• B&M Stoneham Branch is . . . dead?!

  • Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.
Discussion relating to the pre-1983 B&M and MEC railroads. For current operations, please see the Pan Am Railways Forum.

Moderator: MEC407

  by l008com
After approximately 25 years of no traffic, they finally dug out the remaining grade crossing on the Stoneham branch just recently. This is the one in Woburn, where the line cross Washington street. I was wondering why they never got around to that. It was a particularly rough crossing too. If I had known they were going to get rid of it, I should have sneaked over and stolen some crossbucks ;-) If I remember what I learned from this forum, I think they disconnected the branch from the mainline around 1998. And I've read conflicting reports about when the jello factory got it's last shipment by rail. At some point in the 80s. I've heard 1984, I've heard 1988. I do remember vaguely seeing a tanker car parked on the rails, when you looked over the highway. The fact that I remember it, means it probably was later than 1984. More like 1988. Which is kind of funny because I had played down there as a kid and everyone assumed all those train tracks were totally abandoned. Its too bad they can't put the line back into service. The jello factory is huge and they get trucks in and out all day and all night long. And theres a few other businesses around maple st that could maybe benefit from rail service. I'm sure abutters in woburn wouldn't be too thrilled about it though. Oh well, it will most likely never happen anyway.
  by bobshoring
I was interested to read your account of removing the rails at the Washington Street crossing of the former Stoneham Branch of the B&M. I lived in Stoneham in the 1950's and remember the crossing. It was one of at last 2 grade crossings (that I knew of) that used US&S wigwag signals instead of flashers and/or crossing gates. The other one was at the William Street crossing in Stoneham. At both of these crossings the signals were similar to the one at North Conway which you can see at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1KA8sj7 ... re=related
with 6 concave chase lights mounted below the swinning banner.

When I lived there, there was a daily freight six days a week and two passenger trains inbound to Boston in the moring and 2 out in the evening. Around the time they switched from steam to diesel (about 1954) the passenger runs were cut to one and and out, but they no longer stored the equipment in Stoneham so the passenger trains deadheaded in and out of Stoneham so trains passed through these crossings at least 6 times a day on weekdays, and then there was a little track inspection car that came out on the branch once a day. The last passenger runs were in May or June 1958 and I rode on the next to last outbound run wiht my father. Two years later we moved out of state. I have fond memories of the trains running less than a block from our house.

Bob Shoring
  by jbvb
One of those wig-wags was still in service in 1968, when I saw it from an RRE fan trip.
  by bobshoring
That's interesting that one of those wigwags would still be used in 1968. I may have been on that same trip. I do recall being on an RRE trip that went all over the North Shore of the B&M including Stoneham in the late 60's. Didn't pay much attention to the signals at the time but I was looking for my house which was near the former Lindenwood Station. Also I was surprised to see that the turntable pit was still there. The first trains I ever saw as a kid were on this line, and of course were all steam. As I recall the midday freight was the first to go diesel. Steam remained on the branch until 1954. Great memories!
  by steveh
I grew up in Stoneham, and I still have family there. A couple of years ago a developer was trying to jam a Home Depot down the town's throat, adjacent to I-93 just south of Atlantic Gelatin, at Exit 35. It was defeated, but during the zoning and conservation process the subject of increased trucking came up -not just for the proposed Home Depot, but for Atlantic Gelatin as well. Mention was made of the railroad tracks and the question was raised as to why GF/AG doesn't use them anymore. Once it was pointed out that the tracks to the plant were disconnected, the subject was ubruptly dismissed.

The prevailing attitude among non-fans seems to be that once the tracks are gone, they're never coming back. The trail folks have probably helped to create this "myth." However if General Foods did ever decide to use rail again, the section of the branch from the junction to the plant would have to be completely rebuilt anyway, so in my mind it doesn't much matter that the track materials have been removed and the crossings paved over -unless someone were to come up with an alternate use for the ROW.

Unfortunately today, there is an approved plan, with pending federal funding to build a bike/walking path on the Stoneham branch ROW. I have nothing against rail/trails, built in the right location, and once any possible rail use is exhausted. But this one has got to be THE most ridiculous use of tax money ever conceived. Anyone who's ever driven around Stoneham knows that the ROW crosses no less than 6 busy streets (and 2 parking areas), including Main St (Rt 28), within a 2 block span. The proposed path would then have to cross Montvale Ave (another very busy street) and then cross under I-93 (north and southbound lanes) through the still extant RR "tunnel," before traveling along next to the chainlink & barbed wire fence of the Jello plant itself. After all that, crossing the plant's main entrance should be a snap.

