Wait, why is the Ashmont-Mattapan High-Speed Line considered part of the Red Line, yet is functionally separate? Well, who knows, but let’s look at the line, shall we?
First off, the rolling stock. It’s historic in nature and while some consider it a heritage line, it’s very much an integral part of the MBTA’s rapid transit network. And, yes, I did say heritage line. This sucker uses World War II-era PCC LRVs, which not a lot of other transit systems have. Yeah, they’re being rebuilt to milk the last bit of life in them, but they’re still kicking around. And, yes, this puts the MBTA in the same class as SEPTA and Muni in San Francisco, except unlike SEPTA or Muni, the T’s PCCs are in a fully grade-separated ROW, and thus probably runs faster. They were never built with ADA compliance in mind, which means the best solution for accessibility is the hacky one: slap a mini-high at most stations. Unfortunately, this didn’t work with Valley Rd., as that’d require an extensive rebuild, leaving that as one of the few inherently inaccessible stations on the system. Maybe that’ll change when the Type 9s get transplanted here!
On the other hand, some of the stations on this line can provide some unique railfanning opportunities due to grade crossings. Yeah, I know, I said it was fully grade separated. I should’ve clarified and said it didn’t run alongside mixed traffic. Though, given most of the crossings are on quiet residential streets, it’s a nonissue and are in practice fully grade separated. It also runs into Milton for a short bit, which is neat! Woohoo! Furthermore, walking the line is also a nice option if the weather is nice, given the quiet nature of the area (in contrast to the two termini).
So, back to the initial question of why it’s separate but equal to the Red Line. That pretty much boils down to a combination of some tomfoolery with the New Haven Railroad, with the BERy buying the line for rapid transit use, then followed by the BERy deciding to be cheap by converting it into streetcar use rather than extending the Dorchester Line (now the Red Line) all the way to Mattapan.
The good: It’s unique! With the trolleybuses being axed from the Silver Line (thank god, though I’ve already gone on about that elsewhere), this pretty much becomes the shining novelty of Boston’s transit system. It’s fast (by 1940s standards, though 40mph still isn’t something to scoff at) and it gives the people of Mattapan and Milton rapid transit access!
The bad: It’s kinda old and not designed with the ADA in mind! Though, with the Type 9s being slated to be moved here, that shouldn’t be an issue for much longer once the stations get rebuilt. But, the greater issue is that the line isn’t exactly resilient. That, meaning, every time it snows more than 1-2 inches, the MBTA has to break out the light rail equivalent to the BFG-9000.
Meet: Snowzilla. This big ol’ jet engine snowblower is designed specifically with the Mattapan Line in mind. Throw a PCC to clear snow instead? The train will literally DIE. Snow is the kiss of DEATH for the rolling stock on this line, while on the Red, Orange, Green, and Blue Lines, they’ll chug along just fine, while Keolis lights the Commuter Rail tracks on fire.
Nearby points of interest: Eh, there’s a few businesses in Milton, while most of the activity is on either end of the line.
Overall, while it’s a little sad that the PCCs are inevitably going away, it’s for the better, and I think that once the Type 9s come to the Mattapan Line, the future looks bright for it, despite the loss in novelty.
Rating: 7/10 (though 9.5/10 rolling stock!)
Now, if you want another implementation of PCC streetcars and have a lot (or a little, depending on geographic proximity) of money & time to spare, I heard Kenosha, Wisconsin’s light rail system is an interesting one to look at. Maybe I should take a field trip out there some time… Meh, probably once I’m done with the Northeast Corridor.