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It runs underground through downtown Boston, and on the surface on several radial boulevards and into inner suburbs.

With a daily weekday ridership of over 232,000 in 2015, it is the most heavily used light rail system in the country.

The original Tremont Street Subway south of Boylston station has been closed since 1962, when the last streetcar line feeding into it was replaced by bus service, and Pleasant Street Portal at its southern end has been covered over.

Reuse of part of the tunnel for the Silver Line Phase III was briefly considered, but the narrow bore was found too small for the Silver Line buses which (unlike trolleys) are not fixed to their guideway.

No branches had used the Canal Street Portal except as a terminal since 1949 with the 93 or the Pleasant Street Portal since 1961 with the 43, and a shuttle until 1962.

All trains stop at Park Street, Boylston, Arlington, and Copley. On the eastern end, only "C" and "E" trains go past Government Center to Haymarket and North Station; the only train that services Science Park and Lechmere is the "E" Branch (although the "D" Branch will service these stations once the Medford extension is built).

The four branches are the remnants of a large streetcar system, which began in 1856 with the Cambridge Horse Railroad and was consolidated into the Boston Elevated Railway several decades later.

From there it runs south over the Lechmere Viaduct and into an extension of the Tremont Street Subway under downtown Boston to the Boston Common.The branches were given letters in 1967, two years after the green color was assigned to the line on August 26, 1965.The letters were assigned increasing from north to south, to the five remaining branches.The streetcar system peaked in size around 1930 and was gradually replaced with trackless trolleys and buses, with cuts as late as 1985.A new branch opened on a converted commuter rail line in 1959; the Green Line Extension project will add two new branches into Somerville and Medford in 2021.

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