• Freight Operations on the "Northern" New Hampshire Mainline

  • Guilford Rail System changed its name to Pan Am Railways in 2006. Discussion relating to the current operations of the Boston & Maine, the Maine Central, and the Springfield Terminal railroads (as well as the Delaware & Hudson while it was under Guilford control until 1988). Official site can be found here: PANAMRAILWAYS.COM.
Guilford Rail System changed its name to Pan Am Railways in 2006. Discussion relating to the current operations of the Boston & Maine, the Maine Central, and the Springfield Terminal railroads (as well as the Delaware & Hudson while it was under Guilford control until 1988). Official site can be found here: PANAMRAILWAYS.COM.

Moderator: MEC407

  by newpylong
Scrapping what's there now will only save money if the corridor ever comes back. Every single piece of the physical plant will need to be replaced regardless.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
CPF363 wrote:
F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:Northern isn't included here because the rail removal pre-dates that corridor's federal designation as a Boston-Montreal candidate, and the official VTrans-NHDOT feasibility study on that route.
If the Northern has the federal designation as a Boston-Montreal candidate, one would think that this would be justification to retain any part of the line that rails on to include the Concord to Boscawen section so that if there was an interest to bringing service back, this would be one less section that would have to be completely restored.
Given that this BOS-MTL route basically has never been spoken of again since the day it appeared on that 1st-term Obama Admin. map...probably not anyone's idea of a priority. It really offers little to no advantage over the current BOS-MTL proposal over the Inland Route and Conn River, so NH's inclusion on that map was little more than a nod to spreading the pork to +1 states. It had poor, poor odds of ever coming to fruition because large parts of the route made no sense given the Northern's craptacular geometry. And this is a state that refuses to spend a penny towards either of its existing Amtrak routes, refuses to spend real awarded fed study money towards its own Cap Corridor service, and figures to continue losing population through 2050 as everywhere outside the cities ages well below replacement-rate...so the structural-political barriers are pretty hopeless.

Right now the ongoing NNIRI study for Boston-Montreal on the Boston-Springfield-WRJ alignment, preferred alternative with Class 4 full-signalized track (subject to what speeds the Worcester Hills & Green Mountains will bear), projects a travel time of 9:03...less any savings on the Canadian side of the border for Quebec-funded track improvements out-of-scope for the study. The VTrans-NHDOT joint study on the Northern came out to 8:55 BOS-MTL on the North Station-Concord-WRJ alignment on Class 4 "low-speed case" track...less any out-of-scope Quebec improvements.

The Northern study then benchmarked "mid speed" Class 6 (w/ curve restrictions) schedules of best-case 6 hours and "high speed" Class 6 (w/ tilt and perfect ROW geometry) of 4:30, but did not go into any milepost-by-milepost detail on where you would find such pristine running conditions. Let alone how they'd ever be applicable to the twisty and crossing cluster-prone Northern ROW (probably have to chuck 95% of the Northern alignment and go with cleanrooming along I-89 for laws of physics to net anything close to ≤ 6 hrs.). And they didn't explain how these schedules would ever stay in balance running really really fast in NH then running really slow on the same old Central VT after crossing the VT state line. NNIRI did ballpark a Class 5 max-build scenario that would've done 90 MPH on the Palmer-Springfield, Northampton-Greenfield, and Allburgh-Cantic straightaways...right down to the mileposts in question. But they ruled it surplus-to-requirement for starter service; working with Quebec on speed upgrades other side of the border was more outright schedule-meaningful, and the latter two segments weren't nearly as important a future consideration as PAL-SPG co-used by the Inlands.

NNIRI cited a pot of ~450K annual boardings on the slate of schedules poking north-of-Springfield (i.e. excludes the Inlands), divvied up between the traditional Montrealer, BOS-MTL, and the third proposed frequency of a short-turn from New Haven to St. Albans or MTL. Revenues further bolstered by cross-ticketing transfers from regular Inlands or Shuttles at SPG to/from a north-of-SPG schedule.

The NHDOT-VTrans study projected 213K annual boardings on the BOS-CON-MTL corridor...more than the one BOS-SPG-MTL service pattern in isolation but bereft of all the "tinker toy" layering and economies of scale that lets the Inlands carry the water for all the north-of-SPG fun and games. Concerningly, the NH study only projected an anemic 13.5K annual end-to-end BOS-MTL boardings, suggesting that most of their 213K total riders were going to be intra-corridor only...most likely big turnovers between BOS-CON, CON-WRJ, and the WRJ-MTL overlap with the Vermonter. Well, OK...that puts a giant exclamation point on building Cap Corridor commuter rail yesterday, and shows that trips originating inside NH to VT/MTL can give Concord Coach buses a run for their money. But it hints that 'true' BOS-MTL city-to-city demand may well be a mirage, and that nonspecific region-wide demand may be the stronger force...weighted towards a more diverse pooling of routes like the "tinker toys" @ Springfield hub. There's not a lot of such pooling to be had in NH. And it also underscores what exurban depopulation is going to keep doing to interior NH for another generation or two...on-line ridership between Concord and WRJ where most of the build $$$ has to be spent is a virtual nil.

