Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

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Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby BostonUrbEx » Thu Apr 17, 2014 12:28 pm

I know that an extension to Gardner is routinely shot down by most of us armchair transit planners around here, but how feasible is an extension to Winchendon? Gardner is not considered feasible due to its direct access to MA-2, which essentially parallels the line, and the fact that the rail line wanders north to a horseshoe curve (putting the line at a disadvantage over the roadway, rather than equal competition).

So I ask, what is the state of the right-of-way which runs from South Ashburnham to Winchendon? This is a fairly straight shot from Winchendon to Wachusett Station, and a much better alternative over driving. Winchendon does not have any access to a limited-access highway. I'm also wondering if this could set the stage for buses to run between Keene, NH and a theoretical Winchendon Station. The ROW beyond Winchendon is also at least partially a rail-trail to Keene.
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby Hoopyfrood » Thu Apr 17, 2014 12:47 pm

I don't think rehabilitating that ROW is feasible for the low volume. They would be better served spending that amount of money (and it would be a lot, based on satellite images) on cutting the S. Ashburnham curve out entirely by rerouting the line over by the prison, and going with Gardner again. There are also a few buildings that would be disrupted by rebuilding the ROW (they'd lose parking and access, from the look of it), and you would have to rebuild the grade crossing there as it appears to be gone entirely now.
The volume from Keene/Rindge I don't think would ever justify that level of construction and expense, unless NH put much or most of the money in for the Mass side of things (and they'd never do that). Bringing all of the traffic to someplace like Gardner would be more efficient and probably less expensive, in the long run, and we have seen that the T couldn't justify that when they did it before. Personally I'd love it, but the money justification just isn't there.
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby B&Mguy » Thu Apr 17, 2014 11:04 pm

Interesting idea in this thread, and here are a few of my ideas on the subject:

It seems that if you're going to re-open the line from South Ashburnham to Winchendon, you may as well reopen it all the way up to Keene, and at that point, why not just keep going to Bellows Falls? Winchendon in itself doesn't seem like much of a destination, and it seems like there probably aren't too many people commuting from that area into Boston. I could see the city of Keene, particularly Keene State University showing interest in the idea, but at the same time, would the ridership offset the rebuilding and operating costs?

How difficult would it be to eliminate the hairpin turn at South Ashburnham, and just head straight across closer to MA Route 2? I think the Fitchburg RR had inititally built that lengthy detour to avoid the hilly terrain, and it would probably still be a massive project to relocate it.

I would personally love to take the train from Porter Square on a Saturday morning to climb Mount Monadnock, have a post hike beer and burger at the Elm City Brewery, then head home in the early evening, but I'm afraid that trip can only be done in a car at this time. It's nice to daydream though! :-)
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby Mcoov » Fri Apr 18, 2014 1:14 am

That part of MA/NH doesn't have much of a connection with Boston, so I can't imagine ridership ever supporting the cost of extending Fitchburg trains out that way, even if the tracks were intact. An RDC Fitchburg-Keene and back could work, especially if some of them are coordinated with Fitchburg line departures, but a Boston-Keene train seems like it would be far too long and far too expensive to support the little ridership I predict it would receive.
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby BostonUrbEx » Fri Apr 18, 2014 7:44 am

Mcoov wrote:That part of MA/NH doesn't have much of a connection with Boston, so I can't imagine ridership ever supporting the cost of extending Fitchburg trains out that way, even if the tracks were intact. An RDC Fitchburg-Keene and back could work, especially if some of them are coordinated with Fitchburg line departures, but a Boston-Keene train seems like it would be far too long and far too expensive to support the little ridership I predict it would receive.


Indeed, I figure most people out there are not looking to commute to Boston. Although, perhaps it could spur some interest if the line is beefed up for a speedy, hassle-free ride. However, it could also be used intra-regionally, not just for people going to Boston. As you said, maybe there's Winchendon-Fitchburg traffic.

I left Keene out because it's partially railtrail, now. I don't know the state of politics in the area, but I would imagine it is fairly well earth-salted.

Given the state of the line, and how it is fairly straight-forward, I wonder if Boston-Burlington-Montreal is more feasible via Keene than via Concord, NH. It would lack a great deal of population in between (Nashua, Manchester, Concord), but it may be faster and cheaper. But I digress, that's for a non-MBTA forum, I suppose.
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby cpf354 » Sun Apr 27, 2014 6:52 am

The Cheshire Branch was one of the first routes rail banked by New Hampshire, back in the 1970s, so it is owned by the state. But since there seems to be little momentum even to extend commuter rail to Nashua, Manchester, or Concord, extending to Keene is an extremely remote possibility. Last time I drove through Winchendon there were no rails to be seen.
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby NRGeep » Sun Apr 27, 2014 1:45 pm

