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What lies beneath

Old trolley tracks under Arsenal Street in Watertown

Jam Murphy spotted these old trolley tracks that are being exposed as crews dig up Arsenal Street in Watertown.

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And that was all before my time.

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wish we could bring them back.

cars ruin cities.

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These things are why those streets are such a clusterfuck. You see, asphalt and steel have different thermal expansion coefficients. This means when the seasons change, the steel eats a little bit into the asphalt and eventually makes a cavity into which water seeps and ice forms. And the ice crushes and displaces more of the asphalt, and then you get two big ruts down the length of the road right where the tracks are.

Mass ave in Arlington Heights is like that too. So Is Trapelo Road and Belmont street.

And if they just dug up the damn things the first time around, imagine how much headache could have been forestalled.

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These things are why those streets are such a clusterfuck.

Steel rails buried in the pavement is only one factor contributing to its failure. I see lots of streets everywhere that never had tracks on or in them, that are full of potholes only a couple of years after being re-paved. IDK if there's some quality issue with the asphalt or its application, or what. Then there's the apparent lack of planning that has recently-paved streets dug up for water or sewer line projects, then badly patched.

OTOH, I know of streets that, AFAIK, still have streetcar tracks buried in them, that seem to remain sound year after year.

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I remember a guy calling in to Car Talk saying he worked on a pothole repair team, and they were always careful to spill just a little kerosene on the road here and there, for job security.

Maybe another factor?

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but before they started repaving it last year, the surface of Trapelo Road/Belmont Street had two sets of rusty ruts down its entire length, which in places was deep and wide enough to see the tracks buried in there.

One assumes that after it's repaved and the trolleybus wire put back, it'll be time to replace the water mains (I believe they're replacing the sewer lines now).

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The tracks are often embedded in a cobble brick base, which is actually a better subsurface for a road than what cities do now, and often those roads last longer than conventionally laid roads...

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The A Linw of Green Line, Started in Brighton at Packers Conrner into Oak Square into East Newton into Watertown. Square. Last active in 1971.

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In fact, if you look at the file name of the photo ...

But Arsenal Street is on the other side of the river from the old trolley barn, so would this be an even older line that pre-dates the T, but met up with what became the A Line?

A few years ago, when Cummins Highway in Roslindale Square got repaved, you could see the old tracks to (or from) Mattapan Square were still there. Was kind of amazing to see.

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It ran from Harvard Square to the yard. Now it's the 71 trolleybus.

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Its actually on the current route of the 70 bus, that goes from Waltham, via Watertown to Central Square. The 71 bus is the one that goes to Harvard. I'm not aware of any trolley service that ran on this line, but as mentioned.. most bus lines were former trolley lines.

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Routes 71 and 73 operated as trolleys until 1958, and then converted to trackless trolley. The 70 was also a trolley to trackless trolley route, but became a bus route in 1961.

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My grandparents lived near Mattapan Square in the 30's, back when it was a primarily Irish/German/Scandinavian working class neighborhood. A few years back, my grandmother detailed some of the trolley routes she would take to get to various parts of town--one ran past the Forest Hills cemetery (possibly down Walk Hill Street?), and one ran parallel to Blue Hill Ave a few blocks west of it. I wish I had drawn a map. It was much easier to navigate the southern parts of the city, certainly. Wouldn't surprise me if there was similar infrastructure up along the river.

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Nope, the 70, like most bus routes, was once a streetcar. Last used by streetcars in 1950.

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Here is a link to a 1908 track map of streetcar lines in that part of Watertown:

http://www.wardmaps.com/viewasset.php?aid=19685

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How sad. Watertown could really use the public transit right about now.

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I hope they'll eventually start it up again. They should.

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Herb Chambers paid a ton of money for a landscaped median to kill it in Packards Corner. The same issue as JP with a God Given Right to double parking came up in Brighton Center as well.

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In Brighton? So its just not a South Boston thing?

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JP for all it's condescending granolaism is just like Southie and terribly reactionary when it comes to prioritizing parking over mass transit.

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The 57 bus.

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As a resident of Brighton, regular Green Line rider, and occasional 57 bus rider, I would not advocate bringing the A line back. The Green Line shows us that trolleys aren't any faster than buses even when they have their own medians to run in like the B and C lines. In addition, much of the route of the old A line is so narrow that the tracks would sometimes be blocked, especially in the winter, and unlike buses, trolleys can't maneuver around obstacles. Also, those streetcar tracks are dangerous for cyclists.