Not sure how anyone could reasonably consider the Northern when you get the same exact thing out of Boston on the NNIRI plan AND have the same track work facilitate the Inland Route and more conventional Vermonter/Montrealer revenue boosts. Especially if the devil in the details says the real ridership demand from New England to Montreal is large...but not very pair-specific favoring one killshot end-to-end route over another. That Northern line on the map looked like a real reach when it first appeared. Now the ridership and cost math is being drilled down to at very detailed levels and it's beginning to look like no amount of pay-to-play enthusiasm on NH's part could've ever justified a further look. Let's get the North-South Rail Link built and give the Cap Corridor some Lynchburger-style NE Regionals to chew on; that's intercity service they can really make hay with.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
FWIW...Seacoast newspapers reported in Dec. that NHDOT has commissioned a fresh assessment of the Hampton Branch with confidence that they'll agree to terms with PAR on a sale during 2017. The low, low price on the Northern and timing of the docket would indicate a package deal is imminent for both lines at once. Low price for Penacook may be the counterweight for PAR's high price on the Hampton that gets this done.

That would scrape the last (known?) abandoned line in NH off the books, leaving only (known). . .

-- Lowell Industrial Track
-- Lewiston Lower
-- Heywood Ind. stub (PAS)...the long-gone portion past end-of-track they did an "Our bad!" cleanup docket on last year when they discovered they forgot to file the first time around.
  by b&m 1566
I'm curious as to why Pan Am didn't seek to abandon Concord to Penacook in 2009 when they took over the Concord operations; they abandoned that last remaining section of the C&C branch at that time. It makes me wonder if there was some business potential at the time. I know in one of my long-ago discussions with Mr. Peter Dearness, he mentioned that interested parties looking for rail service in Penacook, would popup from time to time but nothing ever materialized.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
b&m 1566 wrote:I'm curious as to why Pan Am didn't seek to abandon Concord to Penacook in 2009 when they took over the Concord operations; they abandoned that last remaining section of the C&C branch at that time. It makes me wonder if there was some business potential at the time. I know in one of my long-ago discussions with Mr. Peter Dearness, he mentioned that interested parties looking for rail service in Penacook, would popup from time to time but nothing ever materialized.
Probably playing keep-away with NEGS, since they were clearly in some sort of spite mode with that move to pull the rug out from under them on the mainline. '09 was also the same timeframe the M&B spat on the Hillbilly Branch had gotten real stupid and petty, so they seemed to be in a foul state of mind in general along the Cap Corridor. Always been a fruitless exercise to try to guess the Billericadome's motives when they're in the middle of a snit like that, so file under "old habits die hard". Yeah, there've been rumors about customers before. Most of them didn't have a lot of smoke behind them. And most involved such tiny number of carloads given what insignificant properties abut the ROW that it was hard to see the upside in chasing such rumors.

All of that stuff floating in the air in '09 is long gone. Rumor mill's been silent virtually the whole of the '10s decade. NEGS has withered to just 3M in Tilton, one light locomotive they traded down to when they had to part with their overkill GP39, one full-time employee (Dearness), an empty Canterbury transload that shut down within months of opening and has had zero prospects the whole of this decade, and a couple on-call crewmembers and staffers whenever they spring into action. They couldn't re-scale back up to take on new territory if they wanted to their capability has atrophied so much. They're basically a fallen flag in-wait sitting on the edge of the abyss if 3M reduces its rate of deliveries to any less frequent. If any of the spite games of '09 are still sticking in Billerica's craw, it's now well below the threshold where their imaginations have anything to fear.

There's that...and, if Mellon is prepping the company for sale in the next couple years it's in his best interests to shed unused and unlikely to ever be used territory to pocket the sale proceeds to the states. That means cleaning the slate of abandoned lines with stalled negotiations, dumping some of these holds, and auditing the company's poorly-documented property holdings so there's no messes to cleanup by the time he's ready to start entertaining offers. Scraping Penacook and Hampton off the books is one of those to-do's because unless property audit discovers an "Oops! I forgot!" oddity that settles up New Hampshire 100%.

In Vermont, Twin State's trackage rights deal on the Mountain to Gilman expires 12/31/2018 if no one from their deceased owner's estate steps forward to pick up the carrier option for a 10-year rights extension to 2028. Meaning they'd finally be able to dump that disconnected property to a much-interested VTrans without having to deal with any Twin State riff-raff.

In MA, the whole manufactured crisis with the MBTA Wachusett extension is no doubt a bunch of saber-rattling to bully the T into paying up for those 5 miles to Westminster layover before any transactions happen with NS. They'll probably cave on the Lowell Industrial pretty soon since Bruce Freeman Trail Phase II from Acton-Concord is now underway and City of Lowell would really like to bring that up into downtown at long last. Maybe they make the move to dump Medford if the beer distributor deal is truly dead, since that can be a bang-bang deal with City of Medford for a much-needed walking trail linking the Fellsway residential density and riverside redev currently carved up by the parkway carpocalypse in-between. Probably the only unused ownership hold they keep is the OOS mile of South Peabody Br. because of the few dimes of power line rent they annually collect and the ever-lengthening string of Rousselot cars that keep pushing further and further west of Allens Ln. onto the OOS track.

