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MBTA Silver Line
MBTA Neoplan AN460LFs in Silver Line duty. The bus on the left is an AN460LF CNG on the Washington Street line, and the bus on the right is an AN460LF dual mode trackless trolley on the SL1 Airport line.
Parent Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Founded 2002 (Washington Street)
2004 (Airport/Waterfront)
Headquarters 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116
Locale Boston, Massachusetts
Service type Bus rapid transit
Routes 4
Stations 13 (Washington St.)
9 (Airport/Waterfront)
Fleet 20 (Washington Street)
32 (Airport/Waterfront)
Daily ridership 14,709 (2005 Washington Street)[1] + 11,006 (2006 Waterfront)[2]
Operator MBTA
Chief executive William Mitchell (acting)
Web site MBTA Silver Line

The Silver Line is the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)'s sole bus rapid transit (BRT) line. It operates in two sections; the first runs from Dudley Square in Roxbury to downtown Boston, Massachusetts and South Station, mostly via Washington Street, with buses operating in reserved lanes; the second runs from South Station to several points in South Boston and to Logan Airport in East Boston, partly in a dedicated bus tunnel and on dedicated surface right-of-way. Riders can transfer between the sections at South Station.


Service routes

Waterfront: SL1 and SL2

Dual-mode bus departing South Station to serve the SL2 Waterfront Line.

Two Silver Line services operate in a tunnel from South Station to Boston's World Trade Center, then on a reserved surface right of way for another half-mile further east to Silver Line Way, and afterwards in mixed traffic:

  • SL1 Logan Airport-South Station
  • SL2 Design Center-South Station

During rush hours, a few additional buses turn around at Silver Line Way and head back into the tunnel to augment the service between South Station and Silver Line Way.

SL1 buses operate in a loop at Logan Airport and only serve the terminals, at the arrivals level. The Silver Line stops at the curb at the "downstream" end of each terminal (in terms of traffic flow). Free shuttle buses connect the terminals and other airport destinations, including the Airport station on the Blue Line, hotels, rental cars, and the water taxi. A system of moving walkways connects terminals A and E, the Hilton Hotel and central parking. See the Logan Airport article for lists of which airlines serve each terminal.

SL1 and SL2 fares

Passengers travelling on SL1 and SL2 pay the standard MBTA subway fare: $1.70 when using a CharlieCard, $2.00 when using CharlieTickets or cash. Ticket vending machines that accept cash and credit cards are installed in the Logan Airport terminals and World Trade Center, Courthouse, and South Stations. A faregate- and cost-free transfer to and from the Red Line is available at South Station for all SL1 and SL2 riders, but only CharlieCard users get free transfers to other bus and subway lines if they leave the paid fare area.

SL1 and SL2 equipment

The Neoplan USA dual-mode 60 foot articulated buses on these services are powered by overhead electrical wires from South Station to Silver Line Way, to avoid generating internal combustion fumes in the tunnel, and continue on thereafter on diesel power, which is converted to electrical power to run the same electric motors used when running on overhead power. These buses provide higher capacity than standard 40 foot buses; both the rear and center wheels are powered by electric motors, which permits these buses to continue operation even through snow.

These buses are wheelchair ramp-equipped, using kneeling bus technology and a flip-out ramp. (See MBTA accessibility for more information.)

SL1 and SL2 station listing

Courthouse Station
Dual-mode bus on the Boston Silver Line.
Station [3] Routes Opened Transfers and notes
South Station SL1 and SL2 December 17, 2004 Red Line, Silver Line SL4, MBTA Commuter Rail, Amtrak, local and intercity buses
Courthouse SL1 and SL2 December 17, 2004 John Joseph Moakley United States Courthouse
World Trade Center SL1 and SL2 December 17, 2004 Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, seasonal ferry to Provincetown, Institute of Contemporary Art, Lenticular art on the lobby level of the station
Silver Line Way SL1 and SL2 December 17, 2004 Changeover between diesel and overhead electric power takes place here
Logan Airport Terminal A SL1 June 1, 2005 Massport and rental car shuttle buses; walkway to central parking and Hilton Hotel
Logan Airport Terminal B south SL1 June 1, 2005 See: Logan Airport for airlines and destinations at each terminal.
Logan Airport Terminal B north SL1 June 1, 2005
Logan Airport Terminal C SL1 June 1, 2005
Logan Airport Terminal E SL1 June 1, 2005 International arrivals, Hilton Hotel; next stop is Silver Line Way
306 Northern Avenue SL2
Northern Avenue & Harbor Street SL2 December 31, 2004
Northern Avenue & Tide Street SL2 December 31, 2004
21 Dry Dock Avenue SL2
25 Dry Dock Avenue SL2 December 31, 2004
88 Black Falcon Avenue SL2 December 31, 2004 Cruise ship terminal
Design Center SL2 December 31, 2004

