Massachusetts Interurbans and Streetcars

Published: October 30, 2022

By: Adam Burns

As Dr. George Hilton and John Due note in their authoritative book, "The Electric Interurban Railways In America," rapid transit systems in New England largely grew out of local streetcar operations, which later expanded to link small towns situated within relative close proximity to one another.

Massachusetts was no different.  Its network was so dense that interurban/streetcar mileage (3,056) actually outpaced standard steam railroad mileage (2,106) when both peaked during World War I.  It was the only state to boast such an oddity.

In fact, when combining streetcar and interurban mileage, Massachusetts's network was actually larger than even Ohio's, generally recognized as the national leader at its peak (2,798 miles).  

Like the rest of New England, the rise of highways and a general lack of carload freight, led to the quick downfall of the Massachusetts network; except for some rapid transit trackage around Boston, it was entirely gone by 1933.

Connecticut Valley Street Railway

The Connecticut Valley Street Railway was chartered in 1900 to connect Athol, Greenfield, Northampton and Amherst. The railroad remained in operation until 1924 when streetcar service was abandoned.

Boston & Worcester Street Railway

The B&W was the only true interurban in the state, or at least one which operated with interurban equipment. It began operations over its entire 44-mile main line on June 30, 1903 connecting its namesake cities. It later built a short branch to serve Natick. The system remained somewhat stable through 1918 until serious deficits began to occur.

In 1925 it fell into bankruptcy and was renamed as the Boston, Worcester & New York Street Railway in 1927. The company tried to establish a solid business of less-than-carload freight (LCL) but lost this to truck traffic by the late 1920s. By 1932 the entire system had been converted to buses.

Interstate Street Railway

The Interstate Street Railway began operations in 1892 connecting Pawtucket and North Attleboro. A rather unprofitable operation from the start the property was reorganized or purchased a number of times before streetcar service was discontinued in 1933.

Boston & Northern Street Railway

The Boston & Northern Street Railway served communities surrounding Boston and was formed in 1901 from the Lynn & Boston Railroad, itself a combination of several smaller interurban railroads.

At its peak the B&N operated over 16 miles of track and later became part of the Bay State Street Railway. Overall the entire railroad was never very profitable and was abandoned in 1918.

Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn Railroad

The Boston, Revere Beach & Lynn Railroad was more of a commuter railroad than an interurban streetcar line, at least when it was first constructed.

The BRB&L began operations in July of 1875 connecting East Boston, Rowes Wharf, the Atlantic Avenue Elevated, Revere Beach, Winthrop and Lynn.

The commuter line was quite profitable, so much so that by 1914 it began updating its system to electric operation, which was completed in 1928.

However, like all interurbans the Great Depression and automobile hit the railroad hard. It filed for bankruptcy in 1937 and just three years later in January of 1940 discontinued all operations.

Warren, Brookfield & Spencer Street Railway

The Warren, Brookfield & Spencer Street Railway connected Spencer, Brookfield and Warren on a system that stretched nearly 20 miles. It was a rather unprofitable railroad lasting only until 1912 when it defaulted on its loans and was sold off in 1915.

Dedham & Franklin Street Railway

The Dedham & Franklin Street Railway connected Dedham and Franklin. It began operations in 1899 but was not very successful and was abandoned by 1912.

Gardner Electric Street Railway

The Gardner Electric Street Railway served the City of Gardner. It began operations in 1894 before becoming part of the Gardner Westminster & Fitchburg Street Railway just a few years later in 1899. Streetcar service in the city lasted until 1924 when it was discontinued.

Grafton & Upton Railroad

The Grafton & Upton Railroad dates back to 1873 when it was known as the Grafton Centre Railroad which connected Grafton with the Boston & Maine Railroad junction at North Grafton.

It became the G&U in 1888 by order of the state legislature. The railroad reached its final length when it connected to Milford in 1890 operating a route of roughly 15 miles.

The G&U operated both passenger and freight services, the former via streetcars until 1928 when it was discontinued. Freight service, however, has prevailed on the line and the G&U remains an active Class III shortline today.

