Old Colony Lines

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Old Colony Lines
Inbound Campello.JPG
A train leaves Campello station on the Middleborough/Lakeville Line
TypeCommuter rail
SystemMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
LocaleSoutheastern Massachusetts
TerminiBoston South Station
Middleborough/Lakeville Line: Middleborough/Lakeville
Kingston/Plymouth Line: Kingston, Plymouth
Stations6 (Middleborough/Lakeville Line)
7 (Kingston/Plymouth Line)
4 shared
Daily ridershipKingston/Plymouth Line: 6,089 (2018)
Middleborough/Lakeville Line: 6,863 (2018)
Opened1997 (reopened)
ClosedPrevious NYNH&H service ended on June 30, 1959
OwnerMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Operator(s)Keolis North America
Line lengthMiddleborough/Lakeville Line: 35.6 miles (57.3 km)
Kingston/Plymouth Line: 35.1 miles (56.5 km)[1]
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Route map

South Station
Amtrak MBTA Commuter Rail Silver Line (MBTA)
Quincy Center
South Weymouth
Middleboro Yard
Kingston/Route 3
Kingston Yard
Buzzards Bay

The Old Colony Lines are branches of the MBTA Commuter Rail system, connecting downtown Boston, Massachusetts with the South Shore and cranberry-farming country to the south and southeast. The Middleborough/Lakeville Line winds south through Holbrook, Brockton, Bridgewater, Middleborough, and Lakeville, and the Kingston/Plymouth Line heads southeast from Braintree, roughly following Route 3, toward Weymouth, Abington, Whitman, Hanson, Halifax, Kingston, and Plymouth. The Greenbush Line, part of the original Old Colony system but restored separately, heads east from north of Braintree station towards Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate. In fiscal year 2013, the Middleborough/Lakeville line averaged 7,182 and the Kingston/Plymouth Line 6,560 one-way riders per weekday, for a combined daily ridership of 13,742 - a substantial decrease from daily averages exceeding 19,000 several years before.[1]


The Old Colony system in 1893

Historically, train service extended beyond the current terminus of the three branches. Greenbush service continued on a now-abandoned right-of-way to Kingston, where it joined the Plymouth line. The Plymouth line extended into downtown Plymouth, and a branch connected to Middleborough through Carver. Trains continued southeast from Middleboro to four different termini on Cape Cod: Woods Hole, Hyannis, Chatham, and Provincetown. Another major branch continued southwest to New Bedford, and another to Newport via Fall River.

A number of minor branches also extended off the main lines. These included branches to Hull, East Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, North Hanover, and Fairhaven. None of these branches are currently operational.

The Old Colony under the New Haven[edit]

Passenger service along the Old Colony Railroad was discontinued in 1959. Despite high ridership, this line had been a source of problems for the New Haven Railroad, which leased the system. In 1935, the bankrupt New Haven attempted to default on its lease and return ownership of the line to the Old Colony stockholders; however, this drove the Old Colony, which had not run trains in over thirty years, to bankruptcy in one day, and the New Haven was forced to run the trains by court order, with a provision that, if losses exceeded a certain amount, they could abandon the line. The Old Colony Division enjoyed a brief renaissance in the early 1950s under the pro-commuter term of President Frederick C. Dumaine, Jr.; however, this was not to last. The New Haven's accountants used somewhat dubious practices to shift a greater amount of debt to the Old Colony Division, and the railroad announced that all passenger service would end in 1958. An emergency subsidy was approved by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for another year, and service finally ended in 1959 with the opening of the Southeast Expressway, which runs alongside the Old Colony right-of-way in many sections. The approaches to the bridge over the Neponset River burned soon afterwards, making any restoration of service significantly more difficult.

1971-present: Restoration of service[edit]

A train at South Weymouth station on the Plymouth/Kingston Line in 2013

As congestion and pollution became issues on the Expressway, projects were undertaken to revive service on these railways. In 1971, the South Shore Branch of the Red Line opened to Quincy Center, and, in 1980, it was extended to Braintree. The line, with state-of-the-art park-and-ride stations, proved an instant success, lending strength to proposals to restore commuter rail service to the Old Colony lines via Braintree. The Cape Cod and Hyannis Railroad ran passenger service from Cape Cod to Braintree (and briefly to Attleboro) in the 1980s, but failed when its state subsidy was ended amid budget cuts.

