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Green Light For Green Line

Guest Column
Jonathan Reed

In response to “Seeing Red On The Green Line” [March 16]:

I have done much research on the history of the MBTA, visited the MBTA’s control center, and done some consulting work for them. I would therefore like to set the record straight with regard to Philip Burrowes’ one-sided, poorly researched article.

The Green Line is undoubtedly the white elephant of the four T lines. However, its unusual layout does not stem from poor design or negligence. As was mentioned in the article, portions of the Green Line make up the oldest subway line in the nation. At that time, the primary mode of transportation was the streetcar. Streetcars are fairly small and short; however, what they lacked in carrying capacity they made up for in quantity.

Streetcars were just that -- cars that traveled in the streets. Therefore, the tracks were level with the street. When the streetcar lines were placed underground in 1897, there was no need to construct elevated platforms as that would have required the redesign of the interior of hundreds of streetcars (an enormous expense). It is for this reason that third rails are not used on the Green Line. Imagine crossing a street and, when halfway across, having to jump a rail carrying 600 volts. Yes, these features do allow passengers to walk in front of a Green Line train. However, most people I have seen in the T station (even the homeless people ranting about communism) have the sense to look and see if a train is coming before crossing the tracks. I, for one, find it convenient that the Green Line allows you to do this.

Indeed the Green Line cars do resemble buses. Buses are the streetcars of today. And, for the record, anyone who looks to find a stop cord will not be disappointed. There is a stop cord (or tape-strip on the newer cars); when you are traveling above ground, pull the cord, and you’ll find that just like on a bus, the train will stop at the next intersection.

Yes, the Green Line has a low carrying capacity. However, in many instances, this is not the fault of the Green Line, but rather the fault of its patrons who insist on standing in the stairwell, rather than moving into the car. By the same token, many delays on the Green Line are caused by patrons who rush into the train before people have a chance to exit, or who insist on forcing their way into the train when there is another train with an identical destination directly behind the current one.

The MBTA is well aware of the low carrying capacity of the Green Line, and has recently finished testing new cars, some of which have entered into revenue service. These new “low-floor” cars will eliminate the steps in the doorway, and will also provide much better handicapped access to the Green Line. They will also help eliminate passenger confusion by providing LED displays (similar to those on the Red Line) that announce the destination of the train and upcoming stops.

The unusual layout of the Green Line is related to the geography of Boston. Boston is on a peninsula. Park Street station, located adjacent to the Boston Common, lies on this peninsula. If a train wishes to go from Boston College to Park Street, and another train wishes to go from Riverside to Park Street, the two lines will have to converge at one point in order to arrive at the same destination. Heck, that’s simple geometry.

I find Burrowes’ dismissive attitude toward the Red Line’s branches (which seem to disprove his point) puerile: “... which doesn’t count because nobody rides the Red Line past South Station anyway ...” Burrowes may not ride the Red Line past South Station, but he is probably unaware that there are two extremely large “Park-and-Ride” stations located on the Red Line’s Braintree branch. I have ridden on Red Line trains at rush hour which are standing-room-only until they arrive at Quincy Adams.

If, as hinted at in his last paragraph, his goal was to produce “ineffective criticism” of the Green Line, he deserves an A. If, on the other hand, his goal was to provide a critique of the Green Line, he failed miserably.

Jonathan Reed is a member of the Class of 2002.