Now if we could afford to turn the old A line into real rapid transit, underground or elevated, that would be nice. But that would be huge $.

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The ride from Newton Corner to Yawkey (essentially the same trip as taking the 57 from Watertown Yard to Kenmore) is maybe 5 minutes on the commuter rail - but the schedule is too erratic and many trains bypass 1 or both of those stops to make it a reliable route.

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although I don't understand why there isn't, with all that development.

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You're correct that trolleys aren't any faster than buses, but that's also not the point. They're much higher capacity, and they run into a tunnel downtown, rather than either making you transfer (e.g. 57) or getting stuck in traffic (which, by the way, usually makes door-to-door trip times faster, even if your time spent on that vehicle is slower).

You are correct that the route of the old A line is narrower than the B, C, and D lines (though no narrower than the E beyond Brigham), but that doesn't mean the line gets blocked - it just means that trolleys share the road with cars, like they do on the E line, and in many other cities. And since trolleys and cars share road space, the trolley tracks are kept clear by snowplows, and don't become a convenient place to pile snow like the central reservations on the B and C lines do. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the roads the A line used to run on, apart from the T not wanting to have to share road space.

And those trolley tracks would not be an issue at all for cyclists. Tracks are only dangerous on a bike when you have to cross them at a sharp angle, as the tires are small enough to be caught in the flangeways. However, a trolley line down the middle of the road would not pose an issue because there would be plenty enough room at the side of the road for bikes, and all side streets would be crossing the tracks at a roughly 90-degree angle, which is perfectly safe.

There were two reasons the A line was discontinued:
1) The T didn't like running trolleys in mixed traffic. If they couldn't have a reservation, they didn't want to run at all. While reservations have their benefits, this is not an obstacle to running service anywhere else. There's no requirement, and nothing unique about Boston that would prevent it.
2) The T had a shortage of trolleys after the opening of the D line, so they bustituted the A line to have enough trolleys to run service on the "more important" D line as they couldn't afford to order more trolleys at the time.

Both of these were shortsighted and questionably justifiable decisions.

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When the A line was converted in 1969, the newspaper articles at the time mentioned the high accident rate on the line, and the very poor on-time performance because of delays from traffic.

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Poor OTP could easily be solved by implementing transit signal priority, something the T balks at even today, and there are a few improvements I can think of that would certainly help with the accident rate.

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And those trolley tracks would not be an issue at all for cyclists.

The old tracks certainly were an issue. When I moved to Brighton, the tracks were still there, and it was hell making a left turn over the tracks on a bike. I actually fell once, before I learned how to deal with the tracks by slowing down to a near stop and crossing them carefully. I still sometimes have to deal with the tracks in the road around Cleveland Circle when cars are blocking that part of the road. You can't move over the tracks laterally, the way you normally would when passing an obstruction.

I was very happy when the old A line tracks were removed.

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concern for T management until after they took delivery of the Boeing LRVs, which was several years after the A line was "temporarily" busitituted. One of the numerous flaws in the Boeing design was that much of the electrical equipment was mounted beneath the floor level (on the Type 7s and Type 8s, this equipment is mounted on the roof). As a result, a crash with a vehicle had the potential to charge both the LRV and the impacting vehicle with 600 volts.

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The key phrase which I'm extremely happy you pointed out is "HIGHER CAPACITY". People have become ultra-focused on speed almost as the sole measure of effective public transit.

Capacity coincides with traffic...either the lack of or abundance of it. Say there are 40 cars carrying 60 people. Put those cars in rows of 2, and go 20 deep...that takes up an incredible stretch of roadway.

Now put those same 60 people in 1 trolley. That's quite the "reclaimed" road space. It's also 40 less cars on the road to contribute to traffic...possibly traffic that would contribute to slower trolley service.

On a personal note, it also gives a potentially distracted driver, too ignorant to put their phone down for more than 10 minutes at a time, that "oh so necessary time" to mess around on their phone...which means less risk for drivers having to avoid jerks who do that.

