Eastern Railroad (Massachusetts)

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For other railways with the name Eastern Railroad or Eastern Railway, see Eastern Railway (disambiguation).
Eastern Railroad Depot, Boston, in 1883

The Eastern Railroad was a railroad connecting Boston, Massachusetts, to Portland, Maine. Throughout its history, it competed with the Boston and Maine Railroad for service between those two cities, until the Boston & Maine finally put an end to the competition by leasing the Eastern in December 1884. Much of the railroad's main line in Massachusetts still serves as the MBTA Newburyport/Rockport Line.

The Eastern Railroad was first built in 1836.[1] The line hugged the Massachusetts North Shore, as opposed to Boston & Maine's more inland route, and served such cities as Lynn, Salem, Beverly, and Newburyport. Coming along the shore, the Eastern Railroad chose to place its Boston terminus in East Boston, a short ferry ride from the city itself, rather than complete the long, circuitous route around the Inner Harbor and Mystic River into Boston proper. By 1843, the Eastern and the B&M entered into an agreement to share already-existing tracks in Maine controlled by the Portland, Saco and Portsmouth Railroad, which would allow them to begin providing full Boston-to-Portland service.

The Eastern Railroad Company of Massachusetts, chartered April 14, 1836, began construction in August 1837. The construction schedule for the railroad was as follows: East Boston to Salem (13 miles), completed August 27, 1838; Salem to Ipswich (12 miles), completed December 18, 1839; Ipswich to Newburyport (9 miles), completed August 28, 1840; and Newburyport to the New Hampshire line (10 miles), completed November 9, 1840. The Marblehead Branch of Eastern (MA), authorized early in 1839, was ready for business on December 10, 1839.

The Eastern Railroad of New Hampshire was leased to the Eastern Railroad of Massachusetts on February 18, 1840 for a period of ninety-nine years. Eastern (NH), chartered on June 18, 1836, began construction in 1839. Rails were completed and connected with the Massachusetts line on November 9, 1840. Because a separate charter was granted by the Legislature of New Hampshire, Eastern (NH) continued to remain a distinct corporation throughout the life of both railroads.

On November 3, 1848, an accident occurred at Castle Rock in Salem, Massachusetts. A southbound train heading for Marblehead missed an unattended switch and was routed into the path of a northbound train. The two engines collided head-on, with six people being killed on the Marblehead train. About 40 people were injured in the wreck. An employee was supposed to be stationed at the switch to stop the northbound train if necessary, but had failed to change the switch or stop the train.[2]

By the 1850s, the Eastern was experiencing difficulties because of the out-of-the-way location of its Boston terminal. Already in 1845, the Boston & Maine had completed their own tracks into Boston (to avoid having to use the Boston and Lowell Railroad's tracks), including a terminal right in the heart of the city, just north of Haymarket. Several independent companies sought to take advantage of the situation by building branch lines that would connect the Eastern Railroad's North Shore tracks with the B&M line going into the city. In 1850, the South Reading Branch Railroad opened, connecting Eastern tracks at Salem to the B&M at Wakefield, and in 1853, the Saugus Branch Railroad opened, connecting the Eastern at Lynn to the B&M at Malden. The Eastern Railroad was quick to buy up these branch lines in an effort to keep down the competition and divert the lines to its own use. But the real boon for the Eastern was the Grand Junction Railroad, chartered in 1847, which would connect the East Boston waterfront to the Boston and Maine, Boston and Lowell, and Fitchburg railroads in Somerville. The Eastern leased the Grand Junction in 1852 and quickly incorporated it into its main line, building a cut-off from Grand Junction tracks in Chelsea straight to its own northbound tracks and constructing its own terminal in downtown Boston, approximately on the site of the present North Station, directly connected to Grand Junction's tracks in Somerville. Moreover, this allowed the Eastern Railroad to cut off the Saugus Branch from the Boston & Maine at Medford, instead re-directing its course south to meet up with the Grand Junction in Everett. When the Boston and Worcester Railroad bought the Grand Junction Railroad in 1866, it allowed the Eastern to keep its track rights for the sections it used as part of its main line.

On August 26, 1871, a series of dispatching errors allowed the Portland Express to collide with the rear of a stalled local train at Revere, Massachusetts, telescoping the rear cars of the stopped consist. Coal-oil lamps ignited the wreckage, and 29 died while 57 were injured. Several prominent Boston citizens were killed, bringing much national publicity to the accident. It remains the deadliest railroad accident in Massachusetts history.

Near the end of 1884, the Eastern Railroad was leased by the growing B&M, and the competition between the two railroads ended. Instead, the B&M incorporated the Eastern tracks into its Portland Division as an alternative route to Maine and an access to North Shore cities. In 1893, the North Station union station opened, essentially consolidating under one roof the Boston terminals of four different railroads—the Eastern and the Boston and Lowell (which were by now both controlled by the Boston & Maine), the Boston & Maine itself, and the Fitchburg Railroad (which the Boston & Maine would buy in 1900). In 1905, the Grand Junction and Eastern Railroads combined their East Boston terminals.

In the 1970s, the MBTA acquired the Eastern Railroad tracks along with the rest of the B&M, and it currently runs Commuter Rail service to Newburyport on the Eastern's old main line, with additional service to Rockport via the Gloucester & Rockport branch line (Newburyport/Rockport Line).


  1. ^ Bradlee, Francis B. C. "The Eastern Railroad: A Historical Account of Early Railroading in Eastern New England." (2nd ed., 1922)(Salem, The Essex Institute).
  2. ^ Salem Wreck of 1848 at CelebrateBoston.com
  • Reed, Robert C. (1968). Train Wrecks - A Pictorial History of Accidents on the Main Line. New York: Bonanza Books. ISBN 0-517-32897-6. 
  • Karr, Ronald D. (1995). The Rail Lines of Southern New England - A Handbook of Railroad History. Branch Line Press. ISBN 0-942147-02-2. 
  • T. Zabek (1 January 2010). "Eastern Division". Remnants of the Boston & Maine Railroad. Retrieved 22 August 2011.