Fitchburg Cutoff

Last updated

Fitchburg Cutoff
Somerville Highlands station 1907 postcard.jpg
Somerville Highlands station on a 1907 postcard
Overview
Owner Boston and Maine Railroad
Termini
Stations3
History
Opened1870, 1881
Closed1979–80, 1983, 2007
Technical
Line length2.8 mi (4.5 km)
Track gauge 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm)
Route map

Contents

BSicon CONTg.svg
BSicon eHST.svg
Hill Crossing
BSicon STR+l.svg
BSicon xABZgr.svg
BSicon eABZg+l.svg
BSicon exKRZ+xl.svg
BSicon exCONTfq.svg
BSicon CONTf.svg
BSicon exSTR.svg
Fitchburg Division to North Station
BSicon exHST.svg
North Cambridge
BSicon exHST.svg
West Somerville
BSicon exHST.svg
Willow Avenue
closed ca. 1887
BSicon exHST.svg
Somerville Highlands
BSicon xABZg+l.svg
BSicon CONTfq.svg
BSicon eHST.svg
Somerville Junction
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to North Station

The Fitchburg Cutoff (also called the Freight Cutoff) was a rail line running 2.8 miles (4.5 km) from Brighton Street (Hills Crossing station) in Belmont, Massachusetts, to Somerville Junction in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was constructed in two segments in 1870 and 1881 to connect the Lexington Branch and Central Massachusetts Railroad to the Boston and Lowell Railroad. Passenger service lasted until 1927. Freight service ended in 1979–80 to allow construction of the Red Line Northwest Extension; the line was abandoned in three sections in 1979, 1983, and 2007.

All of the right-of-way, except a short section near Alewife station, has been reused for three connecting rail trails: the Fitchburg Cutoff Path from Brighton Street to Alewife station, the Alewife Linear Park from Alewife to Massachusetts Avenue, and the Somerville Community Path east of Massachusetts Avenue. The paths are part of the Mass Central Rail Trail.

Route

West Somerville station and grade crossings West Somerville station and Davis Square grade crossings, December 1903.jpg
West Somerville station and grade crossings

The line was 2.8 miles (4.5 km) long, running approximately east–west. [1] [2] :278 The west end connected to the Central Massachusetts Branch at Hill Crossing station at Brighton Street in Belmont, parallel to the Fitchburg Division main line (now the MBTA Fitchburg Line). It crossed the Lexington Branch (after 1927) at grade in West Cambridge and crossed under Alewife Brook Parkway, with the pre-1927 connection to the Lexington Branch near Jackson Street. The line crossed Massachusetts Avenue and other streets at grade, then continued into Somerville, where it ran at grade through Davis Square with crossings of Holland Street and College Avenue. It crossed additional streets at grade, then passed under Lowell Street and joined the Southern Division (now the Lowell Line) at Somerville Junction. [3] [4] [2] :278 After 1887, passenger stations on the line were North Cambridge (also called North Cambridge Junction and North Avenue) at Massachusetts Avenue, West Somerville (Elm Street) at Davis Square, and Somerville Highlands at Highland Road. [1] [2] :278 [3] [4]

History

Passenger service

Map showing the Fitchburg Cutoff and nearby lines
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Lexington Branch and 1870-opened connector
Eastern portion of Fitchburg Cutoff, opened 1870
Central Massachusetts Branch and western portion of Fitchburg Cutoff, opened 1881
Lexington Branch reroute, reopened 1927
Central Massachusetts Branch reroute, opened 1927
Fitchburg Division and Watertown Branch
Southern Division Fitchburg Cutoff rail map.svg
Map showing the Fitchburg Cutoff and nearby lines
  •   Lexington Branch and 1870-opened connector
  •   Eastern portion of Fitchburg Cutoff, opened 1870
  •   Central Massachusetts Branch and western portion of Fitchburg Cutoff, opened 1881
  •   Lexington Branch reroute, reopened 1927
  •   Central Massachusetts Branch reroute, opened 1927
  •   Fitchburg Division and Watertown Branch
  •   Southern Division

