A train pauses at Derry on its way to Manchester
A train pauses at Derry on its way to Manchester

Boston & Maine: Portland Div., Manchester and Lawrence Branch

The Boston & Maine Railroad had requested a charter to construct a rail line from Andover to Methuen, Massachusetts. The charter was granted by the Commonwealth on March 3, 1846. In the two years following, the Boston & Maine had rerouted the main line of the former Andover & Haverhill Railroad through Lawrence, and the branch was constructed from the new main line in Lawrence to the center of Methuen. When the Manchester & Lawrence Railroad was chartered in New Hampshire to build a rail line from Manchester to the New Hampshire-Massachusetts state line, the Boston & Maine revised its charter for the Methuen Branch to allow construction to the state line.

The New Hampshire portion of the Manchester & Lawrence Branch, built by the Manchester & Lawrence Railroad, was completed late in the year in 1849. The first train to travel over the entire line ran on November 13, 1849 and regular service beginning on January 1st. The Boston & Maineís Methuen Branch was leased to the Manchester & Lawrence Railroad starting in 1850.

:: History of the Manchester & Lawrence Railroad

Since its start, the M&L was operated by the Concord Railroad. However disputes between the two companies eventually led to the Boston & Maine Railroad being given a 50 year lease of the rail line on September 1, 1887. During a reorganization in 1919, the Manchester & Lawrence Railroad was formally consolidated into the Boston & Maine Railroad.

Before Lawrence Union Station was built in 1931, trains destined to Manchester departed from the South Lawrence station. Once built, M&L Branch trains could leave Union Station and proceed directly up the branch via the wye at the junction. As with many branchlines across the Boston & Maine system, however, the Boston & Maine Transportation Company began to replace lightly used passenger trains with bus service. This started on the Manchester & Lawrence Branch in 1926, and ten years later all but one roundtrip train a day was replaced by buses. With passengers dwindling, the last passenger train on the branch was on July 10, 1953 with an oil-electric motorcar (B&M #182).

One major destination on the branch was Rockingham Park, which opened in 1905. The Boston & Maine would schedule special trains to handle the event crowds. With its own siding and sation, the Rockinham Racer would bring visitors straight from Bostonís North Station right to the entrance gates of the grandstand. Following World War II, there were at least 13 trains from across the B&M system that converged at Rockingham Park. Sidings at the park, Salem station, and Canobie Lake station were utilized to store trains during the races. The Rockingham Racer trains ran until 1961.

Freight service on the branch was done by a local crew out of the South Lawrence yard, and the frequency was three or four roundtrips a week. Like the passenger trains, steam powered trains were becoming a thing of the past with the introduction of diesel locomotives to the B&Mís rosters. Steam made its last run on the branch in 1953. In the later years of freight service on the line, the switcher out of Manchester would serve industries as far south as Manchester Airport and the Lawrence switcher would go only as far north as Londonderry.

Freight service declined enough by 1983 that the line between Salem and Derry was abandoned. This started the rapid decline of the branch. In 1986, between Manchester Airport and Derry was abandoned. The last customer on the line within Manchester left in 1998, which the railroad then received permission for abandonment in 2000. Three years later the last customer located at the state line in Salem ceased using rail service and the branch from North Lawrence to Salem was abandoned. The remaining portion between Lawrence and North Lawrence is not in use by the railroad.

From the abandonments, the town of Derry acquired the right of way within town limits and has since developed the Derry Rail Trail. The State of New Hampshire purchased the right of way within Londonderry, Windham, and Salem, which makes up the Manchester/Lawrence Recreational Rail Trail. The Windham Rail Trail was developed on the state-owned portion of the railbed in its namesake town, connecting with the Derry Rail Trail. Plans are underway for trail improvements in Londonderry.