Running 2.6 miles from Ashmont to Mattapan, south of Boston, the Mattapan High Speed Line acts as an extension of the Red Line subway. But it is unique in America as the last "native" operation of PCC Streetcars. I had the privilege to ride the line at Railvolution Boston a few weeks ago.
A car bound for Mattapan approaches Milton station
These streetcars are named after the "Presidents' Coordinating Committee" of the leaders of streetcar companies to save the streetcar from competition. Their 1929 endeavour created what is perhaps the most endearing symbol of transit in the inter-war and post-war era. The first PCC cars were delivered to Pittsburgh in 1936, and almost every American city operated the cars into the 1950s. Several cities continued to operate major fleets into the 1970s, when LRV conversion began in earnest.
The Mattapan Line opened in 1929 using an abandoned railroad route. Over time, streetcars became less and less prevalent in Boston and in the United States as lines were bustituted and abandoned. But the Mattapan line was retained. One reason that line rail was not converted to bus was because it used a private right-of-way. Similar situations kept lines in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and other cities from being bustituted as well. While many PCC lines have been upgraded to modern LRV operation, including other lines in Boston, Mattapan's bridge weight limits have kept PCCs running out of Ashmont.
A PCC approaches the new terminal loop at Ashmont
While many cities have brought back PCC cars as touristy or heritage-type lines, Boston's Mattapan line is unique in that service has been more or less continuous except for a two-year closure for rebuilding from 2006-2008. Pittsburgh used PCC cars in regular service until 1999 and Newark suspended use of PCCs in 2001, leaving Boston's the last surviving continuous PCC operation.
A train at Central Avenue
The cars used on the Mattapan Line, therefore, are some of the oldest in revenue service in the United States, having been built between 1943 and 1946. Their recent rebuilding has put them in excellent shape, however. Trips on the train are smooth and quick. And for a railfan, quite thrilling, too.
The line's name is a bit misleading. Trains only travel at an average speed of around 20mph between Ashmont and Mattapan. However, the line has only two grade crossings, and as an extension of the Red Line, is effective. It makes the trip from Ashmont to Mattapan in only 9 minutes.