The B&L acquired control of the Lexington and Arlington Railroad (Lexington Branch) in 1869, and purchased it in 1870, to prevent it from building to Lowell and thus becoming a competitor to the B&L. In 1870, the B&L built a cutoff from Lake Street to Somerville Junction to connect the newly acquired branch to its mainline. [2] :278 (Early plans called for the cutoff to connect to the B&L further north at Willow Bridge station. [5] ) Service began on December 1, 1870. [6] [7] In January 1876, William Robinson installed one of the first test applications of his track circuit signaling system on the line between Elm Street and North Avenue. On June 14, 1876, Pedro II of Brazil, who was touring the United States, travelled to Elm Street station to view the system. [8] [9]

The western section was built in 1881 by the Central Massachusetts Railroad (which paralleled the Fitchburg Railroad west of Brighton Street) to connect to the B&L for access to Boston. It connected to the existing Lexington Branch cutoff near Jackson Street, west of North Cambridge station, and had no stations between Hills Crossing and North Cambridge. [2] :216 Service began on October 1, 1881. [10] The B&L, which controlled the Central Massachusetts, was acquired by the Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) in 1887. The B&L became the Southern Division mainline, while the Central Massachusetts became a branchline. [2] The original Willow Avenue and Somerville Highlands stations were replaced by a new Somerville Highlands station at Highland Road around 1887. [11] [12] [13] In 1900, the B&M acquired the Fitchburg Railroad as its Fitchburg Division. [2]

The city of Somerville proposed to eliminate the five grade crossings on the cutoff within its borders, including the pair of College Avenue and Holland Street at Davis Square, in the early 1900s. [14] Most grade crossings on the Fitchburg Division mainline were eliminated over the next decade, but those on the cutoff were not. [15] On January 31, 1915, the West Somerville station building was moved west of Holland Street at the request of the mayor to improve conditions in Davis Square. [16] [17]

In 1926–27, the B&M built two new sections of track in North Cambridge; these allowed the Lexington Branch and the Central Massachusetts Branch to use the Fitchburg mainline east of Alewife Brook Parkway. [18] On April 24, 1927, passenger service from the two branches was rerouted over these new sections and the Fitchburg mainline; North Cambridge, West Somerville, and Somerville Highlands stations were closed. [19] Although residents were opposed to the closures, the B&M wished to avoid the grade crossings on the line, which had seen 70 crashes in the previous six years. [20] The old line from Brighton Street to Somerville Junction became the freight-only Freight Cutoff (Fitchburg Cutoff); it was rebuilt with heavier rails to handle heavy freights headed to and from the new Somerville freight yard. [21] In late 1927, an additional main track was built on the Southern Division from Somerville Junction to the yard to reduce the incidence of stopped freight trains blocking crossings on the cutoff. [22]

Rapid transit conversion

Map of 1926 proposals for Boston rapid transit extensions.jpg
Map of 1926 proposals for Boston rapid transit extensions.jpg
Map showing the 1926-proposed extensions northwest from Lechmere (at left)

In the 1920s, the cutoff was considered the most likely route for rapid transit service to Somerville and North Cambridge. (Extension of the Cambridge–Dorchester Line – now the Red Line – north from Harvard station was not considered likely. [23] ) The Report on Improved Transportation Facilities, published by the Boston Division of Metropolitan Planning in 1926, proposed extension from Lechmere to North Cambridge via the Southern Division and the 1870-built cutoff. Among the potential further extensions in the report was extension of the North Cambridge line to Bedford via the Lexington Branch. [24] [25]

In 1935, the city requested that the line be grade-separated as part of a Works Progress Administration-funded grade crossing elimination program. [26] A proposal that year by a citizen's group called for a rapid transit extension to North Cambridge. A new highway was to run from the Northern Artery over the tracks at street level, then adjacent to the tracks on the lowered cutoff to connect to the existing Mohawk Trail expressway at Alewife Brook Parkway. [27] Neither project was built, and the grade crossings were not eliminated; crashes and stalled freight trains continued to be a problem. [28] [29] [30] Even decades after regular passenger service ended on the line, it was occasionally used as a detour route when the Fitchburg Route mainline was blocked in Somerville. [31] [32]