Washington Street: SL4 and SL5

Two Silver Line services run between Dudley Square in Roxbury and downtown Boston along Washington Street in reserved bus lanes:

  • SL4 Dudley Station-South Station
  • SL5 Dudley Station-Downtown

These two services share most of their route from Dudley Square to Chinatown; SL5 continues northward to Downtown Crossing and Boylston stations, whereas SL4 heads east on Essex Street to South Station.[4] Passengers can transfer to SL1 and SL2 buses at South Station; however, SL4 buses stop at a surface bus stop across the street from the station complex, whereas SL1 and SL2 buses stop at an underground stop within the station, so there is no direct transfer or capability for through service.

SL4 and SL5 fares

Passengers travelling on SL4 and SL5 pay the standard MBTA bus fare: $1.25 when using a CharlieCard, $1.50 when using a CharlieTicket or cash. At select stations, passengers can transfer from the Silver Line to the subway (Red, Green, and Orange Lines) for an additional 45 cents when using a CharlieCard. At these same stations, passengers may transfer from the subway to the Silver Line for free.[5]

SL4 and SL5 equipment

During the day, compressed natural gas 60 foot Neoplan USA articulated buses are used on the SL4 and SL5 services for greater capacity than that provided by standard buses. At night, when the passenger load is less and the greater engine noise of the articulated buses is deemed objectionable, standard (40 foot, non-articulated) compressed natural gas buses are used. During snowstorms, standard buses and sometimes a few articulated dual-mode buses from lines SL1 and SL2 (see above) are also used, because the articulated buses normally used on lines SL4 and SL5 receive have drivetrains only from the engine to the rear wheels, and therefore do not work well on slippery roads. The reverse substition is not allowed: for safety reasons, compressed natural gas vehicles are not allowed in the SL1/SL2 tunnel.

As with SL1 and SL2, these buses are wheelchair ramp-equipped, using kneeling bus technology and a flip-out ramp. (See MBTA accessibility for more information.)

SL4 and SL5 station listing

Station Routes Transit Time[6] Opened Transfers and notes
Dudley Square SL4 and SL5 0 minutes July 20, 2002 1, 8, 14, 15, 19, 23, 25, 28, 41, 42, 44, 45, 47, 66, 170, and 171 bus lines
Melnea Cass Boulevard SL4 and SL5 July 20, 2002
Lenox Street SL4 and SL5 July 20, 2002
Massachusetts Avenue SL4 and SL5 July 20, 2002 1 and CT1 (Not the same as Massachusetts Avenue station on Orange Line, 1/2 mile northwest)
Worcester Square SL4 and SL5 Late 2002
Newton Street SL4 and SL5 July 20, 2002
Union Park Street SL4 and SL5 July 20, 2002
East Berkeley Street SL4 and SL5 10 to 12 minutes July 20, 2002
Herald Street SL4 and SL5 July 20, 2002
Tufts Medical Center SL4 and SL5 July 20, 2002 11, 43 and Orange Line
Chinatown SL4 and SL5 July 20, 2002 11 and Orange Line (inbound buses only)
Boylston SL5 July 20, 2002 43, 55 and Green Line (outbound buses only)
Downtown Crossing at Temple Place SL5 16 to 21 minutes July 20, 2002 Orange Line and Red Line at Downtown Crossing; Green Line at Park Street
South Station SL4 13 to 22 minutes Oct. 13, 2009 Silver Line SL1 (Logan Airport), SL2, Red Line, MBTA commuter rail, Amtrak, local and intercity buses


The collection of services currently branded under the Silver Line umbrella have varying origins. The first section opened, known as Silver Line Phase I, was the line along Washington Street currently referred to as SL5; it is the ultimate product of community demands for restoration of local service after the Washington Street Elevated portion of the Orange Line was demolished in the 1980s.[citation needed] Proposals to build a new subway line under Washington Street or a new trolley line along Washington Street were deemed impractical, so the Orange Line was re-routed about 1/2 mile west onto the Southwest Corridor right-of-way, leaving many local residents without a rapid-transit option. Eventually, BRT was chosen to provide this service, and the MBTA feels it meets the needs of the communities affected by the Orange Line relocation[citation needed]. The line started running July 20, 2002, replacing service provided by the 49 bus (which had existed as a feeder route before 1987).

A Silver Line trolley bus at Courthouse station. This 40' model was used in the early days of the service, but has since been transferred to Cambridge operations.

