Beginner's Guide to the Subway
The subway is the largest part of Boston’s public transit system, with more than 700,000 trips each weekday. It is often referred to simply as the T (the “T” from MBTA—the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority).
The trains—or trolleys, as they’re sometimes called here—connect downtown Boston to communities within and near the city.
In this guide, we’ll talk about the basics of the system, and we’ll explore each line and where it can take you. Sit back and enjoy the scenery—each line runs at least partially above ground!
Getting to Know the Subway
Wherever you’re going in Greater Boston, the T can help get you there. Here are some basics of the subway.
There are 4 main subway lines—the Green, Blue, Orange, and Red lines—with 128 stops throughout Allston, Braintree, Brighton, Brookline, Cambridge, Dorchester, East Boston, Jamaica Plain, Malden, Mattapan, Medford, Milton, Mission Hill, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Roxbury, Somerville, and South Boston.
All routes operate 7 days a week, and they all stop near Boston Common, right downtown:
It’s easy to make connections to or from other subway lines, MBTA buses, Commuter Rail, Amtrak, and regional bus services.
Did you know? The country’s very first subway tunnels are still in use today under Boston Common. The Tremont Street subway opened in 1897 as North America’s first subway tunnel. It’s still in use today, connecting Government Center, Park Street, and Boylston stations.
A one-way fare on the subway is $2.40 with a CharlieCard, CharlieTicket, or cash. Reduced fares are available for eligible riders.
Passes for 1 day ($12.75), 7 days ($22.50), or the Monthly LinkPass ($90.00) are also available.
Did you know? The most popular pass for most commuters is the LinkPass, which provides unlimited travel on subway and Local Buses for a calendar month. LinkPasses are now available as a CharlieCard that automatically renews every month.
Most trains run between about 5 AM and 1 AM, and some lines have service as late at 1:50 AM.
Service runs more frequently during rush hour, between 6:30 AM – 9 AM and 3:30 PM – 6:30 PM on weekdays.
Subway schedules are available in several formats:
- On our website: Simply click on any line, and select “schedules from here” under any station. From there, you can see how frequently the train is scheduled to depart, as well as train locations in real time.
- As a PDF: Download the subway schedule PDF, which lists how frequently trains run during different parts of the day.
- Paper printouts: Schedules are available at Park Street, Airport, Malden, Harvard, Haymarket (Green Line level), Back Bay, Downtown Crossing (Orange Line level), and Quincy Center. Schedules are also available at the State Transportation Building (10 Park Plaza) and 45 High St. You can also request them from Customer Support. Braille and large-format schedules are available too.
We recommend using a real-time app, like the MBTA-endorsed Transit app, or the website to stay updated on departure estimates.
If you have questions about schedules, call Customer Service at 617-222-3200.
The Silver Line is listed alongside train routes sometimes, but it's actually a bus! Some Silver Line stops are underground and use fare gates, just like subway stations.
Taking Your Trip
Here are some things to keep in mind at your station or stop, when you board your train, and while on your trip.
There are several options for buying tickets or loading up your CharlieCard.
Fare Vending Machines
You can buy 1-day, 7-day, cash value, and monthly passes at fare vending machines. They are located at all subway stations. Fare vending machines accept credit, debit, and cash payments.
Retail Sales Locations
Tickets and passes are available at retail stores throughout the region. Stores accept credit, debit, and cash payments.
Cash value and passes can be added to CharlieCards online. You can register your card with a MyCharlie account to protect it if it is lost, stolen, or damaged.
You can also sign up for auto-pay, a monthly LinkPass that automatically renews each month.
At most MBTA subway stops, you'll use your CharlieCard or CharlieTicket at a fare gate to access the train platform. At street-level stops on the Green Line and Mattapan Trolley, you’ll pay your fare at the onboard fare box.
Did you know? The T has both trains and trolleys. What’s the difference? Trains are used on heavy rail systems (like the Blue, Red, and Orange lines), and trolleys are used on light rail systems (like the Green Line and the Mattapan Trolley).
At stations, there are countdown clocks that offer estimated train and trolley arrival times. Aboveground stops may not have these, but real-time information is always available on our website or your preferred trip-planning app.
There are also a variety of smartphone apps to help you plan trips on the MBTA.
The MBTA-endorsed Transit app is the best way to plan your trips around Boston. Use the app to find the nearest subway stop, see when the next train is arriving, and find out how long your commute will be.
If trains are delayed for any reason, we’ll post that info on our subway alerts page and each line’s schedule page.
Did you know? You can get notifications about delays and planned disruptions for the routes and services you use most with T-Alerts. T-Alerts are delivered via email or text message.
The T gets crowded. We ask customers to follow a few rules for the comfort and safety of everyone on board:
- Let passengers exit the vehicle before attempting to board, especially during rush hour.
- When boarding, please move all the way into vehicle, as far away from the doors as possible. This helps make room for other passengers.
- Only take 1 seat. And if you have a seat and no other seats are available, please offer your seat to seniors, pregnant women, and people with disabilities.
- Take off your backpack, and keep large personal items on the floor and out of the way.
Service animals are allowed on the T at all times.
Non-service dogs are not allowed on the T during peak hours: 7 AM – 10 AM and 4 PM – 7 PM on weekdays.
Dogs should be on a leash and cannot take up a seat, but there is room for them to lay down under the seats.
Small animals like cats and rabbits should be kept in pet carriers. Please keep the carrier on your lap if possible and away from vehicle doors, especially during rush hour.
Bikes are not allowed on the T during peak hours, 7 AM – 10 AM and 4 PM – 7 PM on weekdays, and they’re never allowed on the Green Line or Mattapan Trolley.