Various proposals in the 1930s called for rapid transit use of the cutoff; some called for it to be connected to the East Boston Tunnel (now the Blue Line) rather than the Tremont Street subway (now the Green Line). [33] [34] [35] The 1945 and 1947 reports by the state Coolidge Commission called for extensions from Lechmere to Woburn over the Southern Division, and Harvard to Arlington over the Lexington Branch; the cutoff was not proposed as a route. [36] [37] [38] The 1962 North Terminal Area Study called for the Main Line (now the Orange Line) to be relocated along the B&M Western Route. It was to have a branch via the Southern Division to Woburn or Arlington (the latter also using the cutoff). [39] The 1966 Program for Mass Transportation, and subsequent reports by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), largely followed the routes laid out by the Coolidge Commission. Green Line service would be extended from Lechmere over the Southern Division, and Red Line service from Harvard (with various routings proposed to reach the Lexington Branch); the cutoff was not proposed for conversion. [40]

The east headhouse and busway at Davis station, built on the Cutoff alignment MBTA route 90 bus at Davis station, August 2015.JPG
The east headhouse and busway at Davis station, built on the Cutoff alignment

The B&M replaced the Somerville yard with smaller yards elsewhere in the system in the 1970s, ending regular use of the cutoff by "as many as two-dozen mile-long freight trains daily". The route chosen for the Red Line Northwest Extension in the mid-1970s included a station at Davis Square, with the rapid transit tunnel running under a segment of the cutoff from Davis Square to east of Alewife station. [41] In April 1980, the west half of the cutoff was abandoned to allow for construction of the extension. [21] [42] The eastern portion was used to haul dirt removed from the tunnel for reuse around the region; it was abandoned in 1983 except for a short section serving an industrial customer at Somervile Junction. [42] [21] That segment was abandoned in 2007. [42]

Path conversion

Map of the trails and Red Line reuse of the Fitchburg Cutoff alignment Fitchburg Cutoff modern status map.svg
Map of the trails and Red Line reuse of the Fitchburg Cutoff alignment

As part of the Red Line extension, the 1.3-mile (2.1 km)Alewife Linear Park rail trail was constructed from Alewife to Davis, opening in 1985. [43] [44] Except for a short section near Alewife station, it follows the former railroad route. The Somerville Community Path opened 0.6 miles (0.97 km) from Davis Square to Cedar Street in 1992, with the 0.4-mile (0.64 km) Massachusetts Avenue–Davis Square segment of the Alewife Linear Park becoming part of the Community Path. The Minuteman Bikeway opened in 1993, connecting to the existing trail at Alewife station. The crossing of Massachusetts Avenue, which originally zig-zagged using existing crosswalks, was signalized as a direct crossing in 2011. [45] A 0.3-mile (0.48 km) extension of the Community Path to Lowell Street opened in 2015; it will be further extended along the Lowell Line in 2022 as part of the Green Line Extension project. [46]

The 0.8-mile (1.3 km) segment west of Alewife station through the Alewife Brook Reservation was used as an unpaved trail; a stone dust surface was added in the 1990s. [47] Construction of the paved Fitchburg Cutoff Path took place from September 2010 to August 2013, with a new bridge built over a stormwater management wetland at Alewife. [48] [49] The planned Belmont Community Path will extend west through Belmont parallel to the Fitchburg Line, connecting with existing sections of the Mass Central Rail Trail. [50] [51]

In 1985–86, an access road was constructed from the Alewife station garage to the Route 2/Alewife Brook Parkway intersection, following the cutoff alignment for about 750 feet (230 m). The Alewife Linear Park runs as a sidewalk along the access road for most of that length. [52] [53]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Red Line (MBTA)</span> Rapid transit line in Massachusetts, US

