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History of the Station

The Old Colony

The Old Colony Line, which dates back over 185 years to the frontier days of rail, is still a familiar name in present day Boston. To commuters it means transport, Monday through Friday, to sites southeast of Boston. Through the years, The Old Colony Line, has persevered through financial struggles, cutbacks, shutdowns and controversies. In its earliest days, the Old Colony provided a connection point to Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It was one of many rail entities gobbled up by the enormous New Haven Railroad empire during the late 1800s, when the latter signed a 99-year lease guaranteeing dividends of seven percent of Old Colony stock. Over the years, the Old Colony lines were relocated and expanded, all the while continuing to serve the communities of Massachusetts’ South Shore and Cape Cod. At its height, the Old Colony served many sites in those areas that are without rail service today including Provincetown, Newport and Fall River/New Bedford.

The Post-War Years

Following the end of the World War I, traditional rail could no longer handle the increases in commuters working in Downtown Boston. That’s when the Boston Elevated Company (predecessor to the MBTA) began to offer more rapid transit to those commuters, resulting in the shut down of many Old Colony stops. A reorganization plan soon called for the abandonment of 88 Old Colony stops with service reduced by 250,000 miles annually. The line was eventually split into the three main branches; The Boston Group, the Cape Group and the Western Group.

In 1940 came more bad news for the Old Colony when the ailing New Haven Railroad reorganization plan did not include the line. The following year, proponents of the railroad were granted a two-year period in which to prove the value of the line.

By 1948, following a 40-percent fare hike, service cutbacks and still-existing deficits, the end to the Old Colony Line was again announced, with service planned to end on October 1st of that year. However, proponents once again delayed service cancellation, with a one-year extension for the line. At the year’s end, the line’s fate was in question yet again, due to political wrangling on Beacon Hill, financial problems with area rapid transit lines and differing opinions among rail leadership. State government delivered some good - and bad -  news, deciding on a subsidy for the Greenbush, Plymouth and Cape branches of the Old Colony, but also deciding to end service between Boston and Taunton, New Bedford and Fall River. That subsidy was not continued and the Old Colony Line was shut down on June 30, 1959.

Under the MBTA

In 1965, the newly formed MBTA took title to the Old Colony from Boston to South Braintree for extension of rapid transit. Fast forward to the 1980s, when highway congestion in Boston caused daily rush hour traffic jams of record proportions. As the powers-that-be were planning the Central Artery Project, getting cars off the road became more of a priority and commuter rail became more important, resulting in the eventual revival of the Old Colony Line.

In September of 1997, the Old Colony rode again to Plymouth/Kingston and Middleborough/ Lakeville. In 2007, the Greenbush branch of the Old Colony Line, which extends to Scituate, was reinstated following years of controversy over funding and projected ridership numbers.

For those Old Colony lines that were not reinstated, some are used as scenic tourist railroads, such as in Newport. Others have been transformed into rail trails. The future of the Old Colony Line could include further restoration of another former branch, in the form of the South Coast Rail Project that would restore service from Boston to the Fall River and New Bedford area.

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