Hingham Street Railway

The Hingham Street Railway served the town of Hingham operating from the North Street depot to Queen Anne's Corner. It remained in operation from the late 19th century until the 1920s when service was discontinued.

Milford & Uxbridge Street Railway

The Milford & Uxbridge Street Railway was the last interurban railroad to operate the route serving Milford. Service dated back to the Milford Street Railway of the late 19th century and the M&USR took over services in 1901 which lasted until 1928.

Holyoke Street Railway

The Holyoke Street Railway was chartered in 1884 and was built to connect Holyoke with a nearby amusement park the railroad constructed known as Mountain Park. While the amusement park remained in service through the 1980s the streetcar operation was discontinued in 1936.

Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway

The Massachusetts Northeastern Street Railway served Newburyport and Amesbury taking over in 1912 the property operated by the Haverhill & Southern New Hampshire Street Railway. It remained in service until 1930 when service was abandoned.

Middlesex & Boston Street Railway

The Middlesex & Boston Street Railway took over the operations of the South Middlesex Street Railway in 1907 (the property dated back to the Natick Electric Street Railway of 1891).

It remained in service for only three years before being purchased by the Boston Suburban Electric Companies. Its name remained and the railroad actually survived into the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) era when it began being subsidized in 1964.

The MBTA took over the operation in 1972 and continues to provide commuter services over much of the route.

Union Street Railway

The Union Street Railway was created in 1894 to serve New Bedford and Fall River. It later extended services to Wareham, Onset, and Monument Beach in 1901. The interurban railroad remained in operation until the 1940s when it was discontinued in favor of buses.

Hoosac Valley Street Railway

The Hoosac Valley Street Railway was a small interurban which served North Adams. It began operations in 1886 and lasted for 20 years before becoming part of the Berkshire Street Railway in June of 1906.

Northampton Street Railway

The Northampton Street Railway began operations in 1865 serving the town of Northampton. The railroad remained in operation until 1952 but streetcar service had been discontinued in 1933.

Oak Bluffs Street Railway

The Oak Bluffs Street Railway began operations in 1895 serving the resort area of Martha's Vineyard. It operated five miles of track and remained in service until 1917 when operations were abandoned.

Pittsfield Electric Street Railway

The Pittsfield Electric Street Railway came into being in 1886 after the Pittsfield Street Railway electrified its operations. It remained in service until 1910 when it became part of the Berkshire Street Railway. Streetcar service on the route lasted until 1932.

Bay State Street Railway

The Bay State Street Railway served the Boston area and came into being in 1911 taking over the operations of the Boston & Northern Street Railway. It remained in operation until 1919 when it became the Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway. Streetcar service on the line lasted as late as 1952.

Hartford & Springfield Street Railway

The Hartford & Springfield Street Railway began operations in 1896 connecting Hartford and Springfield. It operated streetcars until 1926 when the service was abandoned.

Springfield Street Railway

The Springfield Street Railway served the city of Springfield. It began operations in 1868 and streetcar service lasted until 1940 when it was discontinued in favor of buses (the company itself carried on until 1974).

Northern Massachusetts Street Railway

The Northern Massachusetts Street Railway took over the operations of the Gardner, Westminster & Fitchburg Street Railway. It remained in operation until 1924 when streetcar service on the route was abandoned. 


Other Notable Systems

Athol & Templeton Street Railway

Athol-Orange Street Railway

Bay Cities Consolidated Railway

Boston Worcester Trolley Air Line

Boston West End Street Railway

Citizens Electric Street Railway

Dartmouth & Westport Street Railway

Gloucester, Essex & Beverly Street Railway

Greenfield & Montague Transportation Company

Haverhill & Amesbury Street Railway

Mt. Tom Incline Railway

New Bedford & Ouset Street Railway

Newton Street Railway

Northampton & Amherst Street Railway

Shelburne Falls & Colerain Street Railway

Uxbridge & Blackstone Street Railway

Worcester & Marlboro Street Railway

Worcester & Southbridge Street Railway

Worcester Consolidated Railway

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