The Red Line is a rapid transit line operated by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) as part of the MBTA subway system. The line runs south and east underground from Alewife station in North Cambridge through Somerville and Cambridge, surfacing to cross the Longfellow Bridge then returning to tunnels under Downtown Boston. It continues underground through South Boston, splitting into two branches on the surface at JFK/UMass station. The Ashmont branch runs southwest through Dorchester to Ashmont station, where the connecting light rail Ashmont–Mattapan High Speed Line continues to Mattapan station. The Braintree branch runs southwest through Quincy and Braintree to Braintree station.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alewife station</span> Rapid transit station in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Alewife station is a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) intermodal transit station in the North Cambridge neighborhood of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is the northwest terminal of the rapid transit Red Line and a hub for several MBTA bus routes. The station is at the confluence of the Minuteman Bikeway, Alewife Linear Park, Fitchburg Cutoff Path, and Alewife Greenway off Alewife Brook Parkway adjacent to Massachusetts Route 2, with a five-story parking garage for park and ride use. The station has three bike cages. Alewife station is named after nearby Alewife Brook Parkway and Alewife Brook, themselves named after the alewife fish.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Porter station</span> Transit station in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Porter is a Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) transit station in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It serves the Red Line rapid transit line, the MBTA Commuter Rail Fitchburg Line, and several MBTA bus lines. Located at Porter Square at the intersection of Massachusetts and Somerville Avenues, the station provides rapid transit access to northern Cambridge and the western portions of Somerville. Porter is 14 minutes from Park Street on the Red Line, and about 10 minutes from North Station on commuter rail trains. Several local MBTA bus routes also stop at the station.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Davis station (MBTA)</span> Rapid transit station in Somerville, Massachusetts, US

Davis station is an underground Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Red Line rapid transit station located at Davis Square in Somerville, Massachusetts. The accessible station has a single island platform for the Red Line, as well as a dedicated busway on the surface. It opened in 1984 as part of the Red Line Northwest Extension project.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Minuteman Bikeway</span> Rail trail in Massachusetts, United States

The Minuteman Bikeway is a 10-mile (16-kilometre) paved multi-use rail trail located in the Greater Boston area of Massachusetts. It runs from Bedford to Alewife station, at the northern end of the Red Line in Cambridge, passing through the towns of Lexington and Arlington along the way. Also along the route are several notable regional sites, including Alewife Brook Reservation, the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum, Spy Pond, "Arlington’s Great Meadows", the Battle Green in Lexington, and Hanscom Air Force Base.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Somerville Community Path</span> Rail trail in Somerville, Massachusetts

The Somerville Community Path is a paved rail trail in Somerville, Massachusetts, running 1.3 miles (2.1 km) from Massachusetts Avenue to Lowell Street via Davis Square. Opened in segments between 1985 and 2015, it follows part of the former Fitchburg Cutoff rail line. A 1.9-mile (3.1 km) extension to East Cambridge will open in 2022 as part of the Green Line Extension project.

The Grand Junction Railroad is an 8.55-mile (13.76 km) long railroad in the Boston, Massachusetts, area, connecting the railroads heading west and north from Boston. Most of it is still in use, carrying scrap either inbound or outbound to the Schnitzer scrap yard on the Everett waterfront or freight to the Chelsea Produce Market, and non-revenue transfers of Amtrak and MBTA passenger equipment between the lines terminating at North Station and South Station. The line is also notable for its railroad bridge over the Charles River that passes under the Boston University Bridge between Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fitchburg Railroad</span>

The Fitchburg Railroad is a former railroad company, which built a railroad line across northern Massachusetts, United States, leading to and through the Hoosac Tunnel. The Fitchburg was leased to the Boston and Maine Railroad in 1900. The main line from Boston to Fitchburg is now operated as the MBTA Fitchburg Line; Pan Am Railways runs freight service on some other portions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alewife Brook Reservation</span>

