Monday, December 12, 2011

Atlantic Avenue Trains Times Two

South Station with Atlantic Avenue Elevated line.


As some will know, there was once an elevated train line that ran over Atlantic avenue and around the waterfront of the city. The line was part of the original rapid transit plan for the city, a partner to the underground Washington street line. The postcard above shows the elevated structure at South Station. The line followed a loop along Atlantic avenue, Commercial street and Causeway street to North Station.



Boston's rapid transit lines, 1930s.


What fewer people may know is that the Atlantic avenue elevated line was a branch of the main line that would run from Forest Hills to Everett. The map above shows the system with its stops. Coming from the south, a train could either go straight into the downtown tunnel, or turn right at Herald street, and left again on Harrison avenue, in to Beach street, turn right, and then left again and come alongside South Station and follow Atlantic avenue from there. This waterfront route gave people access to South Station, and to what was then a working waterfront, including the ferries that ran both north and south.






Possibly the State Street station.



Rowe's Wharf station.


Atlantic avenue El, just before being torn down.


During the 1920s, jobs on the waterfront were disappearing. The rise of the automobile and the construction of the Sumner Tunnel to East Boston helped kill the ferry service, and ridership declined on the Atlantic avenue line. A wreck at the turn at Harrison avenue and Beach street caused the through route from the main line to Atlantic avenue to be cut, and the Atlantic avenue line became a shuttle between South and North Stations. In 1942, the elevated tracks were taken down and scrapped.


Atlantic Avenue El coming down.




Train running under Atlantic Avenue elevated tracks.


But there's more to Atlantic avenue and trains!


Union Freight Railroad tracks running down Atlantic avenue and spur lines to the wharves and markets (click on image to see larger version).


Atlantic avenue was also the route of a street-level railroad line, the Union Freight Railroad. The line allowed rail access directly to the waterfront wharves and the markets and warehouses on the land side of Atlantic avenue. There is a mention of a 99 year lease for the Atlantic avenue right of way, but apparently the company gave up its rights as the Boston waterfront lost its freight traffic.



Oops! Boxcar goes off the tracks under the Atlantic avenue El.

16 comments:

  1. interesting! south station looks so different with those tracks in front of it.

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  2. Wow Mark, you always find the coolest old photos. I've never seen these before. The route these tracks ran on is now a park and walkway that my sister and I always walk along to get to the North End. Sometimes I wish those trains were still around because it's a bit of a hike to the North End.

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  3. Maybe this explains the old railroad tracks embedded in the street near the federal courthouse -- somthing I've always wondered about. Thanks for a great article and the great pictures!

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    1. The courthouse is on the other side of the harbour. They were part of the New York and New England railroad.

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  4. The map above is from between 1908 (When the Washington Street Tunnel opened) and 1912, when the Park Street Under to Harvard phase of what is now the Red Line opened.

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  5. Thanks for the very cool photos. Good stuff.

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  6. The proposed "Riverbank Subway"in the 1908 map is pretty interesting too. there's more information at the great railroad.net : http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=65&t=67513

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  7. Nick - thanks for the link. I was only vaguely aware of the riverbank proposal, even though it's on the white map above. Railroad.net is a great forum for info.

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  8. If you are interested in the Union Freight, find a copy of "The Railroad That Came Out at Night" - great information about railroading around Boston. I remember coming across the occasional box car in the middle of Atlantic Avenue riding from Dorchester to Gloucester on Sundays in the early '50s.

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  9. I was born in 1944. I remember riding a ferry to East Boston from Atlantic Avenue but I haven't found any information on it

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    1. Up until 1940, 4 years before you were born and 62 years before I was born, the Narrow Gauge Boston, Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad operated a ferry from East Boston to Atlantic Avenue (Rowes Wharf) and back. Parts of the right of way is now used by the MBTA' s Blue line. I believe that the ferry is now part of the MBTA commuter ferry but I am not 100% sure.

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  10. The ferry from Atlantic Avenue-East Boston used to be the good old' Boston Revere Beach and Lynn Railroad. Sadly the narrow gauge railroad and ferry was abandoned in 1940. 62 years before I was born.
    If you can find a map of the Union Freight Railroad in the 60's that would be great. Thanks for posting this useful information! Keep up the great work.

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  11. Where did you find the image of the box cars under the elevated? Can you share a link to the original source?
    - Eric

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  12. Probably from Flickr, I'm guessing it was the BPL online collection.

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  13. JP GAL. The tracks near the courthouse were of the New England and New York Railroad.

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