To the Boston peoples of 1889, it seemed almost impossible that a thin copper wire dangling from the skies could propel pedestrians around their great city at high speeds. Less than 80 years prior that, it was a technical revolution to install a mechanism to accommodate horses that could haul loads of passengers smoothly over through the city by gliding on rails imbedded directly into the street. This simple form of transportation allowed people to go anywhere, even in the worst of winter. But more could be said about running on rails. A hundred years ago, streets were full of ruts, mud and bumps. Operating a car on rails assured a more comfortable ride, and horses could pull greater loads at much higher speeds.
Officially known as the East Boston Tunnel & Revere Extension by the MTA since 1952, was redesignated, “Blue” on August 26, 1965 as part of the new MBTA’s color-based re-branding. The color blue represented water, as the line passes under Boston Harbor and travels near the coast for much of its length.
In the early part of the 20th century, the Blue Line was actually connected to the Red Line by a direct rail connection. Rail cars from the Blue Line could emerge from a ramp portal surfacing between Joy Street and Russell Street, just beyond Bowdoin station, and run on tracks down Cambridge Street to connect to the Red Line near what is now Charles/MGH station. Because the tracks were unpowered, individual cars had to be towed along the street at night.
The Blue Line has seen several types of cars in its history. Because the route is a former narrow gauge line, and the tunnel was originally designed for streetcars, Blue Line cars were designed smaller and shorter. The first series of cars were the 0500 series PCC designed cars. These were another heavy rail PCC car and ran from the beginning of the Revere extension, to 1979. These cars, built by Pullman – Standard were smaller than the traditional heavy rail car. They also featured the one person cab, that allowed for viewing out the front of the train.
From 1979 to 2011 service on the Blue Line was operated by the “01200″ series, built by Hawker Siddely. These cars were based on the designs of the PA-3 fleet that Hawker-Siddeley built for the PATH system in 1972.
Beginning in 2007, the fleet was slowly replaced with 94 “0700″ series stainless steel cars built by Siemens. The cars are 48 feet long and 9 feet 3 inches wide, stainless steel, and have two pairs of doors per side. These cars now provide the entirety of service on the Blue Line.
Like all MBTA lines, the Blue Line tracks are standard gauge heavy rail.
Blue Line cars are unique among rapid transit vehicles in Boston, in that they use both third rail power and pantograph current pickup from overhead catenary wires. Trains switch between the two modes at Airport station, near where the line transitions between running in a tunnel and running above ground. Previously, the switchover was made underground at Maverick station, but the temporary loss of power and lighting during switchover is less disconcerting above ground. The overhead pantograph was implemented to avoid third rail icing that frequently occurs in winter. Third rail power is used in the original Blue Line tunnels, which are smaller than most modern subway tunnels.