An outbound Needham Line train at Bellevue station in 2018
|System||MBTA Commuter Rail|
|Operator(s)||Keolis North America|
|Line length||9.3 miles (15.0 km)|
|Track gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm)|
The Needham Line is a branch of the MBTA Commuter Rail system, running west from downtown Boston, Massachusetts through Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, West Roxbury, and the town of Needham. The second-shortest line of the system at just 13.7 miles long, it carries 8,218 daily riders. Unlike the MBTA's eleven other commuter rail lines, the Needham Line is not a former intercity mainline; instead, it is composed of a former branch line, a short segment of one intercity line (running in the reverse of its original direction), and a 1906-built connector.
The Boston and Providence Railroad (B&P) opened its main line from Boston through Toll Gate (Forest Hills) to Providence in 1834. A branch line from Forest Hills to Dedham via West Roxbury was opened on June 3, 1850 by the B&P. South Street (Roslindale), Central (Bellevue), and West Roxbury all opened with the branch; Highland was added around 1855.
Charles River Branch Railroad
On June 1, 1853, the Charles River Branch Railroad was extended from Newton Upper Falls into Needham as the first stage of a line to Dover and beyond. The railroad was not able to follow its original plan to go through the East Village, Needham's historical center, because one landowner refused to sell; instead, it was routed to Great Plain station in Great Plain Village further to the east. Highlandville (later Needham Heights) opened around 1860. The line was used to haul gravel from Needham quarries to fill in the Back Bay from 1859 to the 1880s. The line was extended southwest to Medway in 1861 and to Woonsocket in 1863. In 1886, the Boston and Albany Railroad extended the original Charles River Branch Railroad line from Cook Junction to its own main line at Riverside, forming the complete Highland Branch.
The Needham Cutoff opened on November 4, 1906 from West Roxbury to Needham Junction, allowing trains from the former New York and New England Railroad to reach Boston without needing to use the Highland Branch. Building the cutoff required a significant length of difficult rock cuts - "one of the heaviest pieces of short railroad construction ever attempted in New England" - reaching a depth of 57 feet (17 m) at Great Plain Avenue. Originally Needham Junction was the only stop on the cutoff; Bird's Hill opened as an infill station in 1917.
The segment from West Roxbury to Dedham was subsequently abandoned; the segment from Needham Junction to Cook Junction saw reduced passenger service. Loop service jointly run by the B&A and the New Haven operated over the Cutoff and the Highland Branch via Needham from 1911 to 1914; after that, most Needham trains originated at Needham Heights or Newton Highlands. Service between Newton Highlands and Newton Upper Falls ended in 1927, and between Needham Heights and Newton Upper Falls in 1932, leaving Needham Heights as the terminus of the line.
The West Medway Branch shared the line from Forest Hills to Needham Junction until 1938 and from 1940 to 1955; from 1955 to 1967, the line operated as a shuttle from West Medway (Millis after April 1966) to Needham Junction, with the single Budd RDC used for the shuttle being coupled to a Needham Heights train for the remainder of the journey to South Station. The remaining line was purchased by the MBTA from Penn Central on January 27, 1973, along with most of the other southside lines. The commuter rail stop at Forest Hills, not used since 1940 as the adjacent Washington Street Elevated provided more frequent service, was reopened in June 1973.
When the plans to replace the Elevated were drawn up in the 1960s, the new Orange Line was planned to continue past Forest Hills to Needham Heights, replacing the Needham Line. However, as the project was stalled over the next few decades, funding was found only to complete the replacement portion to Forest Hills in 1987, and so the Needham Line was kept as a locomotive-hauled commuter service. During Southwest Corridor construction from 1979 to 1987, the line was closed; upon the initial closure, service levels on the nearby Framingham Line were increased substantially to compensate for the loss of Needham service.
Historically, the line has had Saturday service but not Sunday service. Experimental Sunday service was operated from July 11, 1992 until February 14, 1993 along with other new southside weekend service, some of which was made permanent. As part of systemwide service cuts due to budget shortfalls, Saturday service was eliminated on July 7, 2012. $300,000 in funding for Saturday service restoration was included in the state's 2015 budget as early as August 2014. On October 7, 2014, the MBTA announced the return of Saturday service on the Needham Line, as well as weekend service on the Greenbush Line and Plymouth/Kingston Line. The restored weekend service began on December 27, 2014. The line will be shut down on weekends in September through November 2017 for the installation of Positive Train Control equipment in order to meet a 2020 federal deadline.
|Miles||Zone fare||City||Station||Opening date||Connections and notes|
|0.0||1A||Boston||South Station||1899||MBTA: Red Line subway; all south side Commuter Rail lines; 4, 7, 11, 448, 449, and 459 buses |
Amtrak: Acela Express, Lake Shore Limited, and Northeast Regional
|1.2||1A||Back Bay||1899||MBTA: Orange Line subway; Providence/Stoughton Line, Framingham/Worcester Line, and Franklin Line; 10, 39, and 170 buses|
Amtrak: Acela Express, Lake Shore Limited, and Northeast Regional
|2.2||1A||Ruggles||May 4, 1987||MBTA: Orange Line subway; Providence/Stoughton Line and Franklin Line|
|5.0||1A||Forest Hills||1909||Orange Line subway|
|6.4||1||Roslindale Village||c. 1835||MBTA Bus: 14, 30, 35, 36, 37, 51|
|7.2||1||Bellevue||c. 1835||MBTA Bus: 35, 36, 37, 38,|
|7.6||1||Highland||c. 1835||MBTA Bus: 35, 36, 37|
|8.0||1||West Roxbury||c. 1835||MBTA Bus: 35, 36, 37|
|12.0||2||Needham Junction||c. 1870||MBTA Bus: 59|
|12.7||2||Needham Center||c. 1870||MBTA Bus: 59|
|13.7||2||Needham Heights||c. 1870||MBTA Bus: 59|
- "Commuter Rail Ridership Counts" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. January 28, 2019.
- "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014.
- Humphrey, Thomas J.; Clark, Norton D. (1985). Boston's Commuter Rail: The First 150 Years. Boston Street Railway Association. pp. 21–24, 29, 43–46. ISBN 9780685412947.
- Roy, John H. Jr. (2007). A Field Guide to Southern New England Railroad Depots and Freight Houses. Branch Line Press. p. 195. ISBN 9780942147087.
- Clarke, George Kuhn (1911). History of Needham, Massachusetts, 1711-1911. University Press. pp. 413–416, 420, 422 – via Internet Archive.
- Newman, William A.; Holton, Wilfred E. (2006). Boston's Back Bay: The Story of America's Greatest Nineteenth-century Landfill Project. Northeastern University Press. pp. 95–111. ISBN 9781555536510.
- "LAST RAIL LAID.: Work on Boston's Newest Railroad is Progressing Rapidly--The Air Line From West Roxbury to Needham Has Been Cut Through Solid Rock Part of the Way". Boston Daily Globe. 4 February 1906. Retrieved 1 June 2014 – via Proquest Historical Newspapers.
- Belcher, Jonathan (19 March 2016). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). NETransit. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
- Dame, Jonathan (1 August 2014). "Saturday service restored on Needham line". Wicked Local Needham. Retrieved 2 August 2014.
- "Commuter Rail: Weekend Service Returning on 3 Lines" (Press release). Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 7 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
- "Commuter Rail Positive Train Control (PTC): Update and Communications Plan for Suspension of Weekend Service" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. March 27, 2017. p. 6.
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