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There is a story of a proper young lady from Boston who traveled to California to visit relatives. When she arrived, she was asked what route she had traveled. Her reply: "Via Worcester, of course!"
Boston is the focal point of New England, with the largest harbor north of New York City and rail lines in all directions. In addition to short haul and commuter service, direct long haul traffic comes over several routes:
The first major terminal in Boston (shown above) was built by the Boston & Providence, one of the roads that later formed the New Haven. As the rail net solidified and population increased along Long Island Sound, the traffic became too much for this facility and plans were made late in the 19th century to replace it.
South Station was constructed in 1898 on the banks of the Fort Point shipping channel, This is where the major action is, being at the upper end of the Northeast Corridor.
This facility was built with 28 stub end tracks under a new design of economical triple arched train shed (starting the move away from the traditional - and expensive - full arched sheds).
The train shed extended from the rear of the wedge shaped terminal building and off to the left in this illustration. South Boston was built with an eye to expansion. One feature is a set of lower level loop tracks for handling shuttle trains. However, this expansion never materialized and these loops remain largely unused today.
This is one of the busiest stations in the country, seeing some 800 trains daily. While a substantial portion of these are commuter trains, Eastern Corridor service as far south as Washington is frequent. Further, many well known trains provide long haul service (or through cars) to the South and to Florida as well as westward to Chicago, St. Louis and beyond.
Tenants of this monumental New England granite edifice include Boston & Maine (a secondary westward line), Boston & Albany (via Worcester - since absorbed into the New York Central) and, notably, the New York, New Haven & Hartford. Here it is possible to see modern streamlined lightweight cars, articulated Motor Trains, riveted heavyweights, Gothic cars and wood cars hauled by camelbacks parked side by side. Of all the Happy Hunting Grounds of train watching, South Station ranks among the top half dozen, right up there with Chicago and St. Louis.
On the outskirts of South Station, this lift bridge crosses the congested Fort Point Channel.
A mile and a quarter south of South Station, on the New York, New Haven & Hartford line to Providence, stands Back Bay Station. This might almost qualify as the third major Boston facility, as it is positioned to cover the metropolitan area south of Boston harbor. Many supposedly non-stop trains will pause at Back Bay, particularly the NH motor train "Comet".
Roughly one mile from South Station is the other major terminal for Boston. North Station is the home of the Boston & Maine (with through connections to subsidiary Maine Central) and concerns itself with commuter traffic, regional trains to the Maine peninsula and connections to eastern Canada.
Boston also has an extensive suburban transit system including a fair amount of elevated trackage within the city proper. Below is one of the primary terminals of this system: the Sullivan Square El Station, as seen in 1910. Part of this system can be seen curving past South Station in the illustration above.
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North East Rails © Clint Chamberlin.