All upcoming stops are announced over an intercom system. All trains have full system and line maps posted inside each car, and some have digital screens onboard that show what stop is next.
When Green Line trains are running at street level, you will need to request a stop. Press the yellow or black tape near the windows, or pull the gray cable near the ceiling of the train.
Request a stop on the Mattapan Trolley by pulling the cable near the ceiling.
The Green Line
The Green Line serves more than 180,000 customers each weekday. The light rail line runs south from Cambridge into Boston, where it branches into the E Line, to Heath Street, from Copley. Past Kenmore to points west of the city, it splits into the:
The Green Line got its name because it travels through Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system.
The four branches of the Green Line include stops in:
- Mission Hill
All trains stop at:
Did you know? The Green Line used to have an A branch! It split off from the B branch and ran to Watertown down Brighton Avenue. It was replaced by the 57 bus in 1969.
All of the Green Line trolleys reach:
Find some of Boston’s biggest museums are also on the E Line:
- Museum of Fine Arts (Museum of Fine Arts)
- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Museum of Fine Arts)
- Museum of Science (Science Park)
Sports fans will find:
- Fenway Park, the home of the Red Sox, at Kenmore
- TD Garden, the home of the Celtics and the Bruins, at North Station
Did you know? As part of the Green Line Extension (GLX) work, 24 all-new, modern Green Line vehicles will be added to the fleet starting in the fall of 2018 and continuing through the summer of 2019.
Along the Green Line, you’ll find:
- Bay State College
- Berklee College of Music
- Boston Architectural College
- Boston College
- Boston University
- Emerson College
- Emmanuel College
- Fisher College
- Harvard Medical School
- Harvard School of Dental Medicine
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
- Hult International Business School
- Massachusetts College of Art and Design
- Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
- Newbury College
- New England School of Law
- Northeastern University
- Simmons University
- Suffolk University
- Wentworth Institute of Technology
Did you know? The T works with colleges and universities to provide discounts on semester-long MBTA passes for students through the Semester Pass Program.
The Orange Line
The Orange Line serves nearly 200,000 customers each weekday. This heavy rail line runs south from Malden through downtown Boston and into the Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
Did you know? The Orange Line fleet will be entirely replaced with all-new trains by 2022, and the fleet size will increase from 120 cars to 152.
At Haymarket Station, many Boston landmarks are close by:
- Haymarket, Boston’s oldest outdoor market
- The Rose Kennedy Greenway
- The North End, Boston’s Little Italy
- Paul Revere’s House
- The Old North Church
- City Hall Plaza
- Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Chinatown Station is also steps from Boston’s historic Chinatown.
For shopping and dining destinations, check out:
Along the Orange Line, you’ll find:
- Bay State College
- Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
- Bunker Hill Community College
- Roxbury Community College
- Suffolk University
The Red Line
The Red Line serves more than 260,000 customers each weekday. The heavy rail line runs south from Cambridge into Boston and South Boston, and branches into 2 sections south of JFK/UMass. The Braintree branch travels through Quincy (on the South Shore), and the Ashmont branch travels through Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. From Ashmont, the Mattapan Trolley offers light rail service to Milton.
The Red Line got its name because it travels through Harvard University, home of the Crimson.
Did you know? The Red Line fleet will be entirely replaced with all-new trains by 2023, and the fleet size will increase from 218 cars to 252.
Customers can transfer to the Mattapan Trolley at Ashmont. If paying with a CharlieTicket or CharlieCard, you can make 1 transfer for free within 2 hours of your first payment. No transfers are available when using cash.
The trains along this route are from the Presidential Conference Car (PCC) fleet, built in 1945-46. Riding the 2.5-mile line is like taking a trip back in time.
Did you know? The MBTA’s light rail system, including the Mattapan Trolley and the Green Line, ranks 2nd in ridership nationwide.
The Red Line includes stops in:
- South Boston
At South Station, many Boston landmarks are close by:
At Park Street, historic sites are just steps away:
At Downtown Crossing, check out shopping and dining destinations
At JFK/UMass, make your way to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. They are side-by-side and about a mile away. Free shuttle service is provided from the station during the day.
Along the Red Line, you’ll find:
- Emerson College
- Harvard University
- Lesley University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- New England School of Law
- Quincy College
- Suffolk University
- Tufts University
- University of Massachusetts Boston
The Blue Line
The Blue Line serves more than 67,000 customers each weekday. The heavy rail line travels from Revere, on the North Shore, into Boston, where it ends near the historic Beacon Hill neighborhood.
The Blue Line got its name because it travels underneath Boston Harbor and along the Atlantic Ocean.
At Aquarium, many Boston landmarks are nearby:
Bowdoin is at the base of Beacon Hill and a short walk from:
Planning an Accessible Trip
Many subway stations are accessible to people with disabilities, and we offer trip planning assistance to help you get the most out of your journey on the MBTA.
If you are a senior or person with a disability, you may be eligible for reduced fares.
Most, but not all, subway stations are accessible to people with disabilities. Some above-ground trolley stops are also accessible.
You can check station accessibility before your trip by visiting our list of Subway stations. Stations marked with the International Symbol of Accessibility (ISA or "wheelchair symbol") are accessible to people with disabilities.
Yes. People with disabilities and seniors are eligible for reduced fares on the subway with a Transportation Access Pass (TAP) or a Senior CharlieCard. A one-way fare is $1.10, and monthly passes are available for $30.
You can add value or passes to your card at fare vending machines, ticket windows, and retail sales locations.
People who are blind or have low vision ride all MBTA services for free with a Blind Access Card.