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Boston’s subway lines, ranked

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Blue Line wins on aesthetics and relative emptiness; pity the Green Line and the Green Line rider

aphotostory/Shutterstock

Now, it might not even be worth ranking the Boston area’s five subway lines.

They’ve all got gnawing challenges that political inaction, chronic under-funding, and design flaws exacerbate—which, in turn, leads to near-daily misery for many commuters. Note the Green Line’s June 12 meltdown that effectively stranded hundreds of riders in downtown Boston.

Still, some of the lines are better than others in terms of convenience and service. Herewith, then, a 2018 ranking of the T’s subway lines from worst to best.


Green Line

Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images

It’s not just the June 12 brouhaha that lands the Green Line at the bottom of the list. That would be too easy. It’s the steps, the slowness, the frequent stops, the narrowness of the cars, and the sheer zig-zaggy nature of America’s oldest subway line—and the T’s second-busiest—once riders get beyond Copley.

The Green Line is the best example of the T’s worst flaw: Its hub-and-spoke design—having to go in to get out.

And, if we had to rank just the Green Line branches themselves from worst to best, it would go: Boston College, Riverside, Cleveland Circle, Heath, and Lechmere.

The Lechmere branch might be the T’s most consequential subway line, period, what with its intersections with the Blue Line, Red Line, and Orange Line (twice). Also, its new terminus will soon be the launch point for a major extension of the Green Line through Somerville into Medford.

Orange Line

The interior of the Orange Line Station in Boston. The walls are orange and white. There is a staircase. Clare S./Flickr

If you see the Orange Line, let us know. Seriously, though, the lumbering subway between Malden and Jamaica Plain can be so slow and so crowded that commuters have taken to riding it out to find a train that can take them in. Got it?

The line’s cars are some of the T’s oldest—though that’s changing—and that age means more frequent stalls, breakdowns, etc., along what is likely the system’s third-busiest route in terms of ridership.

Silver Line

Mass. Office of Travel and Tourism/Flickr

It’s easy to knock the Silver Line as it’s not really a subway or a trolley, but a bus. And it doesn’t even have its own dedicated lane along much of its route. The slog to Logan Airport can be especially trying as the Silver idles in tunnel traffic along with everyone else.

But it does wind its way to points otherwise traditionally neglected as far as mass transit goes, including since April to downtown Chelsea. Plus, the Silver from Logan is free! Still, that’s not enough to nudge the Silver into our top two spots.

Red Line

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The T’s workhorse, the Red Line moves more commuters per weekday than any other route. (Note: We include the eight-station Mattapan trolley under the Red Line rubric.)

It has its delays and its inefficiencies—again, that hub-and-spoke design—but it passes reliably through some of the busiest and most densely populate areas of the region, including Alewife, Harvard Square, Kendall Square, Downtown Crossing, Dorchester, and downtown Quincy, never mind that it’s the prime T feeder for South Station, New England’s busiest train and bus hub.

Also, the recent reopening of the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge means fewer shuttle-bus weekends along the route. And, while Quincy’s Wollaston Station is closed for several months, that closure and the ensuing hassles do promise to make that station accessible for people with physical challenges. It had been the only stop not so.

Blue Line

Commuters waiting for the Blue Line in Boston. Shutterstock

The Blue is probably the most beautiful T route aesthetically in terms of its station designs. Plus, at just under six miles, the Blue is the T’s shortest line. Consequently perhaps, it moves the fewest number of commuters per weekday.

Thus, a ride on the line can be pleasant in so far as mass transit can ever be pleasant. Though this might all change if a certain e-commerce behemoth sets up a second headquarters at the old Suffolk Downs just off the Blue.