Middleborough/Lakeville and Plymouth/Kingston[edit]

Freight service continued on the Cape Main Line through Brockton and Middleborough and the Old Colony mainline to Plymouth even after passenger service ended, so the lines were not abandoned when restoration planning began around 1990. Both lines received a full restoration for 59 miles per hour (95 km/h) passenger service, including passing sidings and fully handicapped accessible stations with full-length high-level platforms. Tracks were laid parallel to the Red Line along the original right-of-way, including a new two-track bridge over the Neponset River. The first trains ran on September 26, 1997, with full rush hour service on the 29th.[2]

The fork at the end of the Kingston/Plymouth Line (which lacks a wye) creates operational issues - a single train cannot serve both terminal stations efficiently. Three daily trips run to both Kingston and Plymouth sequentially (of the other trips on the line, one midday trip runs only to Plymouth, while the rest serve only Kingston), which doubles travel time from Kingston to Boston during much of the day (Kingston is first on all weekday and one weekend trip). Between Kingston and Plymouth, the train is simultaneously acting as an inbound train (from the first station to Boston) and an outbound train (from Boston to the second station).[3]


The trench through downtown Hingham that caused substantial delays to the completion of the Greenbush Line

The third leg of the project, the Greenbush Line, was planned to reopen at the same time. However, this line faced a number of different challenges. Unlike the other two, the line had been entirely abandoned by the 1970s, without even freight service running, so the right-of-way had to be completely rebuilt. In addition, the line had many more grade crossings than the other two, and some residents voiced concerns about the noise and disruption caused by the train running on the old right-of-way through downtown Hingham. After a number of lawsuits, the MBTA and Hingham came to an agreement to build a tunnel underneath the downtown area, which allowed the project to again progress. Revenue service began on October 31, 2007.[2] On schedules and maps, the Greenbush Line is treated as a separate service and not part of the Old Colony Lines.

Weekend service and tie replacement[edit]

Plymouth station, which is only served by off-peak weekday and weekend trains (the latter service was temporarily suspended from 2012 to 2014).

Weekend and off-peak service on the Old Colony Lines (including the first service to Plymouth, which is not served during rush hours) began as planned on November 29, 1997, two months after rush hour service began. Greenbush service included weekend and off-peak service from the beginning of operations.[2]

In May 2010, the MBTA announced a plan to temporarily stop all weekend service and to replace non-peak weekday service with buses. The shutdowns were for the purposes of replacing defective concrete ties (which had begun failing far earlier than expected) with wooden ones.[4] Tie replacement started in March 2011 and was substantially complete by September, although the full project - which includes grade crossing and bridge work - was expected to take until the summer of 2012.[5] The project was fully completed by 26 May 2012.

On March 28, 2012, the MBTA announced that Plymouth/Kingston Line service would no longer operate on weekends, as with the Needham Line and Greenbush Line. The move came as a part of fare increases and service cuts in order to close the agency's operating budget shortfall for the following year. Weekend service was eliminated beginning July 7, 2012; weekend service was kept for the first week of the new fiscal year to allow for service on the July 4th holiday. Middleborough/Lakeville service continued to operate on weekends.[2]

In early 2014, local and state officials began agitating for the return of weekend service on the Plymouth/Kingston Line.[6][7] On October 7, 2014, the MBTA announced the return of weekend service on the Plymouth/Kingston Line, as well as weekend service on the Greenbush Line and Saturday service on the Needham Line. The restored weekend service began on December 27, 2014.[8]

Prior to the return of weekend service on the Kingston/Plymouth Line, the MBTA held special weekend service to Plymouth for 2 weekends leading up to the 2014 Thanksgiving holiday. The two trains per day were intended only for tourists going to Plymouth; they did not run on schedules allowing day trips to Boston.[9]

Cape Cod service[edit]

The CapeFLYER runs over the Middleborough/Lakeville Line on its way to Hyannis station (pictured) on summer weekends

Original plans for the reopening of the Middleborough/Lakeville Line in the 1990s called for service to Wareham or beyond; however, plans were scaled back, and, when the line reopened in 1997, service was restored only to Middleborough/Lakeville.[citation needed] In 2007, the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization released a report evaluating the possibility of extending regular full-year commuter rail service to Buzzards Bay (on the north side of the Cape Cod Canal opposite Bourne), including several intermediate stops.[10] However, other projects (such as the restoration of service on the Greenbush Line) received priority, and the extension to Buzzards Bay was not constructed.

The CapeFLYER service to Hyannis on Cape Cod via the Middleborough/Lakeville Line began in May 2013. The service is operated by the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA), in collaboration with the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT); it uses standard MBTA commuter equipment. The CapeFLYER is the first regular passenger service to Cape Cod from Boston since the 1960s.[2]

Buzzards Bay station, a possible future terminus of the Middleborough/Lakeville Line

The relative success of the CapeFLYER has brought new attention to the possibility of extending the Middleborough/Lakeville Line to Buzzards Bay. The possibility was seriously discussed before the end of its first summer season.[11] In September 2013, the Wareham Chamber of Commerce announced that, based on the success of the CapeFLYER, the Chamber supported the extension of commuter rail service to Buzzards Bay.[12] The Buzzards Bay town selectmen similarly supported the idea later that year, and a public forum was held in January 2014.[13][14]

