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The MBTA subway system. For more detailed maps, visit the T's website at www.mbta.com .
The MBTA subway system. For more detailed maps, visit the T's website at www.mbta.com. (Globe Staff Graphic)

Four colors, with many quirks

Email|Print| Text size + By Mac Daniel
Globe Staff / July 25, 2004

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, the nation's first public transit system and its oldest subway, does not always wear its history well. It can be a frustrating maze. It's at times dirty and leaking, constantly under construction, and in places monstrously bleak. Still, we love it. Kind of.

Though T officials have pledged to have the system fully prepped for July's visiting delegates, there are still a host of quirks along the line that lost Charlie. Once understood, they can make maneuvering throughout the city, Cambridge, and its environs as easy as, say, winning a war without an exit strategy, electing a president, or performing an at-home angioplasty.

Here, then, are some T tips to help you get around. If you get lost, just ask a passerby or one of a host of promised T ambassadors. If the Red Sox have won within the past month, you should get a polite New England answer, which may confuse you all the more.

First and foremost, the T uses "inbound" and "outbound" as directions.

"Inbound" refers to any train headed into downtown Boston and one of four stations: Park Street on the Red Line; State Street on the Blue Line; Downtown Crossing on the Orange Line, and Government Center on the Green Line. Within those stations, "inbound" and "outbound" are, thankfully, not used.

Once you're in the subway system, it's a free ride wherever you want to go until you leave the turnstiles. (But not at Copley, where there is no free transfer from outbound to inbound or vice versa. Use Arlington instead. And this doesn't apply to the Silver Line, which is really a glorified bus route anyway.)

Token price: $1.25, still one of the cheapest rides in the nation.

And if you're depending on the train driver to shout out your stops in clear and concise language, don't. The T has a notoriously lousy public-announcement system, and the PA systems on the trains are even worse, sounding like Darth Vader holding a glass to his speaker-thing while dealing with a cold. Keep your eyes on the stops and the maps posted in the cars.

Oh, yeah -- since Boston is the original home of the Puritans, the T shuts down early, with trains and buses making their last runs by 1 a.m. There is a Nite Owl bus service that runs above some of the system's major subway lines, but after some recent cutbacks due to lack of ridership, the runs are sketchy at best, at times turning into buses filled with loud people swaying even when the bus is standing dead still. Better to take a cab.

Green Line

The only line that deals with Boston's notoriously obnoxious street traffic, as well as one of the most popular lines in the system, the Green Line is at times a frustrating mess. It can be unbelievably crowded, street traffic often plays havoc with the schedule, and the sophisticated new cars have a history of derailing, though the problem appears to have been solved.

Named the Green Line either because the subway and trolley lines connect Boston with its leafy suburbs or in honor of the city's Emerald Necklace of parks (accounts differ), the line has four branches designated by letter: B goes to Boston College in Newton; C goes to Cleveland Circle in Brookline; D goes to Riverside in Newton; and E goes to Heath Street in Jamaica Plain.

Is there an A line? There was, but the service was discontinued in the late 1960s.

* On this line, nothing is standard. Some outbound service is free, you board at the front of the trolley if there's no ticket booth, some drivers will take dollar bills, others won't. Be patient. If you're confused, you have two options: Ask someone for help, or continue to be confused -- maybe even babble a bit -- and you might get a free ride.

* Since North Station will be closed during the convention, bus shuttles will be used to transfer passengers to and around the FleetCenter and to the nearest Green Line train at Haymarket.

* For stops at Government Center, Park Street, Boylston, Arlington, and Copley: Take any train.

* Hynes Convention Center/ICA and Kenmore (the stop for Fenway Park): Take B, C, or D train.

* Prudential and Symphony: Take E train.

* Coming back to Haymarket, where the line will end as a security precaution during the convention: Take D or E train.

* See a train with a red line through the letter? The train only goes part-way along the designated branch. Ask the driver or a T rep where the last stop is.

Red Line

The line gets its color designation because, at one time, it terminated at Harvard Square (and crimson is Harvard University's school color). It goes well past Harvard now and into neighboring Somerville and bustling Davis Square. The Red Line going outbound across

the Charles River to Cambridge offers a stunning view of the Boston skyline, even for us jaded commuters.

* Most Red Line trains stop at all stations between Alewife in North Cambridge and Andrew in South Boston. Major destinations: Harvard and JFK/UMass, a shuttle trip from UMass-Boston and the JFK Library.

* The last transfer point between the Braintree and Ashmont branches on the southern end of the line is JFK/UMass.

Blue Line

Named because it goes underwater, the line connects Boston with East Boston, Logan International Airport (you actually have to take a shuttle bus to the airport, but the station is brand new), and Revere.

* If you like betting on horses and dogs, the Blue Line connects Boston to both Suffolk Downs and the Wonderland Greyhound Park.

Orange Line

So named because the line once ran above Boston's Washington Street, formerly Orange Street. It goes through the South End and into Roxbury and Jamaica Plain toward the south, and north to Charlestown, Medford, and Malden.

* No stops at North Station during the convention, thankyouverymuch. The nearest place to catch an Orange Line train is a few blocks away at Haymarket.

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