Framingham and Lowell Branch

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Framingham and Lowell Branch

Postby Flange Man » Thu Oct 11, 2007 12:10 pm

I lived near this branch. Unfortunately, by the time I moved to the area the trains on this branch were long gone. Is there anyone out there that has any information on this line.

1) What was the train frequency?
2) How long were the frieght trains that would use the line?
3) What kind of motive power was typically used?
4) What caused the line to be abandoned?
5) Does anyone have any photos of when the line was active?
6) What was the track speed for the line?

Any information on the line would be great. Unfortunately, it was used before my time.
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Postby TomNelligan » Thu Oct 11, 2007 8:00 pm

1. During the 1960s, the last years of the New Haven RR, the branch saw overnight symbol freights BL-1 and LB-2 between Boston and Lowell, and was also covered by local freight BX-6 out of Framingham as required.

2. BL-1 and LB-2 dropped and picked up B&A/NYC interchange traffic at Framingham and weren't very long trains north of there, maybe a couple dozen cars on the occasions I saw them.

3. Again in the 60s timeframe, typically NH roadswitchers (RS2s, RS3s, GP9s, RS11s, H16-44s), although just before the PC merger the NH assigned its last Alco FAs and FBs to BL-1/LB-2, which made those trains a railfan attraction for a year or so. PC kept the Alco cabs on the run through 1969.

4. Most of the traffic north of Framingham was interchange freight moving between the B&M and NH. When Penn Central closed the B&M interchange at Lowell circa 1970, there wasn't much left and the north end of the line died. PC and then Conrail continued to run to South Sudbury into the 1990s. The pre-Guilford B&M picked up a couple miles north from West Concord to the building supply center that was later run for a few years by Bay Colony.

5. Yeah, somewhere buried among my black & white negatives from the 60s. They may show up in a book someday, if books are still around when I retire and have time to put it together. :-)

6. In the 1960s, 30 mph north of Sudbury and 40 mph south of there.
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Postby Flange Man » Fri Oct 12, 2007 3:39 pm

Thanks Tom for the information. It is strange walking the line today to think that freight and passenger trains went down the line. My mind starts to wonder what it must have been like. Since most of the track is 107 pound I figured freight was the primary purpose for the line.

What was the reason that PC closed the interchange with the BM in Lowell? What there a better connection somewhere else?

The place where the Nashua and South Acton connected in Acton. Who governed that switch? Did the New Haven run thru trains to Nashua when that line was open?

Hopefully you will get some time to work on your book. I would be very interested in seeing photos of the line when it was active. In walking the line I have talked with many people who have lived next to the line for most of thier lives. One story that someone told me was that the caboose crews on the north bound trains would sometimes give kids rides to Chelmsford center from the Baptist Church Pond. Another story someone told me was that the train crew would sometime stop the train near the Baptist Church pond and each lunch. It is interesting to hear these stories of how the crews ran the trains over the line. Things are much different now.
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Postby TomNelligan » Fri Oct 12, 2007 8:34 pm

Flange Man wrote:What was the reason that PC closed the interchange with the BM in Lowell? What there a better connection somewhere else?

Penn Central shut down a lot of traditional NH operations when it took over the railroad in 1969 in an effort to economize. Pre-merger, the NH and B&M had active interchanges at Lowell, Boston (via the Union Freight RR along Atlantic Avenue), Worcester, and Springfield. They also connected at a few other points like Fitchburg and Northampton, but freight was not normally interchanged at those other locations. PC shut down the Lowell interchange as well as the UFRR in Boston in an effort to simplify things by routing traffic through fewer gateways. In addition to the Worcester and Springfield connections that remained active at the time, PC and the B&M also connected at Rotterdam Jct., NY, which eventually became the primary connection between the B&M and PC/Conrail and remains so today for CSX and "Pan Am".

