Transforming the Green Line

MBTA engineers have developed a transformational vision for the Green Line.  Even more exciting, they have set in motion a convincing program for attaining that vision.

Green Line Transformation — Public Presentation:

Thursday, May 31, 7-8:30PM,
Jackson Mann Community Center, 500 Allston Street, Brighton

The oldest subway in North America today feels very much like the oldest subway in the North America – noisy, slow and crowded.  Over the past few years there have been incremental improvements.  The MBTA has now defined a long term improvement path that could lead to a doubling of the carrying capacity of the Green Line from its current 228,000 riders per weekday.

The central idea is to migrate towards a new vehicle, the “Type 10”.  The type 10 will be 50% longer (112 feet as opposed to 74) and have room for twice as many people.  The existing green line vehicles lose a lot of internal space due to the antiquated through-axle design of their under-carriage.  The “Type 10” vehicles will be 100% low-floor-accessible and free up essentially the whole floor plan of the car for seats and standing area.

For many years, there has been on-and-off-again discussion of going from two to three car trains with the existing vehicle types, which would offer a 50% capacity increase. In the new study, engineers considered a number of possible vehicle configurations and concluded that longer, higher-capacity vehicles offer the greatest and most cost-effective capacity expansion.

Once a transition to the new vehicles is complete, the line could carry roughly the same number of two-car trains but with twice as many people on each train.  Any rider of the Green Line can tell you that the existing cars are often too full to take all the waiting passengers and it appears that many potential riders have simply given up on the experience.  The Core Capacity study indicated that demand will only continue to grow.  The possible doubling of capacity can be ramped up in stages as demand growth is confirmed.

The T’s engineers have carefully vetted the new vision – they have laser-measured the tunnels to determine exactly where the larger vehicles might be too big to fit.  They have also analyzed the new power and structural requirements for the new vehicles.

They have created an inventory of barriers to  the new vehicles — ancient power cables, aging tracks, tight turns, short stations, short maintenance hoists, etc.  The engineers have shown that so much of the system needs repair or replacement anyway that making the changes needed for the new vehicles adds little incremental cost.

The already-planned transition to a new fare system also facilitates the longer vehicles.   The automated system will not require passenger interaction with the front-positioned train operator, so all doors can open.

The T will be conducting a nationwide search to recruit a leader for the Green Line transformation and the T’s board has already approved a contract with an outside firm to provide capacity to manage all green line projects so that they support the new vision.

Over the next five years, riders will see incremental speed improvements from stop consolidation (already planned in front of BU on the B line), the new fare collection system (which will reduce dwell times), transit signal priority (which is rolling out along Comm Ave and Beacon Street).  Additionally, the ongoing replacement of track, signal and power components will contribute to reduced breakdowns.

Capacity will begin to increase in 8 to 10 years when the new larger Type 10 cars begin to arrive.  The full build to a completely new fleet and doubled capacity could take a total of 15 to 20 years.  Capacity will increase most rapidly on the D and E lines where most of the stations are already long enough to support trains composed of two longer Type 10 vehicles.

The money is in place for the next 5 to 7 years.  The MBTA’s capital plan, which has been given  preliminary approval by its board, calls for spending $964 million on Green Line “state of good repair” projects that will finish or at least start over the next five years.

Now that a vetted long-term vision is in place, the political challenge will be to sustain it through changing administrations.  That should be the mission of all of us who represent Green Line users.


Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

34 replies on “Transforming the Green Line”

  1. This looks like exactly what the Green Line needs, hopefully it happens sooner rather than later.

  2. Lipstick on a pig. Same radial routes with new vehicles. Although more riders on and of quicker, the train headway’s will not significantly improve.

  3. The time frame for the plans outlined is way too long. Even 10 years is too much.

  4. The plans themselves are breathtakingly fine. I hope that strong ways to fund this project, good times and bad, can be found. Otherwise, Elon Musk may visit Mars before we have these much-need improvements.

  5. Excellent and sustainable planning.
    This is key to addressing the congestion problems facing Boston’s increased development.

  6. More public money on an out-dated system of tracks. When anything breaks down in this OLDEST IN THE NATION system, everything on that line breaks down. There is no 3rd line that can be used to keep a broken down line running smoothly around a breakdown and buses are brought in. Where do all those extra drivers come from?
    The new cars will not add any speed to any of the Green Line but will only clog it more than it already is.
    Remember when it used to be called “RAPID TRANSIT”?

  7. Thanks for the update. This is long overdue. The system is old, but its speed and capacity must be upgraded to meet the needs of tomorrow’s economy and to keep more vehicles off the road.

  8. “Capacity will begin to increase in 8 to 10 years when the new larger Type 10 cars begin to arrive. The full build to a completely new fleet and doubled capacity could take a total of 15 to 20 years.”

    That’s insane. If a car company said you’d get your new fleet of vehicles in 15-20 years you’d laugh them out of business.

    1. The car companies don’t also have to build the tracks, signals and power systems all while keeping service running over the tracks and through the signals.

      If it were just the new vehicles, the lead time would be shorter, but still several years.

