AKA "the purple line" the commuter rail serves the suburbs outside the city of Boston.

The commuter rail is not nearly as good as the T, in that it is rather slow, there are not a lot of trains (2-3 per hour during peak hours), crowded during peak hours (otherwise empty), and only moderately well cleaned.

Also, if you are tall, the regular seats don't have good legroom, so your legs may fall asleep on rides longer than 20 minutes. However, if you sit on the fold-down seats at the ends of the car there is legroom aplenty.

The good thing about the commuter rail is that it can be very convenient if you live in a town that the tracks go through. The commuter rail has good range, too- it covers most of eastern Massachusetts, so it can be better than driving if you are commuting to Boston


Note that this is strictly the commuter rail. Omnibuses, subways, trolleys, ferries, and the lot are not covered.

The present-day commuter rail arose from a pre-World War II pastiche of rail networks in eastern Massachusetts, namely, the Boston and Maine, New Haven, and Boston and Albany lines, which mainly served as freight lines. The former line ran out of North Station while the latter two ran out of South Station. This is one of the reasons that, to the consternation of travelers in Boston, there is no central station. Worse, there's no direct subway link either. Some stations, usually in town centers, existed, but the network was not as fully developed.

With the rise of cars after the war and the growth of Le Courbusier-inspired urban sprawl, which fortunately did not affect Boston as much as other places, passenger rail was hurting badly. Hit especially hard was the South Shore region, where railroads fell victim to the gleaming modernism of Route 3. With the rise of the highways, the New Haven and the Boston and Albany lines were amalgamted into Penn Central. The Boston and Maine trundled gamely along.

And so it went that through much of the 1950's and 1960's, freight networks dwindled. In the early '60's, however, hope was born. Regional planners, blessed with remarkable foresight, began to see that a centralized, regional mass transit was a needed commidity. And so, in August 3, 1964, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority was created by a General Court vote. The MBTA was charged with developing a regional plan for metropolitan Boston, as well as taking over the functions of the defunct MTA for subway and more urban transit.

At the same time, on the federal level, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, or UMTA, came into being. The MBTA garnered important UMTA grants, initially for the subway. Then on July 28, 1965, the MBTA acquired use of the old New Haven commuter network. It also purchased remaining rights-of-way throughout eastern Massachusetts, essentially hybridizing the functioning remnants of the older networks.

With the fuel crisis of the 1970's, the MBTA received more grant money. The network continued to grow and increase capacity, eventually shuttling 300,000 people around daily.

From the 70's up to present day, the commuter rail is continuing to expand. Plans are in the works to extend northern lines to Nashua and possibly Manchester. The Greenbush project is set to restore service to a right-of-way along the South Shore.

System Layout

As of February 2004, the MBTA commuter rail has ten lines radiating out of Boston. There are plans to build the new Greenbush line on the South Shore and also to extend the Haverhill/Reading and Lowell lines up into New Hampshire.

Below is a list of stops for each line and their zones, listed clockwise from their exurban terminus. The name of each stop is provide and linked if its name differs from its resident community, due to the fact that it's part of a specific neighboorhood or region within the community. Stations named after their towns are usually more heavily traveled, due to the fact that they're located near the town center. The name is followed by the zone, enclosed in parentheses, and by the resident community, in italics. Lastly, junctions with other lines are listed.

N.B.: Like most things in New England, the layout of the commuter rail is a byzantine mess. For the most part lines radiate out, but there is some crossover and mulitple branches (particularly at a little place called Readville). There is also some overlap, as what the MBTA defines as "lines" may be arbitrary at some points, and many lines share common stations in the southern part of Boston. This is the reason (I think) that some websites say there are "eleven" lines, while from the T site I only counted ten.

Northern Lines

All of the lines in this section have North Station as their Boston terminus.

Fitchburg Line*

*Note that this line used to terminate at Gardner, but I can't find it on any recent maps.

Lowell Line

Haverhill/Reading Line

Newburyport/Rockport Line

Newburyport Branch (to Beverly Depot)

Rockport Branch (to Beverly Depot)

Main Line (Beverly Depot to North Station)

Southern Lines

All of the lines in this section have South Station as their Boston terminus. Still clockwise, remember.

Plymouth/Kingston Line

Plymouth Branch (to Halifax)

Kingston Branch (to Halifax)

Main Line (Halifax to South Station)

Middleborough/Lakville Line

Attleborough/Stoughton Line

Stoughton Branch (to Canton Junction)

Providence/Attleborough Branch (to Canton Junction)

Foxborough Branch

Main Line (Canton Junction to Readville)

Uphams Corner Branch (Readville to South Station)

Back Bay Branch (Readville to South Station)

Franklin Line

Main Line (Franklin to Readville)

Uphams Corner Branch (Readville to South Station)

Back Bay Branch (Readville to South Station)

Needham Line

Framingham/Worcester Line

Source: Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority website (www.mbta.com)

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