I can't imagine many people actually using this particular bike/walking path, but it looks like it's happening. And once it does, we can forget any possibility of rail service to General Foods ever returning.

  by l008com
Yeah, as a bigger biker than a railfan, I can tell you that is going to be the worst rail trail ever. It simply doesn't go anywhere. The minuteman is a success because it GOES somewhere. The stoneham rail trail will just cause that many more traffic headaches in a town where they thing converting all the 2 way stops to 4 way stops is "traffic management". Apparently the people that run this town want it to be like cambridge, where it takes 45 minutes to get through town even in ideal conditions. Ugh...

I remember the home depot thing. Although I question the language of "shoving it down our throat". But eventually during that "situation", Home Depot themselves chimed in and said the developer never talked to them, and they had no intention of ever putting a home depot there. And even though the jello factories spur is nearby, its down a pretty sizeable hill and across some residential neighborhoods in winchester, so unless they were going to dig a billion dollar tunnel, you could never get rail service to the spot where home depot was to be.

But they could easily have gotten rail service to that lot off maple street that winchester hospital recently bought. I think they could have fit a home depot there. Parking may have been a little on the tight side though.

How does one GET rail service? Would they have to call guilford and beg them to offer to deliver their goods? Does AG's distributors have to arrange it? For the size of that building, it does seem pretty stupid. And I think every rail trail charter there is, states that the trail is just "reserving the right of way" until trains come back.
  by steveh
I did not mean to imply rail service for the proposed Home Depot. During discussions at one of the planning board meetings the truck traffic concerns led to comments about Atlantic Gelatin and their rail spur.

As for the developer's "story," he showed off a "letter of intent" from Home Depot HQ in Atlanta. But what he didn't tell residents was that 8 months before the town's zoning/conservation process ended, Home Depot had pulled out completely. They actually pulled out before the developer began talking with the state about adding another onramp at Exit 35. He strung everyone along, keeping abutters and local residents on edge about the whole thing for nearly a year. It wasn't until a reporter from the local paper called Atlanta that the truth came out.

You're right, the Stoneham branch and every other ROW is "railbanked" -but I can only think of one example nationwide where a trail has reverted back to rail, a line in Pennsylvania.

How does a manufacturer go about getting rail service? I think a huge corporation like AG parent General Foods would simply take the reigns and make it happen. I'm sure they'd have to underwrite some if not all of the cost of the re-construction, but I wouldn't be surprised if they've been led to believe it's beyond the realm of possibility. It's a shame too, because the plant still retains much of its trackage.

Last edited by steveh on Thu Dec 30, 2010 4:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
l008com wrote:How does one GET rail service? Would they have to call guilford and beg them to offer to deliver their goods? Does AG's distributors have to arrange it? For the size of that building, it does seem pretty stupid. And I think every rail trail charter there is, states that the trail is just "reserving the right of way" until trains come back.
MBTA owns the land and the charter, and it's designated landbanked. Whether freight could ever come back depends on if PAR still retains a trackage rights charter with the FRA over it. If they do, then provided the proper restoration hoops were jumped through for de-landbanking the ROW they could sign up new customers. That's exactly what's happening right now on the East Boston branch with the tank farm...they never gave up those rights even though the line was abandoned, so they were able to press with leverage for state cooperation on restoration when revenue appeared well worth the cost to all parties. But, if Guilford previously petitioned and was granted abandonment by the FRA of their trackage rights they're S.O.L. unless a new operating agreement were drawn up with the MBTA and approved by the FRA...AND the MBTA were sufficiently convinced it's worth it to start the de-landbanking process with all its hurdles (PAR would have little leverage to pester the T without an extant operating agreement)...AND all the real-world challenges (cost, rabid NIMBY's, guaranteeing the freight revenue) to restoration were overcome. Standard Guilford behavior has been to wash its hands of all its operating agreements on out-of-service/railbanked ROW's and abandoned/landbanked ROW's as fast as the last flanges leave the tracks, so it's a virtual certainty they abandoned their trackage rights to the Stoneham Branch years ago so they didn't have to pay one solitary cent for keeping those rights in hibernation. They wasted no time doing that on the arguably somewhat more freight-valuable T-owned North Reading and Saugus Branches. East Boston's a bit of an outlier in that they held on to it, but it's only been 15 years since abandonment and it doesn't take an economic forecasting genius to figure that a large gas tank farm is a decent speculative bet to want its rail service back in a future of higher fuel demand.
  by l008com
Interesting. So NIMBYs aside, and cost of laying new track aside, what would have to be worked out between PAR and the MBTA? Wouldn't it just be a matter of "we want to run trains", "ok"? They've got nothing to lose or gain either way, right? Would they have to pay 'rent' or something? I'd assume since par would be the only one's using it, they'd have to pay all the maintenance and initial rebuilding costs.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
l008com wrote:Interesting. So NIMBYs aside, and cost of laying new track aside, what would have to be worked out between PAR and the MBTA? Wouldn't it just be a matter of "we want to run trains", "ok"? They've got nothing to lose or gain either way, right? Would they have to pay 'rent' or something? I'd assume since par would be the only one's using it, they'd have to pay all the maintenance and initial rebuilding costs.
A lot of FRA bureaucracy to de-abandon and get new trackage rights approved, plus all the environmental permitting that has to take place for reactivating an abandoned/landbanked line. Landbanking laws are supposed to make that a straightforward process, but actual practice in Massachusetts (see Greenbush, Fall River/New Bedford service on the Stoughton Branch) makes the environmental permitting the far bigger of the two hurdles and the one where a NIMBY-orchestrated "Operation Chaos" can shoot cost through the roof and derail a restoration plan in a hurry. That's why so few reactivation plans are actually successful. Since the T is owner of the line it would have to lead a lot of those bureaucratic battles even though it would be PAR's line to operate. And I can't really see them doing that for a line with no passenger potential. The EOT might be more accommodating of freight interests since it is maintainer of the state freight rail plan, but they'd be unlikely to have much interest either unless you're talking a line bringing some pretty substantial economic injection or one with really strategic interconnection potential. A little stub like the Stoneham Branch abutting only a few small industrial properties wouldn't even begin to pique their interest.

