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South Station Concourse circa 1971, courtesy of Dan Brody

South Station Concourse circa 1971, courtesy of Dan Brody

The South Station Expansion project is about improving transportation service through more train tracks and redesigned platforms; upgraded switches, signals, and other infrastructure; and new passenger amenities. The proposed expansion will protect and prepare the station for future demand as other efforts have done over the past 116 years. Most significantly, a major renovation at the station occurred in the 1980s, after a period of underuse and neglect.

Although the original station was one of the busiest terminals in the country, ridership began to decline beginning in the late 1950s, corresponding with the rise of the automobile. In 1973, only 4 million rail passengers were using the station. Unlike some classic stations that were demolished, such as New York’s original Penn Station, South Station did survive.

The Boston Terminal Company sold the station to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) in 1965 for $6.95 million. The BRA planned to tear down the station and develop a trade and transportation complex on the site. In 1972, the wing along Atlantic Avenue was demolished. The same year, the chapel in the far southeast section of the station closed as it was razed to make way for the Stone and Webster office building at 245 Summer Street. By the mid-1970s, only 10 of the original 28 tracks and about one-third of the original station headhouse remained.

Concerned community members halted further demolition in 1975 when they succeeded in getting the building listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Boston’s only large-scale example of classical revival architecture. In 1978, having reintroduced commuter rail service and needing a multi-modal transit center, the MBTA purchased what remained of the station for $6.1 million.

South Station Concourse 2000sIn the summer of 1984, the MBTA began a 6-year renovation of South Station. The $80 million project was funded by a public/private partnership including the MBTA, Amtrak, Federal Railroad Administration, Urban Mass Transit Authority, and Beacon South Station Associates, then the manager of the station’s office and retail space. The old building was closed, and Amtrak and MBTA passengers were moved into a small temporary station in the platform area. The project included the complete rebuild of the headhouse, reconstruction of 11 station tracks with high-level platforms, and passenger amenities such as a new schedule board, benches and tables, a newsstand, and coffee shops.

During the renovation, workers used granite from the original Stony Creek quarry and brick from the still-functioning 19th century brick company to replicate the original materials on the rebuilt Atlantic Avenue wing (now home to the food court). The height of the new Grand Concourse was increased – a 200-foot long and 45-foot high glass wall provided a view of the station tracks. Other improvements included new terrazzo flooring, granite walls, and trussed ceiling frames.

The first high-level platforms went into service in May 1987. In August 1988, passengers returned to the main building. The revitalized South Station Transportation Center was rededicated on November 13, 1989.

South Station Bus Terminal

South Station Bus Terminal

Phase Two of the project was quickly put into action. Beginning in January of 1989, an entirely new bus terminal was built above the tracks and adjacent to the main building. This central structure replaced the Greyhound/Trailways Terminal in Park Square, the Peter Pan Terminal in Dewey Square, and the Plymouth and Brockton open-air terminal along Atlantic Avenue. The South Station Bus Terminal officially opened on October 28, 1995 with a 223-car parking garage, 23 docks for inter-city, regional, and commuter bus operators, two docks for express bus service to Logan Airport, and 4,400 square feet set aside for retail, food, variety, and coffee shops.

MassDOT is envisioning the next phase of this historic landmark. Visit the project website to learn more about South Station’s future.

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