Saturday, April 30, 2011

YAY History: The "EL"

In this months history post I am going to be covering the history of the, now defunct, Orange line Elevated or the "EL".

MBTA map that shows the 
The first phase of the "EL" , which was opened in 1901, was dubbed the Charlestown Elevated. The line ran from Everett right through Charlestown and then descended underground at North Station. The line then ran underground through downtown (todays Orange Line Subway) and then once again came above ground to meet the Washington Street Elevated. The Washington St. Elevated ran from the Chinatown station (then Essex st.) and terminated at Dudley Station. In 1909 the Elevated was then extended to Forest Hills. 

During the 1970's the MBTA was experiencing a time of growth. They began to examined many of their lines and fund improvement and revitalization projects. The Orange Line Elevated was the first on their list. The MBTA first thought of ways that they could extend the Orange Line. They proposed extending the northern terminus to Route-128 in Reading, then extend southern terminus to Dedham. As a result of this review the MBTA decided they were going to rip down the Charlestown Elevated. 

The MBTA built a brand new route for the Charlestown line. The new line ran from A new underground station at North Station through an underwater tunnel under the Charles River. The line then traveled at grade along newly acquired track from the Boston and Maine Railroad right of way under I-93. The line  then terminated at the present day terminus of Oak Grove.

Riding over the Charlestown Bridge
It wasn't long after the closure of the Charlestown Elevated that the MBTA came up with the idea to try and re-rout the rest of the elevated Orange Line. 

During the early 1980s, although the Orange line had become the most reliable and most ridden rapid transit line in Boston, it had become the most unsafe line in the system, due to the amount of crime on trains and at stations. 

The once beautiful victorian style elevated stations were now in horrible despair and were in need of a major refurbishment or total demolition. Although it was going to come at a huge price tag, around $730 Million, $1,677,050,744 in today's money, the MBTA was going to re-route the entire southern half of the Orange Line and rip down the Washington St. Elevated. In May, 1987 the last revenue trip was performed on the Washington St. Elevated. Thereafter the Orange line, instead of rising to the elevated tracks on Washington St., would veer west to follow the Mass Pike on the acquired right of way from the Boston and Albany Railroad and then travel along a newly constructed right of way all the way to Forest Hills. This became the Orange line that many of us ride today. 
North Station Elevated

As with many high profile and expensive projects, there was much controversy that came with the closing of the elevated. Although the line terminated basically in the same place, the new route largely bypassed Washington St. The MBTA promised replacement service to local residents who relied on the Elevated to get to work. A green line extension that would run from Washington Street to Dudley Square, then divert southeast on Warren Street towards Dorchester was proposed, but dropped soon after. It took the T until 2002 to implement some sort of service replacement for this area, being phase 1 of the Silver Line.


  1. Cool photos! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Actually the MBTA brass decided to get rid of the Washington Street elevated right after Governor Francis W. Sargent killed the Inner Belt, Southwest and extended Northeast Expressways. The MBTA decision was in 1974 IIRC.

  3. Id love to know how they made the transition from elevated to underground tracks, how did they connect to the tracks underground with the trains still running.

  4. Id love to know how they made the transition from elevated to underground tracks, how did they connect to the tracks underground with the trains still running.


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