Bourne’s Transportation Advisory Committee began studying the possibility in mid-2014, with the addition of work by MassDOT's Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS) in November 2014.[15] A Local Impact Report released in April 2015 proposed an 800 foot (240 m) high-level platform and two parking alternatives: a 120-space modification of the existing lot, or a 400-to-600-space structure (including a realignment of Academy Drive). The CTPS data estimated ridership at 875 daily riders if all Middleborough trains were extended to Buzzards Bay, or slightly fewer with a limited number of trains.[15]

Bourne voted to join the MBTA district in 2015 and began paying an assessment in mid 2016 (for FY 2017), although there was no guarantee that commuter rail service would be provided in the fiscally constrained environment.[16] For FY 2017, Bourne paid $41,707 to the MBTA (plus an existing $88,429 to the CCRTA for existing bus service).[17] MassDOT began planning a possible commuter rail trial service in October 2015. In February 2016, state representatives and CCRTA administrator Thomas Cahir said that the state wished to begin trial service during FY 2017—possibly by the end of 2016.[17] As of November 2018, commuter rail service has not been extended to Cape Cod.

Station List[edit]

Kingston/Plymouth Line[edit]

Fare zone City Station Connections and notes
1A Boston Handicapped/disabled access South Station 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
Handicapped/disabled access JFK/UMass MBTA: Red Line subway; Greenbush Line; Middleborough/Lakeville Line
1 Quincy Handicapped/disabled access Quincy Center MBTA: Red Line subway; Greenbush Line; Middleborough/Lakeville Line
2 Braintree Handicapped/disabled access Braintree MBTA: Red Line subway; Middleborough/Lakeville Line
3 Weymouth Handicapped/disabled access South Weymouth
4 Abington Handicapped/disabled access Abington
5 Whitman Handicapped/disabled access Whitman
6 Hanson Handicapped/disabled access Hanson
7 Halifax Handicapped/disabled access Halifax
8 Kingston Handicapped/disabled access Kingston
Plymouth Handicapped/disabled access Plymouth

Middleborough/Lakeville Line[edit]

Fare zone City Station Connections and notes
1A Boston Handicapped/disabled access South Station 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
Handicapped/disabled access JFK/UMass MBTA: Red Line subway; Greenbush Line; Kingston/Plymouth Line
1 Quincy Handicapped/disabled access Quincy Center MBTA: Red Line subway; Greenbush Line; Kingston/Plymouth Line
2 Braintree Handicapped/disabled access Braintree MBTA: Red Line subway; Kingston/Plymouth Line
3 Randolph Handicapped/disabled access Holbrook/ Randolph
4 Brockton Handicapped/disabled access Montello
Handicapped/disabled access Brockton
5 Handicapped/disabled access Campello
6 Bridgewater Handicapped/disabled access Bridgewater
8 Middleborough Handicapped/disabled access Middleborough/ Lakeville


  1. ^ a b "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e Belcher, Jonathan (23 April 2012). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). NETransit. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  3. ^ Dungca, Nicole (4 October 2015). "Rail trip from Kingston shows MBTA's 'scheduling anomalies'". Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  4. ^ "MBTA Old Colony tie project will require weekend shutdowns". Trains Magazine. 4 May 2010. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  5. ^ "Old Colony Commuter Rail Tie Replacement Project". Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Archived from the original on 2011-09-19. Retrieved 27 September 2011.
  6. ^ Barnes, Jennette (9 April 2014). "Revival of train service sought". Boston Globe. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  7. ^ Trufant, Jessica (24 June 2014). "Push for restored weekend rail service continues". Patriot Ledger. Retrieved 5 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Commuter Rail: Weekend Service Returning on 3 Lines" (Press release). Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 7 October 2014. Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  9. ^ "Take the Special Seasonal Weekend Train to Plymouth!" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  10. ^ Humphrey, Thomas J. (January 2007). "Buzzards Bay Commuter Rail Extension Feasibility Study" (PDF). Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization – via United States Department of Transportation National Transportation Library.
  11. ^ Kinsella, James (16 August 2013). "Cape Commuter Rail Is A Real Possibility". Cape News. Archived from the original on 19 August 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  12. ^ "Chamber: Bring on commuter rail to Wareham, Buzzards Bay". Wicked Local Wareham. 25 September 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  13. ^ "Commuter rail return to Buzzards Bay: viable, or romantic notion?". Wicked Local Buzzards Bay. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2014.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ Rausch, Michael J. (27 January 2014). "Pros And Cons of Bourne Commuter Rail Discussed At Forum". Cape News. Archived from the original on 17 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  15. ^ a b "Buzzards Bay Commuter Rail Extension Local Impact Report" (PDF). Cape Cod Commission. April 2015. Retrieved 26 February 2016.
  16. ^ Vaccaro, Adam (15 February 2016). "This Cape Cod town is paying for rail service that doesn't exist". Boston Globe. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  17. ^ a b Rausch, Michael J. (26 February 2016). "Details Expected Soon About Buzzards Bay Commuter Trains". Cape News. Retrieved 26 February 2016.

External links[edit]

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