Which US City Is Home To America's Oldest Subway System?

The Tremont Street subway. Editorial credit: Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com.
The Tremont Street subway. Editorial credit: Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.com.

The oldest subway tunnel in the United States is located in Boston, Massachusetts. The Tremont Street subway, which is part of Boston's Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) Subway, is the oldest subway line in North America to run exlussively on electric traction, meaning that trains are powered by electricity and do not contain an engine or use a fuel supply. Additionally, the Tremont Street subway is also the third oldest electric traction subway tunnel still in operation, after London (City and South London Railway) and Budapest (Metro Line 1). Currently, the Tremont Street subway is an integral part of the Green Line, which links the Boylston Street station to Park Street and Government Center stations.

History of the Tremont Subway

Opened in September 1897, the Tremont system was intended to remove streetcar lines from the streets that experienced heavy traffic on a daily basis. However, it became a rapid transit line and remains an important part of the MTBA subway system. The line initially included five stations: Park Street, Adams Square, Boylston, Haymarket and Scollay Square. Over the next twenty years, the Park Street, Scollay Square, and Haymarket stations were modified to allow transfers to new rapid transit lines, such the East Boston Tunnel, Main Line Elevated, and Cambridge-Dorchester Subway.

Following the closure of the southern portal (Pleasant Street) in 1962, the northern part of the tunnel was altered in 1963, as Scollay Square and Adams Square stations were closed to make way for the construction of Government Center, which did include a new subway station, and the new Boston City Hall. While parts of the northbound tunnel have been rerouted, the southbound tunnel remains in its original form.


The Tremont Street subway was originally privately owned by the West End Street Railway, which later became part of the Boston Elevated Railway (BERy). However, the subway became publicly owned in 1947, under the Metropolitan Transit Authority (now the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority), and remains under public ownership.


The Tremont Street subway uses trolleys powered by electricity from overhead lines. This design was based on the invention of the trolley pole by American inventor Frank J Sprague in 1880, which was originally intended for the Richmond Passage Railway in Richmond, Virginia.

National Site and Landmark Status

The Tremont Street subway was declared a National Historic Landmark to recognize its role in pioneering the subway as a form of mass transit in the US. The landmark includes remaining portions of the original tunnel, which runs from Court Street to Charles Street, and parts of Boylston and Park stations. 

Subways Systems and Their Significance

Subways form a key part of public transportation in numerous cities across the US. These underground rail systems facilitate the movement of a tremendous number of passengers each day, and link urban and suburban areas. Subway systems are usually part of a broader network of public or mass transit, and are used in conjunction with other forms such as buses, light rail, passenger trains, and ferries. Additionally, subways can move large numbers of passengers quickly, are more energy efficient, remove cars from the road, and help limit pollution.


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