A 1945 map of Boston’s rapid transit system—the Boston Elevated Railway—including major proposed extensions into the suburbs, from the Metropolitan Transit Recess Commission’s first report.
First opened in 1901, the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy) was a privately-owned system of rapid-transit streetcars (and later buses and trolleys) that travelled on both elevated and underground tracks. By 1943, with WWII gasoline and tire rations in effect, ridership had risen to 325,000 people a day. Nevertheless the BERy was in financial straits after years of increasing operating costs, while simultaneously faced with the need to grow to keep up with the expanding Boston metropolitan area.
To address these issues, in 1943 the State legislature created the Metropolitan Transit Recess Commission, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Arthur Coolidge. The Commission’s objective was to offer “a specific and comprehensive plan for the guidance of the Legislature and the proposed rapid transit authority in the establishment of a first class metropolitan transit system so urgently needed.” (Metropolitan Transit Recess Commission, Report (1947), p. 8) A significant part of the Commission’s work included holding public hearings in the various metropolitan and surrounding districts, and the opinions and information gathered played a large role in determining many proposed route modifications.
The Commission issued both a 1945 report and a supplemental 1947 report, with slight updates, containing recommendations for extensions of the transit system. These reports were vital to shaping the future rail transportation system of the Boston metropolitan area.
The map offered here accompanied that first report. It is oriented with north at the right, with the proposed extensions to existing lines pictured in color.
The first proposed extension (blue) was a double-track streetcar tunnel running parallel with the Tremont Street Subway, with a connected platform between the Park Street and Boylston Street Stations to serve as a new hub for streetcar traffic. This was never built. The second (orange) finally built in the 1980s, was an extension of the Cambridge Subway, now the Red Line, from Harvard Square northwest into Arlington. The third (blue) is an extension from Lechmere through Somerville and into Woburn, construction of which is currently[!] underway, with completion expected by October 2021. The fourth (red) was to extend from Charlestown through Malden and into Reading, but construction never went beyond Malden. The fifth, in green, was an extension of the East Boston Tunnel Line north all the way into Revere—part of the Blue Line today. The sixth (orange) involved extending the Cambridge-Dorchester rapid transit line south, through Quincy and into Braintree, which included converting railway to rapid transit. Also in red, what would have been an extension of today’s Orange Line—but was never built—stretches from West Roxbury into Dedham. The final recommendation was an extension (purple) from Kenmore through Brookline into Newton and Needham, which makes up part of the Green Line today.
As a direct result of the Commission’s report, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts bought the privately owned BERy in 1947 and created the Metropolitan Transit Authority (the MTA, later the MBTA). This move protected Boston’s public transit system and anticipated larger service for a broader area of Eastern Massachusetts. Today, the BERy’s original rapid transit lines are a part of what’s now the T’s Red, Blue, Orange, and Green Lines. Although there are no more elevated tracks today, there are a few streetcars that remain on the Green Line.
Background from Steven Beaucher, Boston in Transit: Mapping the History of Public Transportation in The Hub (Cambridge, Massachusetts: WardMaps LLC, 2020), pp. 381-83.