I'm afraid the Nashua & South Acton connection was before my time -- I'm an old guy but not that old! But I'm pretty sure that neither the pre-NH Old Colony or the NH itself ever ran through trains to Nashua.
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Postby ewh » Sun Oct 14, 2007 1:19 pm

Just to complicate what Tom Nelligan has written: On a Saturday noon in 1974 I saw Penn Central haul about 80 cars northbound across the Sudbury diamond. Maybe this was a freak cleaning out of cars, but the interchange in Lowell must have still been taking place at that point.

I once saw an article, maybe in Trains magazine, that indicated that the New Haven routed a milk train and whatever other traffic they could obtain down the Framingham and Lowell (1930's & 40's) in order to justify its existence.

Local traffic on the branch was slim to none in the 1960's and the Lowell interchange certainly could have been done in Fitchburg or Worcester. The branch was a dead duck by the time Conrail came around.
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Postby RRBUFF » Sun Oct 14, 2007 8:52 pm

Back in the late 1950's I was in the US Army reserves and we were sent to Camp Drum (Watertown NY) by a strange routing New Haven from the South Boston Dock to Reedville ,Framingham, West Concord to the B&M to Rotterdam Junction to NY Central to Syracuse, and finally to Camp Drum. The return was NY Central all the way to South Station. It was one of the last Troop trains to make that routing.
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Postby Flange Man » Mon Oct 15, 2007 12:20 pm

Again thank you all for the infomation.

I heard that the line was used to run ski trains from New York City to the White Mountains back in the 30's?? as well as State of Maine Potato trains. I also heard that there was a Steam excursion in the 60's at some point too. Again it is hard to imagine looking at the line today that 80 car frieghts ever ran over the line. Someone told me a story of how some of the freight trains going through Chemsford Center would back traffic up in town.

EWH do you know what issue of Trains you read that article in?

It is a shame that the line was never opened for a tourist operation following its abandonment. It seems that many of the old New Haven branches in CT have faired better that regard. Granted it might not have been the most scenic line for that operation, but it proximity to Boston would have had a good customer base.

Again it would be interesting to see photos of the line when it was still in use.
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Postby TomNelligan » Mon Oct 15, 2007 1:48 pm

Flange Man wrote:I heard that the line was used to run ski trains from New York City to the White Mountains back in the 30's?? as well as State of Maine Potato trains. I also heard that there was a Steam excursion in the 60's at some point too.

I think the first is doubtful, the second is a "don't really know", and there's a very good chance that #3 is true. The New Haven and B&M did indeed run ski excursions in ancient times, but passenger trains between New York and the White Mountains were normally routed via Springfield and up the Connecticut River Line. Most of the seasonal B&M potato traffic from Maine to NH points was normally routed via Ayer and Worcester and interchanged at the latter point. Cars headed for Boston or Providence could have been interchanged at Lowell, but at the same time any potatoes destined for Boston itself would just have been unloaded by the B&M in Charlestown. Worcester was also the handoff point for through passenger service between New York and Portland, including the train called the State of Maine. In the mid-1960s, Steamtown founder Nelson Blount ran a bunch of excursions all over the east end of the NH using his ex-CPR Pacific #127, and my vague recollection is that one did go to Lowell but I didn't see that one in myself so I can't confirm.
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Postby Tom coughlin » Mon Oct 15, 2007 6:03 pm

When Steamtown 127 was heading up trips on the New Haven (1966?), one trip did use this line. My dad took me to Walpole to see it.

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Postby ewh » Tue Oct 16, 2007 7:41 am

About the article in "Trains": I think I read it in the 1970's while in grad school at the University of New Hampshire, while haunting the stacks. I have no idea when it was written. Talk about arcane information. I filed it away because I grew up in Southboro on the Fitchburg branch, but spent a lot of time driving to Sudbury and Concord. I don't think I ever saw a local freight on the Lowell branch.