The tunneled section extending east of South Station, known as Silver Line Phase II, was constructed in conjunction with Boston's Big Dig and was originally referred to as the South Boston Piers Transitway. Tunnel sections were fabricated in a nearby, World War II-era dry dock and floated into place. Phase II opened on Friday, December 17, 2004, with the first route (Silver Line Waterfront, referred to within the MBTA as 746) running only to Silver Line Way, temporarily using new electric trolley buses borrowed from the trackless trolley routes that have their hub in Cambridge, as not enough dual-mode buses were available initially.

When dual-mode buses were placed in service on December 31, 2004, two routes, dubbed SL2 and SL3, began service. As still not enough dual-mode buses were available, some rush-hour service was provided by CNG buses, with transfers at Silver Line Way. Through service was suspended after January 5, 2005, and was not brought back until March 5, with all buses dual-mode starting on March 14. Beginning on March 26, late night and weekend trips ran combined, running both around the BMIP loop and to City Point. SL3 ran to City Point via the Boston Marine Industrial Park; it ceased operation in 2008 due to insufficient ridership. [7][8]

SL1 service to Logan Airport began on an interim bases on January 2, 2005. CNG buses ran on a Sunday-only (4 pm - 10 pm only) shuttle route between Silver Line Way and the airport terminals. The agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection had called for airport service by January, but the MBTA did not yet have enough dual-mode buses for full service.[1]. Full-time SL1 service began on June 1, 2005.

One more service, to Andrew Station or South Boston, possibly via the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and D Street,[9] was once under consideration, but has never been implemented. This service appeared as SL4 on some old maps, but (except for sharing South Station as a downtown terminal) has no relation to the SL4 service actually implemented between Dudley Station and South Station.

Stop at South Station for the SL4 bus service that connects the two halves of the Silver Line. Service began October 13, 2009. South Station is in the background, across Atlantic Avenue. Note the red "bus only" lane on Essex Street, in front of the bus shelter.

For nearly five years after the opening of Silver Line Phase II, the two segments of the Silver Line were disconnected from one another. The MBTA has long-term plans to connect the two via an underground tunnel; the construction of this section, dubbed Silver Line Phase III, has been repeatedly postponed due to cost and ridership concerns (see below for more details).

A interim solution that did not require a new tunnel opened on October 13, 2009, after fast-track construction using federal stimulus money. The new route, SL4, covers much of the same ground as the proposed Phase III in a dedicated bus lane on the surface. When SL4 began operation, the existing Silver Line Washington Street service was rebranded SL5.

As of the day that SL4 began service, there were 29,670 Silver Line boadings per weekday: 14,709 on SL5, and 14,961 on SL1 & SL2.

Future development

Phase III

The proposed Phase III will connect the first two phases of the Silver Line via an underground busway from Boylston station on the Green Line to South Station, allowing a single-seat ride between the phases. Silver Line Phase III received a "not recommended" rating from the Federal Transit Administration,[10][11] which expressed skepticism that the T's operating cost estimates were reliable. Capital cost was estimated at $780 million at the time, but this price tag depended upon the route selected. Completion was estimated by 2013.

Four possible routings were debated,[12] but neighborhood opposition to the placement of portals, and to the use of BRT as a replacement for the Washington Street Elevated was problematic. In August, 2005, the MBTA put the Phase III project "on hold" in order to avoid a second such determination, and to build community consensus on a locally preferred routing.[2].

In February 2006, Massachusetts State Transportation Secretary John Cogliano proposed a much less expensive plan that would eliminate most of the tunneling, running the Silver Line on the surface via Kneeland Street to a new tunnel portal on Essex Street, near South Station. The estimated cost of this proposal was $94 million and it includes expansion of Silver Line service to Copley Square, Grove Hall, Mattapan, and Ashmont, connecting at the Fairmount commuter rail line.[13]

In March 2006, yet another plan was put forward, with support from most transportation leaders, including Cogliano. The plan was a fifth underground variation, calling for a mile-long tunnel with a portal at Charles Street and Tremont Street. [3] Environmental review and preliminary engineering were expected to be completed by the end of 2008.[14] A federal funding decision is expected in 2010, with construction, if approved, starting in 2011 and ending in 2016.[12] The MBTA is managing project planning. As of May 2009, the estimated price of the tunnel plan, dubbed the "Little Dig," had risen to $2.1 billion and its future was in doubt.[15]

Other future BRT

Along with the new SL4 connection, a new BRT corridor will be created along what is currently the number 28 bus route which stretches from Mattapan Station to Ruggles Station. The new corridor will include the installation of dedicated bus lanes, bus signal priority, and on-platform fare collection. The whole project is expected to be finished by January 2012.[16]

In addition to the Silver Line and the planned corridor along bus route 28, BRT is being considered as a means of implementing the Urban Ring Project and providing improved crosstown service.