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A Line was on the other side of the river from Watertown Square, from the trolley barn up Galen St. to Newton Corner, then to Washington Street and into Brighton toward Oak Square. When I was a young 'un the tracks and wires were still there and I remember seeing a single trolley on the route in Newton Corner late one night (maybe to keep the tracks in condition?). This would have been mid to late 80s.

IIRC the A Line tracks were paved over about 15 years ago.

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There were A line tracks visible on Washington St between Brighton Center & Oak Square, maybe as recently as 2001 or 2002 when there was a big project to remove them and rebuild the road bed.

A small spur remained at Packard's Corner on Brighton Ave a few years after - it was sometimes used to park disabled B-line trains or have special service waiting on standby (perhaps after BU or Fenway event?).

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I attended a show the other night at Agganis that ended at 10:45pm. It took 90 minutes to wait for the B Line and transfer to a #9 bus before arriving in South Boston.

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of our mismanaged infrastructure.

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These are a buried reminder of the time when we used to have extensive and affordable public transportation in this area, and more people, too.

Now its all "we can't do this that whatever". Yeah - because we are spending all our money subsidizing inefficient modes that waste enormous amounts of urban space on the roads and properties next to them.

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is because we are so paranoid about making decisions that we spend money on needless studies and dubious "mitigation" efforts and questionable "public meetings" and "neighborhood focus groups". Not to mention this obsession we have to wanting to change things instead of just replacing them.

And auto-centric projects and developments are subject to this just as much as transit projects are.

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they were there until about ten or fifteen years ago. the tracks ran straight through Brighton Center and I guess it was strictly trolley cars before I was born. we used to drive shitty cars when I was a teenager and when driving through the center the trick was to get both your tires lined up on the tracks for a nice smooth ride, however if there was even just a little bit of rain or snow you were not stopping.i saw a lot of fender benders in brighton center before the tracks came out.

also used to see what my friends and I called " the ghost train" rolling through the center at 3-4am every once in a while. it was strange seeing the occasional streetcar rolling through so late at night. I guess they still did repair work on the old trolleys at the watertown yard and this was the only way to get them there.

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Correct, Watertown yard still serviced trolleys through the 90s, IIRC. The yard itself still has trolley tracks in it, even though it only serves buses now.

The tracks were paved over in the 90s except for a short stub at Packards Corner, which disappeared last year, IIRC.

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The short stub was gone back in 2009.

It definitely outlived the rest of the A line, but I would say that by the 1990s they tore the tracks up. I even remember a referendum on this, but that could be my fuzzy memory. I don't recall too many people fighting to get the line restored, as opposed to the battles over the E line.

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The bit that disappeared in '09 (if it even lasted that long - I'm not sure it did) would be the pocket track that was used to store out-of-service trolleys. But the switch was kept in with a very short length of track until very recently.

Looking at Streetview reveals that the switch was cut out in early summer 2014, as it is still there in August 2013: https://goo.gl/maps/yZ4bE4Mu1os

But the switch is gone, with freshish asphalt around the rails in July 2014: https://goo.gl/maps/BtYQp5YomjS2

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I do remember the tracks ending on Brighton Avenue, so I looked at that side.

I can also say that in the 1980s I actually took a trolley out to Watertown, but as part of a special excursion. We even got to use the loop at Kenmore. Sadly, we had to stop at Heath Street that day.

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chartered the Type 5 that's now sitting at Boylston for a day and toured the entire Green Line? I recall that excursion well.

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But it was an experience I will always remember.

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My wife and I got married in '99. We were living near Brookline Village, she was student teaching at Watertown High and I was working for a company in Stoneham. Every morning our first couple of months of marriage that fall we drove up Washington St and turned onto Brighton Av to head for Oak Square and up to Newton Corner and on to Watertown where I'd drop her off. Traffic was hell because that was when they were ripping out some of the old A.

I don't think there was any connection between the A and Watertown yard at that point in time. Rails connecting Oak Square and Watertown were long gone, so far as I know. Where there had been occasional traffic was to the old car barn at Oak Square.

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The tracks were in place all the way to Watertown until about 1992. The carhouse at Watertown was still used to repair streetcars from when the line closed in 1969 to about 1994. They trucked cars there via flatbed for the last couple of years the shop was opened, but until about 1992, they did make non-revenue moves, usually after service hours, to get equipment back and forth. The historical group, the Boston Street Railway Association operated several charted excursions in the 1970s and 1980s that included using the Watertown line.

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