Again, much different story when the RR retains trackage rights...like with East Boston or the joint CT/MA desire to reactivate the Armory Branch from the state line to Springfield (PAR owns that stretch itself). And much, much simpler still with OOS railbanked lines where tracks can be re-laid and reactivated at any time at the RR's discretion with only perfunctory permitting (mostly for grade crossing, culvert, conduit work, etc.) and little to no NIMBY power. Of course there's very few railbanked lines in MA since a requirement of that statute is a minimal amount of ROW maintenance (waste pickup, maintaining environmentally sensitive culverts, periodic inspections, etc.) at required sporadic intervals within every couple years. There's some (very minimal) additional expense attached to it beyond simply taxes on the land or fees on the charter, which is why cheapo PAR doesn't own a single OOS/railbanked ROW (except for maybe the Moran terminal track in Charlestown...although they've been trying to dump that for years and haven't been able to because of state pushback).

CSX does retain a couple railbankings: the Framingham & Lowell from the Agricultural Branch to South Sudbury, and the line through Sherborn and Holliston past the auto yard. It has, though, abandoned the formerly railbanked tip of the Agricultural Branch north of Leominster yard in the time since the last state RR map was issued in '07. Pioneer Valley RR has a stretch of the Canal Line from northern Westfield to Southampton railbanked. There's a couple privately owned ones: the Conley terminal tracks (CSX trackage rights) and the industrial spur on the tip of the Needham branch (Bay Colony trackage rights). Grafton & Upton is actively re-activating the railbanked end of its main. The state (EOT, non-MBTA) has a couple miles of OOS Cape Cod line from Yarmouth to Dennis before the trail starts, and a couple miles of the Wattupa Branch from Westport to the end in Fall River. The MBTA has the Hanover Branch, the Topsfield Branch to Danvers (future commuter rail hold for Peabody/Danvers service), and 1 mile of Fall River line past the yard to the state line (just purchased from CSX) OOS. It has in the last 2 years let the Saugus Branch and the line from Lynnfield to Danvers go abandoned for the trail folks, with PAR simultaneously dumping its trackage rights. If Bay Colony can't find more business and ends up becoming a fallen flag it's likely that the T will let the Needham Branch past Needham Heights and the Millis main from Needham Jct. out go OOS (non-abandoned, since both are passenger extension holds). Bay Colony's still poking around Millis trying to drum up new business, though, and curiously re-upped its trackage rights east of Medfield Jct. to Newton even though there's been no customers for almost 10 years and little potential for new ones. So those lines are still active, with the barest minimal amount of maintenance and required movements to keep them active. As is the (currently pretty much impassible) Watertown Branch until PAR can resolve its cold war with Newlyweds over buyout of their customer contract and abandon it for the trail.
  by Choo Choo Coleman
The Stoneham Branch is officially a Rail Trail:

http://www.tricommunitygreenway.org" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

It's called the Tri-Community Greenway and it runs through Stoneham, Woburn and Winchester.
I believe that all of the rail has been pulled up or at least the majority of it.