B&M left the infrastructure inact including rail after abandoning the Cheshire in '72. Freight to Jaffrey used the line to Winchendon till '84. Guilford ripped up the rails and the steel bridges (stone arch bridges still there) in the Summer of '84. With Green Mountain RR showing interest as far as Keene from North Walpole and some interest by the P&W for the South Ashburnham to Winchendon segment Fink 1.0 and his lawyers were not going to allow any other railroad to use the line. At this point with most industry gone and passenger demand probably minimal plus the massive cost of rebuilding bridges etc it dosn't seem likely the Cheshire would be reactivated anytime soon if ever. Hey, I would love to take a train to Marlboro NH and hike up Monadnock too! It's nice to dream... :wink:
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby trainsinmaine » Thu May 22, 2014 3:42 pm

BostonUrbEx wrote:
Mcoov wrote:That part of MA/NH doesn't have much of a connection with Boston, so I can't imagine ridership ever supporting the cost of extending Fitchburg trains out that way, even if the tracks were intact. An RDC Fitchburg-Keene and back could work, especially if some of them are coordinated with Fitchburg line departures, but a Boston-Keene train seems like it would be far too long and far too expensive to support the little ridership I predict it would receive.


Indeed, I figure most people out there are not looking to commute to Boston.


Question from a former resident of that area who frequently returns there: If they're not looking to commute to Boston, why are Routes 12, 140 and 2 between Keene, Gardner and Boston so full of traffic on weekdays between 6:30-8:30 AM and 3:30-5:30 PM? Route 2 can be pretty hairy from Gardner to Boston during rush hour.

One thing that hasn't been brought up in this discussion is that back in the 1970s - early '80's there was a serious proposal to build a new, major regional airport in Winchendon(!) that would be an alternative to Logan, relieving some of the congested air traffic there. Having lived in Maine for nearly forty years, my knowledge of the plan is sketchy, but if I'm not mistaken it actually reached the point where it was discussed among local/regional governments and transportation planners. The idea was finally dropped when it was concluded that the environmental and community impact would be too considerable. Thus (although this is a simplistic historical statement) the way was paved for the vast later expansion of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby neman2 » Thu May 22, 2014 7:07 pm

trainsinmaine wrote:Question from a former resident of that area who frequently returns there: If they're not looking to commute to Boston, why are Routes 12, 140 and 2 between Keene, Gardner and Boston so full of traffic on weekdays between 6:30-8:30 AM and 3:30-5:30 PM? Route 2 can be pretty hairy from Gardner to Boston during rush hour.


There are a LOT of people from that area commuting to the Route 495 belt (Littleton,Westford,Chelmsford,Boxboro,Marlboro,etc.) and to Route 128 area if they can stand the Concord Rotary disaster (Lexington, Waltham etc.) a LOT of big office parks in those areas.
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby jonnhrr » Wed Jun 04, 2014 11:22 am

neman2 wrote:
trainsinmaine wrote:Question from a former resident of that area who frequently returns there: If they're not looking to commute to Boston, why are Routes 12, 140 and 2 between Keene, Gardner and Boston so full of traffic on weekdays between 6:30-8:30 AM and 3:30-5:30 PM? Route 2 can be pretty hairy from Gardner to Boston during rush hour.


There are a LOT of people from that area commuting to the Route 495 belt (Littleton,Westford,Chelmsford,Boxboro,Marlboro,etc.) and to Route 128 area if they can stand the Concord Rotary disaster (Lexington, Waltham etc.) a LOT of big office parks in those areas.


Many of those office parks are not convenient to transit, and in the few cases that are, by the time you do the 1 hr+ on the train plus a connecting bus or two, the commute is significantly longer than driving. As someone who commuted for many years between Hubbardston/Gardner and Bedford MA, the latter being a transit "black hole" with one crummy bus a day to Waltham and another to Alewife, I looked into commuting but unworkable with the schedules available. Coming from Winchendon would just be that much longer.

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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby FatNoah » Thu Jun 05, 2014 8:44 pm

the latter being a transit "black hole" with one crummy bus a day to Waltham


I used to commute daily on this bus. If I recall, it was two outbound morning trips from Boston and 1 Inbound. That said, transit from outside 495 to the 128 belt won't really be doable until there are transit connections from the trains to the office parks, which is unlikely to happen. Waltham used to have the Citi-bus, which had decent ridership (I was one of them!) during commute hours, but it didn't last very long and I was back on the 170 bus.
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Re: Wachusett Line extension to Winchendon

Postby boblothrope » Fri Jun 06, 2014 1:49 pm

FatNoah wrote:That said, transit from outside 495 to the 128 belt won't really be doable until there are transit connections from the trains to the office parks, which is unlikely to happen. Waltham used to have the Citi-bus, which had decent ridership (I was one of them!) during commute hours, but it didn't last very long and I was back on the 170 bus.


http://128bc.org/waltham-shuttle still runs to the office parks west of 128, 3 daily round trips. The schedule is reasonably well coordinated with trains to and from the west. But it's not the speediest way to commute -- the half hour on the bus, plus 5 to 15 minutes waiting for the transfer, would get you much of the way home if you were driving. And if something goes wrong and you miss your connection, you're in for a really long wait.

Suburb-to-suburb train commuting really only makes sense if your job is within walking distance of a station.
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