver Line
Originally Boylston-Essex until February 10, 1967, then Essex until May 3, 1987
Handicapped/disabled access Tufts Medical Center 3 May 4, 1987 Silver Line
Originally New England Medical Center until April 2010
Handicapped/disabled access Back Bay 5 May 4, 1987 Amtrak: Acela Express, Northeast Regional and Lake Shore Limited
Commuter Rail: Providence/Stoughton Line, Framingham/Worcester Line, Franklin Line and Needham Line
Also called Back Bay/South End
Handicapped/disabled access Massachusetts Avenue 7 May 4, 1987
Handicapped/disabled access Ruggles 9 May 4, 1987 Commuter Rail: Providence/Stoughton Line, Franklin Line and Needham Line
Handicapped/disabled access Roxbury Crossing 11 May 4, 1987
Handicapped/disabled access Jackson Square 13 May 4, 1987
Handicapped/disabled access Stony Brook 14 May 4, 1987
Handicapped/disabled access Green Street 16 May 4, 1987 Separate station from one on the former Washington Street Elevated closed April 30, 1987
Handicapped/disabled access Forest Hills 18 May 4, 1987 Commuter Rail: Needham Line
Separate station from one on the former Washington Street Elevated closed April 30, 1987
Former terminus of Green Line E branch

Rolling stock

The current Orange Line rolling stock was built in 1979-1981 and will remain in service until 2023
Orange Line trains in Wellington Carhouse, the Orange Line's heavy maintenance facility, in 2014

The Orange Line is standard gauge heavy rail and uses third rail for power. The current fleet is the 01200 series, built 1979-1981 by Hawker Siddeley Canada Car and Foundry (now Bombardier Transportation) of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. They are 65 feet (20 m) long and 9 ft 3 in (2.8 m) wide, with three pairs of doors on each side. They are based on the PA3 model used by PATH in New Jersey. There are 120 cars, numbered 01200-01319. All in-service Orange Line trains run in six-car configurations.

Year Built Make Model Length ft ( mm) Width in ( mm) Gauge Road Numbers
1979–1981 Hawker Siddeley Canada PA3 65 ft (19,812 mm) 111 in (2,819 mm) 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) 1200–1319

New trains

It was announced in the Spring of 2009 that the planning process for new Orange and Red Line vehicles had begun. The simultaneous order calls for 146 Orange Line cars (to replace the whole fleet) and 74 Red Line cars (presumably to replace the 1500s and 1600s, of which there were 76, with 72 still in service). This order would be similar to the current Orange Line cars and the old Blue Line cars, ordered at the same time and largely identical except for size. The announcement also suggested that new Green Line cars will be planned as well, although these cars would not be similar to the Orange and Red Line cars due to the differing natures of the lines.[11] In October 2013, MassDOT announced plans for a $1.3 billion subway car order for the Orange and Red Lines, which would provide 152 new cars to replace the current 120-car fleet and add more frequent service.[12]

On October 22, 2014, the Department of Transportation Board awarded Chinese manufacturer CNR a $566.6 million contract to build 152 replacement railcars for the Orange Line, as well as additional cars for the Red Line.[13] CNR will build the cars at a new manufacturing plant in Springfield, Massachusetts, with initial deliveries expected in 2018 and all cars in service by 2023.[13] In conjunction with the new rolling stock, the remainder of the $1.3 billion allocated for the project will pay for testing, signal improvements and expanded maintenance facilities, as well as other related expenses.[13]


The Orange Line has two tracks (one in each direction) and a third track between Wellington and the Charles River portal.[14] This track is used to bypass construction on the other two, and for testing newly delivered cars for the Orange and Blue lines. The primary maintenance and storage facility is at Wellington Station.[14] Had the Orange Line been extended to Reading, the third track would have become an express track.


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External links

  • Official MBTA Orange Line information
  • Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation of Boston Elevated Railway Company's Main Line Elevated (Former Orange Line)
  • Orange Line from - Includes detailed description and photos of current Orange Line
  • Jamaica Plain Historical Society - Orange Line Memories
  • Jamaica Plain Historical Society - Orange Line Replaced Old Railroad Embankment
  • "An Elevated View: The Orange Line", Boston Public Library exhibit about Orange Line elevated line history, October 2012-January 2013 (BPL description)
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