Needham Line Questions

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Needham Line Questions

Postby UNHAlumInCT » Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:04 pm

I was in West Roxbury on Tuesday which led me to look at the schedule of the Needham Line as well as examine the map of the line on the MBTA site. Despite what appears to be a fairly densely populated area, even once single family homes became prevalent, it really didn't look like very robust service. From observation at the Highland station, it appears that this line was once double tracked. It all set my mind off and running.

  • Why are stops skipped on some runs? I would think those stops in Roslindale and West Roxbury would have good potential for ridership.
  • Why wasn't the double track kept and higher frequency offered?
  • Why is there no Sunday service?
  • Was there ever consideration to extend the Orange Line down to West Roxbury? It's still within the Boston City Limits, through densely populated neighborhoods, only four more stops after Forest Hills, etc. Just seems like it should go that far when lines end in Medford, Revere, Braintree, etc.
  • Was there ever consideration to run a heavy rail "loop" from South Station to West Roxbury and Needham then connecting over the existing ROW back to Newton Center and back into South Station? I believe I've read on this forum that the Riverside line was originally intended to be a heavy rail line rather than the current Green Line trolleys.

I would think that a parking facility at I-95/SR 128, double tracking from there inbound, and frequent seven day service would have a terrific ROI in terms of ridership. Wouldn't there be enough demand for this type of service from West Roxbury inbound at a minimum? Wouldn't that take a relatively minimal investment? OK, I know the MBTA has no money available for any projects right now, but why hasn't this happened earlier or at least got some consideration for a future project?

Thanks in advance for providing some background information!!
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby TomNelligan » Thu Mar 18, 2010 9:13 pm

UNHAlumInCT wrote: [*]Why wasn't the double track kept and higher frequency offered?


The second track was removed a VERY long time ago, I believe in the 1930s. The suburbs were less developed in those days, autos had appeared, and the level of service didn't require double track.

Was there ever consideration to extend the Orange Line down to West Roxbury?


Yes, that was an official MBTA plan in the 1960s, at the same time the Red Line was supposed to be going all the way to Bedford.

Was there ever consideration to run a heavy rail "loop" from South Station to West Roxbury and Needham then connecting over the existing ROW back to Newton Center and back into South Station? I believe I've read on this forum that the Riverside line was originally intended to be a heavy rail line rather than the current Green Line trolleys.


The Riverside line was a Boston & Albany commuter branch until its conversion to trolleys in 1959 and heavy rail transit operation was not a serious option. However the specific Boston-Needham-Newton-Boston loop that you ask about actually existed for a brief time, running from 1911 to 1914 as a joint New Haven RR and B&A commuter service.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby atsf sp » Fri Mar 19, 2010 10:06 pm

I believe most of the trains stop at the 2 West Roxbury stops. There is heavy volume I fiond on this line in the mkorning and early afternoon. There are also a lot of meets at the Baker St. siding. I watch this line every day from school.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby 3rdrail » Fri Mar 19, 2010 10:51 pm

It was originally the Boston and Providence's Dedham Branch from Dedham where it met the New York and New England. Back then, the Branch was the equivalent of todays automobile for most persons to get into the City of Boston from southern suburbia, so it was a hoppin'. By the way, it was the route of the tragically destined Boston and Providence Dedham Branch inbound commuter run which tragically fell through the Bussey Bridge in 1887 killing 24 passengers (at where now is the Arnold Arboretum's easterly approach to Peter's Hill just inside of the current "Bussey Bridge"). I was around there a lot all my life and only recall it being single tracked. I do recall a siding in the Arboretum between where the Needham Branch broke off at Forest Hills and the Arboretum Road Bridge. I used to watch New Haven RR RDC's meet there. Usually the inbound would take the siding and wait for the outbound to proceed before reconnecting and entering Forest Hills. As regards to a commuter rail piggybanking the Boston - Providence Main Line, I am of the opinion that the New Haven Railroad intended to do just what you suggested, that being extend the network south westerly, which is why they built their underground loop at South Station. These guys were no dummies and would know that that environment could not be used with steam power. They intended to run electric motors, such as what they had in the South Shore, down the outer fenced-in rails on the Boston-Providence Main Line but probably got into the classic struggle for dominance with BERy, who was looking to do the exact same thing. They would have needed approval with the Boston Transit Commission who were not going to snub BERy for a Connecticut outfit. Even a 1945 map shows the just organizing MTA wanting to do it. All four entities cancelled each other out.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Sat Mar 20, 2010 9:25 am

Double-tracking the line out to Needham Junction is already on the official long-term capital improvement needs list (albeit buried close to 20 other pretty important unfunded infrastructure needs), 0and would be an ironclad requirement if Millis commuter rail were restored and it became a two-pronged line with doubled frequencies out to Needham Junction. Unfortunately when the whole line was closed for reconstruction from 1979-1987 the bridge decks were replaced with 1-track berths. All of the abutments are 2-track width, though, so I guess it wouldn't be too hard to add a second berth. But shortsighted planning on the T's part.


