Worcester, Nashua and Rochester Railroad

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The Worcester, Nashua and Rochester Railroad was a railroad line that was to link the city of Worcester, Massachusetts to the city of Portland, Maine, via the New Hampshire cities of Nashua and Rochester, by merging several small shortline railroads (typical of the earliest North American railways) together.

Boston & Maine Railroad timetable for the Worcester, Nashua & Portland Division, October, 1900

In 1845, Worcester was becoming an important railroad junction in central Massachusetts, with numerous rail lines linking the city to Boston, Springfield, Providence, Rhode Island, and Norwich, Connecticut, with another line linking it to Albany, New York. But there was not a rail link with the cities in northern New England.

The Worcester and Nashua Railroad was organized in 1845 to link Worcester to the growing mill city of Nashua. The line opened as far as the village of South Groton (the town of Ayer today) in the summer of 1848 and to Nashua just before Christmas. The line opened up New Hampshire to southern and western New England and plans were made to connect the line with southern Maine.

The Nashua and Rochester Railroad was formed in 1847, extending a railway line to Rochester, New Hampshire, on the Maine border. The Worcester and Nashua (W&N) leased the Nashua and Rochester (N&R) in 1874, and the two companies merged into the Worcester, Nashua and Rochester Railroad in 1883. The Boston and Maine Railroad leased the line in 1886. This acquisition also included the continuation from Rochester to Portland, via the York and Cumberland Railroad which was formed in 1846. It opened to Gorham, Maine, in 1851 under the direction of Maine railroad pioneer John A. Poor and was extended in 1853. The York and Cumberland was reorganized as the Portland and Rochester Railroad in 1867, with a connection to the Grand Trunk Railway in Portland, and was completed to Rochester in 1871. The three lines were tied together by the B&M as its Worcester, Nashua and Portland Division and covered over 147 miles (237 km).

By 1901, the B&M found they had three parallel lines between Massachusetts and Maine, due to the various mergers and leasings. There was enough business for all three lines during the first decade and a half of the new century, but by 1915, passenger service was rerouted down the Stony Brook line, and freight service had dropped off as well. By 1930, the construction of a new wye in North Chelmsford rerouted all freight up the Stony Brook and the Nashua and Lowell to reach New Hampshire.

The B&M began the process of abandoning portions of the WN&P division in 1932 when two large sections were discontinued from Hudson to Fremont, New Hampshire, and from Epping to Gonic, New Hampshire. Service between Gonic and Rochester lasted until 1982.

The next abandonment came in 1942 when the line was cut off from Hollis, New Hampshire, to a point one mile from Union Station in Nashua. Later that year, the line was wiped out from Union Station across the Merrimack River to Hudson.

The portion of the line in Maine between Rochester and Springvale was gone in 1952, but the line from Springvale to Westbrook operated from 1949 to 1961 as the shortline Sanford and Eastern Railroad, which also operated trackage between Springvale and Sanford that was once part of the Atlantic Shore Line interurban system. Today only portions of the line in Westbrook and Portland still see traffic, being serviced by the Portland Terminal Company.

Paper mills along the line between Ayer and Hollis kept the train moving north of Ayer Junction until 1981 when the B&M stopped all service. In 1982, the line north of Ayer Junction was abandoned and the tracks removed two years later. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts acquired this portion of the right of way; in 2002 it was officially opened as the Nashua River Rail Trail. The one mile of track between Union Station in Nashua and an industrial park was abandoned finally in 1993.

The W&N still survives between Ayer and Worcester, operated by Pan Am Railways whereby it is now designated as that railroads Worcester Main branch. The line sees daily through-freight usage, permitting interchange at Worcester with CSX and Providence & Worcester Railroad.

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