Alewife Brook Reservation is a Massachusetts state park and urban wild located in Cambridge, Arlington, and Somerville. The park is managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and was established in 1900. It is named for Alewife Brook, which was also historically known as Menotomy River, a tributary of the Mystic River.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad</span>

The Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad was a railroad company chartered in 1845 and opened in 1846 that operated in eastern Massachusetts. It and its successors provided passenger service until 1977 and freight service until 1980 or early 1981.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Waverley station (MBTA)</span>

Waverley station is an MBTA Commuter Rail station in Belmont, Massachusetts. It serves the Fitchburg Line. It is located below grade in Waverley Square in the triangle of Trapelo Road, Lexington Street, and Church Street in western Belmont.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Green Line Extension</span> Under-construction light rail line extension in Massachusetts

The Green Line Extension (GLX) is a construction project to extend the light rail Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line northwest into Somerville and Medford, two inner suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. The project is opening in two phases in 2022 at a total cost of $2.28 billion. Total ridership on the 4.3-mile (6.9 km) extension is estimated to reach 45,000 one-way trips per day in 2030.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ball Square station</span> Under-construction light rail station in Massachusetts, US

Ball Square station is an under-construction light rail station on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line located at Ball Square in Somerville and Medford, Massachusetts. The accessible station has a single island platform serving the two tracks of the Medford Branch. It is planned to open in November 2022 as part of the Green Line Extension (GLX), which is adding two northern branches to the Green Line, and will be served by the E branch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Magoun Square station</span> Under-construction light rail station in Somerville, Massachusetts, US

Magoun Square station is an under-construction light rail station on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line located at Lowell Street south of Magoun Square in Somerville, Massachusetts. The accessible station has a single island platform serving the two tracks of the Medford Branch. It is planned to open in November 2022 as part of the Green Line Extension (GLX), which is adding two northern branches to the Green Line, and will be served by the E branch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gilman Square station</span> Under-construction light rail station in Somerville, Massachusetts, US

Gilman Square station is an under-construction light rail station on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line located at Gilman Square in Somerville, Massachusetts. The accessible station has a single island platform serving the two tracks of the Medford Branch. It is planned to open in November 2022 as part of the Green Line Extension (GLX), which is adding two northern branches to the Green Line, and will be served by the E branch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">East Somerville station</span> Light rail station in Somerville, Massachusetts, US

East Somerville station is an under-construction light rail station on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line located in southeastern Somerville, Massachusetts. The accessible station has a single island platform serving the two tracks of the Medford Branch. It is planned to open in November 2022 as part of the Green Line Extension (GLX), which is adding two northern branches to the Green Line, and will be served by the E branch.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Union Square station (Somerville)</span> Light rail station in Somerville, Massachusetts, US

Union Square station is a light rail station on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Green Line located in the Union Square neighborhood of southeastern Somerville, Massachusetts. The accessible terminal station has a single island platform serving the two tracks of the Union Square Branch, which parallels the Fitchburg Line. It opened on March 21, 2022, as part of the Green Line Extension (GLX), which is adding two northern branches to the Green Line.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates subway, bus, commuter rail, and ferry service in the Greater Boston region. Boston has some of the highest rates of non-motorized commuting in the United States, including high bicycle usage. The MBTA offers certain provisions for riders wishing to make part of their trips by bicycle. The agency allows bicycles to be carried on all fixed-route services except the Green Line and the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line light rail lines, although they are restricted on the commuter rail and heavy rail subway services at peak hours. Bicycle storage areas are offered at many stations, with "Pedal and Park" locking bicycle cages at certain high-usage stations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arlington station (Lexington Branch)</span> Former railway station in Arlington, Massachusetts

Arlington station was a regional rail station in Arlington, Massachusetts. Located in downtown Arlington, it served the Lexington Branch. It was closed in January 1977 when service on the Lexington Branch was suspended.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lake Street station (Arlington, Massachusetts)</span>

Lake Street station was a commuter rail station on the Lexington Branch, located in the East Arlington section of Arlington, Massachusetts. It was closed in January 1977 when service on the Lexington Branch was suspended.

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