• Were was the switchback at South Ashburnham, Ma?

  • Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England
Pertaining to all railroading subjects, past and present, in New England

Moderators: MEC407, NHN503

I read somewere there was a switchback on the Fitchburg to Hoosac tunnel line, near the horseshoe curve in Gardener. Were was the switchback? Does any part of it survive and/or can it be traced?

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  by TomNelligan
You are correct about the switchback, which was at South Ashburnham. The B&M's Fitchburg Division was built by the Vermont & Massachusetts RR. From the time it opened in 1851 until 1877, trains used a switchback to get up or down the hill. A line relocation then created the current big curve that trains use today. I don't know what traces, if any, of the old right of way might still be there. The B&M Historical Society's Bulletin had an article about this sometime back in the early 1980s, with a map. You can probably see a copy of that issue you visit the B&MRRHS archives in Lowell.
  by trainsinmaine
The ROW of the switchback is still there, and can be hiked. I've seen photos of it. It begins about a mile southwest of the curve (toward Fitchburg), and continues north-northwesterly through the woods, ending roughly where the curve begins. If you do an aerial search through Google, you can see where it went.

You've piqued my memory (and my curiosity). I'm going to be in that area later this week; I'll have to make the hike.

Are you also aware of the V&M relocation that took place between Baldwinville and South Royalston around 1874? I have walked most of the original roadbed. The section that replaced the original was itself replaced when Birch Hill Dam was constructed in the early '50s. It's not as readily accessible; you would have to cross the Millers River on foot to get to it.
  by Tracer
This seemed like a neat topic so i started looking at some maps. Wardmaps.com has a decent map (lower left corner) of the switchback before the horseshoe curve was built. Check out that really sharp curve at the northern end between the switchbacks!! I think you can still see that curve on local live.


http://maps.live.com/default.aspx?v=2&F ... &encType=1
  by Donpk
I hike in the area quite frequently and the old loop is very apparent on the ground.

Here is a clickable thumbnail link to a gps track I recorded while recently hiking in the area. I'd like to finish walking the old berm and record the complete track.


Why and when was the old loop widened into the current loop?

  by johnhenry
I walked the old switchback right of way today. Yes, there is the grade remains of a tight hairpin turn track just as the Ward map shows. I wonder if this was just for construction purposes (to bring fill from cutting on the east leg over to the long bank/fill on the western leg) or if some regular trains used it.
I had thought maybe it was created for a temporary through track while the larger hairpin turn was being created around 1875 (the new hairpin cuts through the switchback) - but its existence on the Ward map without the new hairpin kind of refutes that idea.
  by b&m 1566
Wasn't the switch back technically the beginning of the Cheshire? Looks to me there was a wye even with the old alignment, so did trains not typically take the really sharp curve? For sure they must have used the sharp curve to turn engines. Even with the new alignment (the one we see today) there still was a wye constructed for the Cheshire Branch.