The line north of Needham Junction has long been, and still is, a speculated Green Line branch off the Riverside line from Newton Highlands because the ROW continues from Needham Heights to within a few feet of the Riverside line (freight dried up a couple years ago but it's still a nominally active line). Stops would be Newton Upper Falls, Needham Highlands/128, Needham Heights, Needham Center, and a terminal + yard at Needham Junction, with presumably a CR shuttle (or Millis line transfer). Which would be one of the cheapest rapid-transit extensions to implement and would serve Needham's density well. The town is in support of it, and had a community meeting on it as late as September 2009. Only reason it really hasn't been built is because the Green Line's got enough traffic management issues westbound. Tunnel capacity can handle it with better headway management, but that will require a signal system that's not 100 years old and totally human-error operated. This may actually become feasible in the next 15-20 years since the signal system is getting more serious scrutiny for long-term replacement. The Route 128 widening project already has a funded replacement for an all-new bridge carrying the disused portion of the line over the highway (and think it'll be double-track width as future-proofing), so the T is taking steps to preserve it for future use.


The Orange Line was supposed to go out to Dedham via West Roxbury, as that was on the 1945 extensions map. The T bought an abandoned ROW to Dedham Mall that used to connect the Needham/Millis and Franklin lines between West Rox and Islington. Very easy to spot on Google Maps...kept going on the same trajectory whereas the Needham/Millis line branched right where it abruptly turns due west and the ROW narrows. OL would've replaced the CR entirely (contingent on the Green Line also being built and Millis being permanently off the table, meaning Hersey would be the only abandoned stop). Although with some slightly expensive land acquisition it could be a 3-track ROW with a single CR track preserved, as the ROW looks to at one point to have been 3 tracks out to the former West Roxbury junction. More expensive extension, but Roslindale and West Rox really need to join the rapid-transit system. Especially Rozzie because of all the buses that go there and have to clog the corridor to Forest Hills. Another one that's still on the Boston Region Metro Planning Org's Journey to 2030 transit plan, and would be much higher-priority on the T's radar if the extension out there didn't also put inescapable pressure on the GL Needham extension and also their much-loathed and vigorously buried Arborway restoration (the transfer at Forest Hills becomes very important for the west neighborhoods getting to JP Center and the bus transfers gravitating to the Rozzie area instead of direct Forest Hills-to-39.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby aline1969 » Tue May 18, 2010 9:01 pm

In the 1970's the MBTA wanted to extend the orange and green lines to Needham coming into town from both directions, Orange via todays commuter rail and green line branching off by rt. 9 between Newton Highlands and Eliott stations. The two lines would have meet either in Needham Square or Needham Heights. My grandfather was the deciding factor in Needham and he turned both lines down. He did not want crossing gates going up and down every 5-10 mins and the town was not interested in making the tracks go under or over all the intersections.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby BostonUrbEx » Tue May 18, 2010 9:46 pm

aline1969 wrote:In the 1970's the MBTA wanted to extend the orange and green lines to Needham coming into town from both directions, Orange via todays commuter rail and green line branching off by rt. 9 between Newton Highlands and Eliott stations. The two lines would have meet either in Needham Square or Needham Heights. My grandfather was the deciding factor in Needham and he turned both lines down. He did not want crossing gates going up and down every 5-10 mins and the town was not interested in making the tracks go under or over all the intersections.


Why weren't they interested in underpasses? Costs? Other than the cost I don't see a problem.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby Arborwayfan » Wed May 19, 2010 12:25 pm

I can see reasons to be uninterested in overpasses: If you dig an underpass for the road, it can be prone to flooding. If you elevate the ROW over the roads, it divides the neighborhood visually especially if you do it on a fill (In JP a century ago they called the RR ROW the Chinese Wall, and I assume they put the new one in the trench so taht even though you can't cross it it's less noisy and less visible. On posts, it can be noisy. None of it looks very pretty to most people, and the spaces under bridges can easily get dark, dirty, and scary.

