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Friday, April 4, 2008

New England Railroads

Here is a photo of the Amtrak train at the station at New London, Connecticut. Before Amtrak unified the nation’s passenger rail system in a national railroad, the United States had a diverse and colorful collection of independently owned and operated railroads. So did New England.

As early as 1839 we had the Hartford & New Haven Railroad, which reached Springfield in 1844 and became the Springfield, Hartford & New Haven. The Boston & Albany arrived in 1841, though in the planning stages the Massachusetts legislature thought that a railroad traversing the length of the state was physically impossible. The Boston Courier scoffed in 1827 that “A Railroad from Boston to Albany is impracticable…as useless as a railroad from Boston to the moon.” Railroads breaking down the distance, whether it be near or far, turned out to be neither impracticable nor useless.

There was the Stamford & New Canaan Railroad in 1866, the New Haven & Northampton, the New York, Providence & Boston by 1837, the Housatonic in 1842 which connected Bridgeport, Connecticut with West Stockbridge, Mass. There was the Providence & Worcester in 1847, the Boston & Maine by 1862, the old Bangor & Piscataqua Canal Railroad in 1836, and the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad in 1870.

Of this last named, it was announced last month that the Belfast & Moosehead Lake Railroad Preservation Society is closing due to lack of ridership and member support. There are a number of rail line preservation groups in New England, including the Berkshire Scenic Railway with some cars shown here, and the Green Mountain Railroad, which continue to provide for us the nostalgic experience of riding the old-time railroads.

It’s been said that what with fuel expense and environmental concerns, train travel is the most economical and environmentally efficient mode of travel these days. One would hope there is a renewed effort to providing improved modern rail service in this country as an alternative. But let us not forget the classic years of train travel, which are amply represented in New England by rail preservation societies. Visit one near you and take a ride. Don’t just read books or watch movies about it. See for yourself.

For more information on the Boston & Maine, see this website.

For more information on the Berkshire Scenic Railway, see this website.

For an interesting article on the History of Railroads in Maine, have a look at this website.

Been there? Done that? Ate in the dining car? Let us know.

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