Regarding trains to Fort/Camp Drum. There is a photo piece in Life magazine from about 1948 about the Maine National Guard (tanks, trucks, and cannon) going to Drum from Portland up the Mountain Division, across Vermont on the St. J & LC to Alburg, on the Rutland to the NYC junction outside Ogdensburg, and the NYC into Drum. Back and forth must have taken up a good part of their two weeks' training! I was at Drum (or Pine Camp originally) back in 1987 and 1988 and all I can say is that you can't do THAT anymore.
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Postby Flange Man » Thu Oct 18, 2007 8:07 am

Again I would like to thank everyone for their contribution to this topic.

A few more questions.

1) The bridge over the asabet river in West Concord. What that ever double tracked?
2) When was that bridge removed?
3) Why was the bridge removed? Was in bad condition?
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Postby RussNelson » Thu Oct 18, 2007 9:12 am

I've got a friend who lives near this line. Except for the southern section owned by CSX (ironically, it was the railroad owner that pulled up the tracks whereas the non-railroad owners further north have left them in place), the tracks are still there! It's largely brushed over, but there's a short section that somebody cleared the brush. Could be cleaned up pretty easily and turned into a nice railbike trail, but of course that's not likely. Nobody wants to encourage the existance of railbikes because of the potential for idiots taking them on active rail lines.

Yes, that routing to Fort/Camp Drum was prossibly the very last troop train movement over the Rutland, given that the union took the railroad down with it in 1961. Rails pulled in 1963. Here's my page on the Rutland:
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Postby BM6569 » Fri Dec 28, 2007 6:02 pm

Part of the old lowell line is visible in Chelmsford. Some of the rails though, are now "twisted" due to roots around them. After seeing that section in person, I couldn't beliebe that line was used in the 70's. It looked like it had been abandonded 50 years ago.

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Postby Flange Man » Mon Jan 07, 2008 9:02 am

Well it looks like the bike path is on its way. I was driving down RT 27 between Chelmsford and Westford and it looks like they have cleared the ROW. It is amazing to see what 30+ years of non use would do to a ROW. The line looks good with out all the trees along the ROW.
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Re: Framingham and Lowell Branch

Postby davidp » Wed Oct 29, 2008 1:59 pm

Looks like this thread has been quiet for some time, but here's my $.02 worth...

Picking up where Tom left off, after the PC closed the interchange at Lowell the line saw only local service. It was excluded from the USRA's Basic System Plan - the blueprint for the creation of Conrail in 1976. The Commonwealth of Mass stepped in to subsidize service from Framingham to Chelmsford. The line was severed north of Chelmsford Center, with the B&M stepping in to serve a customer or two in Lowell. Later on, Guilford used the north end for boxcar storage in the mid-eighties.

I lived in Maynard in 1980-81 and would occasionally see the local, which ran Saturday mornings. Usual power was an ex-NH GP-9, but on occasion B23-7s or GP-38s world show up. An ex-PC transfer caboose usually went along with the few cars destined for points noth of Sudbury, and on at least one occasion in the winter I saw them run with a diesel at either end out of concern that shoving the caboose through grade crossing flangeways filled with ice and road sand might result in derailment. One Saturday I chased what I believe was the final run to Chelmsford - after that a rail was lifted, further severing the line just north of Wickes lumber in North Acton.

Sometime around 1982 the state contracted Guilford to take over operation of the line from West Concord to North Acton, allowing abandonment of the South Sudbury - West Concord portion. The interchange track was restored at that time, and the West Concord diamond and Assabet River bridge removed not long after. Guildford subcontracted the operation to subsidiary Springfield Terminal (before ST took over all Guildford lines). This allowed operation under a more economical labor agreement. The ST crew would drive to West Concord in a flatbed trailer truck, unload a Trackmobile from the back, and deliver whatever cars had been left off by the Ayer - West Cambridge local. I'm not quite sure when the operation quit, but Wickes went out of business in the early eighties and by the time I moved back to the area in 1996 the trains were long gone. For several years after an ex-US Navy center cab switcher sat in the weeds about a half mile north of West Concord, but that's also gone now.

Chelmsford has begun work on the Bruce Freemen rec trail that will use the right-of-way. Acton has also committed to the trail, but there has been some vocal opposition form abutters in Sudbury.
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