Maine will be interesting. The Lewiston Lower piggybank has been slowly filling up at the town level for several years now they're probably getting close enough to make the buy. Madison has now passed the 2-year no-traffic mark where filing a discontinuance of service exemption is now kosher with the STB, and it's safe to say that the mill auction block isn't netting any new rail customers. Since MEDOT has a well-known weakness for overpays of branchlines they can probably use a Madison docket to goad the state into buying that branch and Bucksport in a package, and get them to plead for retention of trackage rights while making promises to seek out new biz and spend public money rehabbing track if they land biz. Thus allowing Mellon to get his payout on the property while goosing his sale value with 100% free trackage rights on both branches (but moreso Bucksport) that PAR & successors can just sit on forever at zero cost in the unlikely event the state can land some biz. Such maneuvers would at least be worth Billerica's while to poke and prod around to see if they can get a reaction from MEDOT...so wouldn't be surprised if a published news item about them considering Madison abandonment is floated in the next 2 years just to see what response it provokes.

None of this means a sale is imminent. It just means Mellon's got motivation with this being his last calendar decade before retirement to start emptying the coin slot on unused properties. For no other reason than if he passes up that loose change, the next buyer(s) will collect the same money as it cleans up the system. So why not audit and cleanup the flotsam that has no biz and no competitive downside? Especially if some of these low-priority branch & industrial track sales have naturally slow timetables for completion that are going to require waiting out the paperwork for much of his remaining time at the helm.
  by johnpbarlow
STB's Office of Environmental Assessment (OEA) is carefully scrutinizing and weighing in on PAR's proposed abandonment of this 6.36 mile stretch of track. OEA focused on impact of the abandonment and rail/tie salvaging to three protected species in Merrimack County NH:
- The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis)
- The small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides)
- The Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)

Net net is "Based on the information provided from all sources to date, OEA concludes that, as currently proposed, and if the recommended condition is imposed, abandonment of the Line would not significantly affect the quality of the human environment. Therefore, the environmental impact statement process is unnecessary."


https://www.stb.gov/decisions/readingro ... enDocument

PAR indicates that if abandonment and discontinuance authority is granted, the tracks and ties would be salvaged and relocated to another rail line - maybe the Worcester branch? :wink:
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  by b&m 1566
It's a safe bet the state will purchase the ROW and turn it into a rail trail.
Last edited by b&m 1566 on Wed Feb 08, 2017 11:41 am, edited 1 time in total.
  by TomNelligan
I am just SO relieved to read that abandonment of trackage that's been unused for years won't upset the local bats, butterflies, and pogonias (it's an orchid; I had to look it up). Good lord.
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
Rockingham Racer wrote:And here I thought all along that the Northern was the designated high-speed route from Boston to Montreal.
Objectively it has zero, nada going for it as a MTL route because the B&A + Conn River "L"-shaped route is near-equal on studied travel time, way less costly to operate because of the bootstrap on pre-existing route demand, and much higher growth ceiling because it travels areas where population is growing (Worcester to Brattleboro) vs. the rapidly depopulating exurban & rural NH.

The HSR designation on the Northern never made a lick of sense. It was a pure pork placeholder NH never asked for. I recommend doing compare/contrast of the studies for both routes. It shows the futility of the Northern's prospects in stark terms.
  by johnpbarlow
It ain't over till it's over: https://www.stb.gov/decisions/readingro ... enDocument

Excerpt (yawn...):
It is ordered:

1. This proceeding is reopened.
2. Upon reconsideration, the notice served and published in the Federal Register on February 1, 2017, exempting the abandonment of the line described above is subject to the conditions that B&M shall: (1) notify NGS at least 90 days prior to beginning any salvage activities that will disturb or destroy any geodetic station markers to plan for the possible relocation of the geodetic station markers; (2) prior to the commencement of any salvage activities, consult with the Corps regarding the potential impact of salvage activities on waterways and wetlands, and comply with the reasonable recommendations of the Corps; and (3) prior to the commencement of any salvage activities, consult with DES regarding the potential impact of salvage activities on water quality, and comply with the reasonable recommendations of DES.
Is this an atypical STB response to a RR's request to abandon and salvage a long out-of-use line?
  by F-line to Dudley via Park
Nah. That's pretty much boilerplate historical preservation legalese. If it was reopened it's a clerical amendment because somebody forgot to put that generic salvage clause in the original docket. Happens all the time when somebody types up a generic abandonment docket from a form and forgets to double-check some most-recent docket from the same state that had some most-recent version of the wording of that clause. Mundane clerical stuff of zero real-world consequence, so nothing much interesting to see here.