      1. Senator, thanks for sharing your insights.

        I hope that DOT and all related government agencies can work faster in address this problem. It is a sure thing that green line is over capacity why don’t we start the work right now.

        I left Beijing and came here in 2000. At that time, Beijing has two subways, and Boston has five(green, red, orange, yellow and blue) with a much longer history of operation and engineering talents.

        Fast forward to 2018, there is now 20+ subway and light rails in Beijing and things are not moving in Boston (if we count Silver line tunnel as the only addition)

        I am only stating my observations. MBTA and DOT appears to be much more slower and less efficient on capital spending than their peers in Beijing. How many times slower? I don’t know for sure, but at the scale of hundreds.

        Hopefully the data I posted here can be viewed positively and move the project faster.

  9. I first came to Boston in 1973 & had to ride the Green Line daily, twice, for work and they went on for some 14+ years so I remember cars far older than the one in service today, WWII models, and the deafening high pitched screams of cars turning into Boylston Street Station/Theater District, so I’d say it was high time planning on the Green Line was finally achieved, to get it and its thousands of riders in a better place!

  10. It’s great that they’re working on improving the Green Line.

    I’d love to see a plan for expanding and extending the whole system. E.g extending the Red Line beyond Alewife, and the Green Line not just to Medford, but beyond.

    In cities like London and Tokyo it seems like they are perpetually expanding the system. Here we seem to expand once every 30 years, and only when we reach some sort of transportation crisis. I moved here 25 years ago. Back then I didn’t need to travel out to 495. Imagine if we had been slowly extending the Red Line. It could have been there by now, and I would not need to drive to Westford.

    1. Yeah. Me too. That one just isn’t in the cards. It was planned in 70s/80s, but Arlington fought it (believe it or not) and a lot has happened to make it less viable since then.

      Most people are talking about improving the service on the rail system, not extending the red line.

  11. Thanks for this update. Dramatic increase in the capacity and service level of public transportation should be the top priority for the Boston area now. Without this, there is likely to be serious degradation of quality of life and economic capacity in the near future.

    I’m glad to here about this plan for the Green Line. However, these statements raise the possibility that they will not realistically address the demands that can be anticipated:

    “Any rider of the Green Line can tell you that the existing cars are often too full to take all the waiting passengers…. The Core Capacity study indicated that demand will only continue to grow. The possible doubling of capacity can be ramped up in stages as demand growth is confirmed.”

    If cars are already overfilled, why would we need to wait any period of time to confirm that increased capacity is needed?

    My question would be: Is doubling of capacity enough or should much more capacity be planned — now? If we only mitigate our current problems, we can’t expect to improve overall service levels after population and usage increase.

    1. Doubling is about as far as they can go physically.

      Agreed that it is clear that more capacity is needed and demand growth can be expected, but it might be that 50% increase is enough. We’ll have to see how the numbers evolve.

  12. Does the MBTA ever collect data on every time a train/bus is too crowded to collect all waiting passengers at stations/stops? While we wait years for the new vehicles with more capacity, perhaps resources could be invested to support some more immediate solutions (like revising schedules).

    1. They can’t increase the schedules much on the Green Line — the core lines between Park and Kenmore are already maxxed out — you can only run trains so close to each other for safety reasons.

      But you are right that there statistics often fail to capture the people waiting on the platform (much less those who give up and leave). I’ve run into this in several discussions.

  13. Capacity will begin to increase in 8-10 years?. Sounds like they ought to change that to 5-7.
    Sounds like a good plan otherwise and overdue. As I live on the ‘A Line” I am grateful for the 501/505 Express Buses.

  14. Can we also look at connecting the outer spokes of the Green Line to one another and to the Red/Orange lines? The 66 bus route is too infrequent and unreliable to be of use. Perhaps a peripheral bus route or street car at Chestnut Hill Ave could connect these.

  15. Are there any plans to extend the E-line back to its pre-1985 route out to the Arborway?

  16. awesome! maybe it will help get a lot of Uber/Lyft cars off the streets and blocking curbs and majorly increasing traffic, not to mention added pollution, etc. That’s of course if we make it as stressed-out drivers during the next 8 years.

  17. This is a great idea! Sucks living on the green line when you’re on crutches because it’s impossible to board the train. About time we make improvements for people who have been begging for this change!

  18. This is all so wonderful. One thing they hopefully keep in mind: can they also solve the screeching of the trains? I’m referring in particular to the turns at Government Center and Boylston that make really loud noises. While this concern certainly takes a backseat to reliability, capacity, accessibility and speed – if they’re taking a comprehensive look at the Green Line, my ears would appreciate less screeching!

  19. Longer green line trains will carry more passengers but will not improve speed or efficiency. With only single tracks in each direction, a breakdown anywhere impacts the whole line.
    I can remember when it used to be called “Rapid Transit”. Longer trains will only make service slower.

    And bus schedules should be changed to reflect departure, not arrival times. A bus arriving earlier and leaving earlier makes it’s schedule obsolete. Departing at scheduled times at various points on a route makes sense. Trying to catch a bus at a certain “arrival” time does not work, when those buses leave earlier all along a route, especially on week-ends.

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