|This article does not cite any references or sources. (May 2008)|
The Wildcat Branch is a single track railroad branch line which connects the MBTA Lowell Line in Wilmington, Massachusetts to the MBTA Haverhill/Reading Line at Wilmington Junction. The total length of the branch line from the connection with the Lowell Line to the merge with the Haverhill/Reading Line is 2.88 miles.
The line was built by the Andover and Wilmington Railroad, which was incorporated March 15, 1833, to build a branch from the Boston and Lowell Railroad at Wilmington north to Andover, and entered service August 8, 1836. The Andover and Wilmington became the Boston and Maine Railroad and disputes with the B&L led them build their own line to Boston, beginning three miles north of Wilmington. Once completed, the B&M removed the tracks from North Wilmington to Wilmington in retaliation so the B&L could not use it. In 1874, the B&L rebuilt the line just slightly west of the original ROW and met the B&M's main line at Wilmington Jct where it also met its own Salem Branch line, giving it a direct line from Boston to Lawrence. The line today meets the old B&M main line about half a mile south of the current I-93 overpass. It is not known where the name "Wildcat" came from, but the entire length of the current branch line is within the town of Wilmington; it is possible that the name comes from the nickname of Wilmington High School's sports teams, which are known as the Wildcats.
This right of way continued behind the current location of Andover's South School, through woods to Andover's Recreation Park, across Abbot Street and into the current Spring Grove Cemetery before heading to Andover Center via Abbot Street. There are remnants of the right-of-way in the cemetery, and the entrance to Recreation Park is the old railbed. The railbed was higher during the 1800s and the track crossed Abbot Street via a bridge.
The only station on this line was at Salem Street and was used briefly by the B&M in the early 1960s after the Haverhill line was shut down north of Reading, eliminating the North Wilmington station (restored as a stop in 1980 by MBTA). No structures were ever built at Salem St., but the area is still paved and used for storage of railroad maintenance equipment.
The line is currently used primarily for passenger service by both the Amtrak Downeaster service from Boston to Portland, Maine, as well as the MBTA commuter rail for certain rush-hour Haverhill trains to avoid the congestion on the single track between Wilmington Junction and Reading.
The line also carries some freight service by Pan Am Railways, primarily the train "DOBO" (Dover, New Hampshire to Boston), which mainly hauls sand and gravel from the New Hampshire Northcoast railroad to the Boston Sand and Gravel facility in Somerville.