Silver Line critiques

Detractors of Silver Line service insist that BRT is still a bus, not a high-speed transit line, and provides equivalent quality and speed to other buses. Community groups in the Roxbury and South End neighborhoods, along with the Sierra Club, have presented findings that support this argument, and maintain that a light-rail line would be both cheaper and more effective than BRT; furthermore, part of the tunnel required for this already exists.[17],[18] These groups sometimes refer to the Silver Line Phase I as the "#49 bus" (this being the bus line with an identical routing that the Silver Line replaced) and the "Silver Lie" (used because of allegations from advocacy groups that the MBTA reneged on a promise of real rapid transit). Furthermore, the necessity to link Roxbury and Logan is not well explicated in any MBTA document.

Some have argued that BRT was the only way that the Silver Line could provide service to Logan Airport, because the Ted Williams Tunnel that runs to Logan is an Interstate Highway (I-90), and Interstate Highway standards do not allow rail tracks in the road surface. However, opponents of this viewpoint note that Interstate Highway standards make no mention of rail tracks (other than a prohibition of non-grade separated crossings), and insist that the Silver Line's separate right-of-way within the tunnel would preclude it from having to meet highway regulations. Furthermore, the Blue Line passes near the airport but requires a time-consuming and crowded shuttle to access the terminals. During an early-2000s Logan Airport modernization, when a complex of new highway ramps were built, the MBTA and MassPort originally planned a people mover from the new Blue Line Airport station to the terminal area,[citation needed] but this plan was dropped.

The Silver Line's SL1 route from the World Trade Center stop to the Ted Williams Tunnel is considered by critics to be unnecessarily convoluted. Despite the fact that the Silver Line's portal is less than 100 yards (91 m) from the eventual entry ramp to the Williams Tunnel, the line must cross D Street at grade and proceed to the Silver Line Way stop to change over from overhead electric to diesel. This requires a loop back towards downtown on several surface streets before it can enter the tunnel, adding several minutes to the ride. The inbound route makes a stop above ground at the entrance to the World Trade Center stop, proceeds to Silver Line Way, and then goes underground for a second stop at the World Trade Center. If the headway between buses is as close as seven minutes, it is faster for travelers in the rear bus to disembark at the above-ground WTC stop, walk down the stairs, and then board the bus that used to be in front of them than to remain on the bus they started on. For some time after the Big Dig ceiling collapse in 2006, the SL1 used a closer entrance ramp normally reserved for the Massachusetts State Police. However, use of this shortcut was stopped for safety reasons[citation needed] after the affected sections of roadway were reopened for Silver Line use.


  1. ^ Spring 2005 counts from CTPS, obtained by public information request from the MBTA.
  2. ^ Spring 2006 counts for typical weekday, obtained by public information request from tha MBTA.
  3. ^ Schedules & Maps: Subway: Silver Line. [MBTA]. Accessed January 26, 2010
  4. ^ New Silver line service, MBTA press release, October 13, 2009
  5. ^ Transfer policy:
  6. ^ Association for Public Transportation, Car-Free in Boston, A Guide for Locals and Visitors, 10th ed. (2003), p.117.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Compare to
  9. ^
  10. ^ MBTA puts hold on 3d, final phase of its Silver Line - The Boston Globe
  11. ^ Federal Transit Administration (2003-11). "Silver Line Phase III: Boston, Massachusetts" (DOC). Press release. Retrieved 2008-10-14. "The overall project rating of Not Recommended is based on MBTA’s unreasonable operating cost assumptions. In addition, although FTA is reporting MBTA’s ridership forecasts above, FTA has concerns about their validity and is thus not evaluating the project’s justification criteria." 
  12. ^ a b MBTA Transit Projects: Silver Line Phase 3
  13. ^ Proposed new route for MBTA Silver Line could save money, shorten construction, National Corridors Initiative, Inc., February 13, 2006
  14. ^ - Local news and entertainment for Boston's Historic South End
  15. ^ Little Dig in Danger, Boston Globe, May 10, 2009
  16. ^ Mattapan Bus Rapid Transitand South Station Direct Connect Project Massachusetts Exectuive Office of Transportation. May 2009.
  17. ^ Transit archeology: Tour of abandoned subway network offers a glimpse of how the T was built Boston Globe, December 26, 2009.
  18. ^ Boston Globe graphic: Abandoned tunnels Boston Globe, December 26, 2009.

External links

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