I grew up within sight of hte Needham line at the Arboretum end of Fairview Street. Used to watch the Budd cars with my mom at rush hour, back when the land curved down from the Arb and slightly back up to the track. It was really just a country RR in the park for a few hundred yards then, where now there's the big embankment so you don't see the track. My parents bought the house in 1974 and when I was a kid and the line closed they thought it would come back as subway, so either that was still the early story or it had stuck in the neighbors' minds. Was there ever any doubt that something would come back? For a few years they did nothing at all on the line, and we just walked on the overgrown tracks up to where they ended near Bussey Bridge, looked for date nails, and so on, because it was neither a railroad nor a construction site, just tracks with weeds and a no visible connection to any possible moving train.

It's worth remembering that the commuter rail is much cheaper to build than rapid transit, and it has a much higher farebox ratio (fares cover more of the costs). The equipment is interchangeable with all other CR lines in Mass and in many other cities. It's much closer to off the shelf when they buy it, and it can be easily sold when they want to replace it. I suppose it could be leased to other agencies. If they electrify any lines, they can use existing coaches with electric locomotives. Trespassers ahve to get hit to die, because there is no third rail. Stations don't need turnstiles and staff, at least currently. So beefing up existing commuter rail is not actually a bad option at all. (And from where I'm sitting in Santiago de Chile, where the metro runs 6-car trains every 3 minutes or so at noon and about every 100 seconds at rush hour, as close at the signals will let then, and the passengers are barely off the platform when the next train comes in, I'm not at all sure that any Boston subway extension would attract enough volume to really justify the expense of ROW, stations, specialized equipment, etc., at least while oil is cheapish and cars are universal.)

Even with all the stops the Needham line is a lot faster way downtown than the Orange line and a bus, or than the orange line would be if it were extended. Plus, there's a class and personal preference factor: some people will ride the CR and won't ride the OL (just like some people would ride the GL in JP but won't ride the bus). CR has a different feel and a different reputation. It may make good sense to leave the line as commuter rail, possibly with double track and greater frequency, which is almost like having an express track on the subway for people boarding south of Forest Hills. The T could consider a fare system that includes commuter rail with the other stuff for single tickets not just passes, as in Salt Lake City and some other places.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby aline1969 » Wed May 19, 2010 4:01 pm

Some of the factors given about underpass/overpass are correct plus the land issue near peoples houses and business. If anything the orange line shound have been put under Washington st and had a subway station in Roslindale sq and eliminate all those bus lines that funnel down Washington to Forest Hills. Talk about diesel pollution over the years :)
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby 3rdrail » Wed May 19, 2010 4:13 pm

I was surprised that when they installed the replacement Orange Line "Southwest Corridor" that they didn't offer anything beyond rehashing a truncated 100 + year old line. A piggyback onto the Boston-Providence Main Line through Rozzie into Hyde Park, Dedham, to 128 would have been great, which just so happened to be the New Haven's and MTA's plan in essence many years ago (using outer tracks as electrified 3rd rail routes fenced off from the inner two "express" tracks.) It could have also been done out the Needham branch through the Arbs, Rozzie, Dedham, and Needham. We gained nothing by tearing down the El.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby madcrow » Wed May 19, 2010 4:18 pm

3rdrail wrote:I was surprised that when they installed the replacement Orange Line "Southwest Corridor" that they didn't offer anything beyond rehashing a truncated 100 + year old line. A piggyback onto the Boston-Providence Main Line through Rozzie into Hyde Park, Dedham, to 128 would have been great, which just so happened to be the New Haven's and MTA's plan in essence many years ago (using outer tracks as electrified 3rd rail routes fenced off from the inner two "express" tracks.) It could have also been done out the Needham branch through the Arbs, Rozzie, Dedham, and Needham. We gained nothing by tearing down the El.

The El was torn down solely to raise property values in the South End.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby 3rdrail » Wed May 19, 2010 4:21 pm

The El was torn down to make the general contractors happy who lost out on the "Southwest Expressway" project and at the same time appease the JP-Roxbury Crossing community for the loss of the Arborway streetcar line.
Last edited by 3rdrail on Wed May 19, 2010 4:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby aline1969 » Wed May 19, 2010 4:22 pm

Sounds about right... and forget the poeple of Dudley sq who now have a 60 foot dumb bus
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby 3rdrail » Wed May 19, 2010 4:25 pm

Dudley Square was a mecca of public transportation - bus, streetcar, rapid transit, trackless. What's there now ? The South End got screwed.
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Re: Needham Line Questions

Postby aline1969 » Wed May 19, 2010 4:41 pm

Dudley got screwed, theres nothing there now, people of the south end choose to live there because its so expensive and they still all have cars. I dont feel for the people of the south end. sorry :)
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