The MBTA Orange Line used to run smack dab through the middle of Charlestown. It was a monstrous, elevated eye-sore which ran the entire length of Main Street and the unnerving metal-on-metal squeal of the turning trains could be heard until the early morning hours. The rail line’s eventual demise was met with great fanfare and seen as a necessary step to improving the aesthetic quality of the community.
The train tracks and dilapidated platforms, however, were a lifeline for many people. In particular, the City Square and Sullivan Square train stops, and the accompanying street level bus depots, were a beehive of activity and a substantial flow of commuters going to and from their desired locations exemplified the daily MBTA grind.
I often passed through the abdomen-bruising, wooden turnstiles of the Orange Line. In my opinion, however, a ride on the train was anything but boring. Most people sat and read the newspaper or gazed at the advertisements, but I always stood and looked out the windows because you never knew what you might catch a glimpse of.
Heading “Inbound,” I’d sometimes notice “Townie” daredevils leaping off the lower level of the southeast expressway into the Boston Harbor waters, or view the awe-inspiring “port-of-call” battleships berthed at the Navy Yard. Looking downward, I might see kids from the North End chasing Charlestown youths back over the bridge, or “Townie” kids chasing North End kids in the opposite direction.
At the Thompson Square station, the train windows would inevitably be the target of BB-gun snipers, most notably on the “Tilkins lot” side, and eye-to-eye contact could be made with the third-floor residents who occupied the brownstone buildings along the train route.
My family lived in a house that abutted the elevated railway and I have been conked in the head by a piece of ceiling plaster that was shaken loose as a train rumbled by. I also remember hearing the distinct thunderous crashing sound whenever a motor vehicle collided with one of the ground-level iron stanchions. For that matter, I wish I had a nickel for every time a pigeon nailed me with “droppings” when I crossed the street underneath the tracks.
The removal of the elevated train system was quick and efficient, although the last remnants of the Thompson Square station lingered as a shrine to an era gone by. I can’t say that I miss the “old” Orange Line, but I most certainly will never forget it.
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