Rapid Transit Commission

The Rapid Transit Commission and the BERY

During the late Nineteenth Century as Boston continued to steadily develop as a population, industrial and educational center, a major problem arose that would lead to two historically significant urban mass transportation milestones—North America's first subway (1897), and mass transportation planning on a greatly expanded regional basis (1964). By the 1880's, Boston's Tremont Street had become so clogged with streetcars that the wags of the day retorted that it would be much quicker for a passenger to climb onto the roof of their trolley and walk over roof tops of stalled vehicles to reach their destination.

In July of 1891, public dissatisfaction with the transit situation forced the governor to appoint a special commission to investigate the public transportation requirements of the Boston area and to recommend any changes toward the existing system. Elevated railway proponents had advanced ambitious plans for elevated railways to cover the downtown districts. Subway proponents argued for a subway under Tremont Street and other sections of the City.

The Commission defined the territory to be covered by their recommendations as lying within ten miles of the State House, an area containing 27 cities and towns with a population of 850,000. In April of 1892, this Rapid Transit Commission issued its report recommending the construction of four different elevated railway lines and a tunnel for streetcars down Tremont Street, under the Common and Public Garden. On July 2, 1894, as a result of these findings, the Massachusetts Legislature authorized the incorporation of the Boston Elevated Railway Company (BERY) and creation of the Boston Transit Commission.

The Boston Elevated Railway Company was to be privately owned and was delegated the responsibility of building a network of various suburban elevated railway lines. The Transit Commission was to be a government agency whose main existence would concentrate on the Transit Commission's reccomendations for additional subway extensions.

Initially, the Boston Elevated Railway as a private company experienced difficulty raising necessary capital. By this time, though, the West End Street Railway was in difficulty. It had a virtual monopoly on all streetcar lines in greater Boston, but high profits, poor service, high fares and a general lack of concern for the public had resulted in alienation of the West End's management from its customers.

On December 9, 1897, under the supervision of the Transit Commission, a lease was entered into with the West End Street Railway by which the property of that company was leased to the Boston Elevated Railway Company for a term of twenty-four years, eight months and nine days from October 1, 1897. Because of legalities, lease requirements, stock negotiations and ratifications by various parties, the Boston Elevated Railway did not finally take possession until December 30, 1897.

This soon proved to be advantageous to the future of the mass transportation system here in Boston. Subway/elevated rapid transit lines were integrated with surface routes under one coordinated management. But before this could become a fait accompli, a bitter proxy battle took place. J.P. Morgan had purchased the Boston Elevated Railway's franchise assigning 50% interest to Kidder, Peabody, and Company. If the Boston Elevated Railway was to be profitable, all surface and rapid transit lines had to be unified. But the West End management, use to high profits and dividends, was not about to be absorbed by anyone. Nonetheless, at a November 24, 1896 West End annual meeting, a proxy battle took place and the Boston Elevated Railway came out the winner.

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