A double-header heads out of Nashua along Hollis Street
A double-header heads out of Nashua along Hollis Street

Boston & Maine: Worcester, Nashua & Portland Div., Main Line

The main line of the Worcester, Nashua & Portland Division was constructed by four railroads. Starting from Worcester to Portland, the railroads were the Worcester Branch Railroad, Nashua & Worcester Railroad, Nashua & Rochester Railroad, and Portland & Rochester Railroad (P&R). The Worcester Branch Railroad was the first section opened in 1844, with the Worcester & Nashua opening a few years later in 1848. Development of the rest of the line between Nashua and Portland was a bit slower with the Portland & Rochester not opening up until 1871 with financial support from the City of Portland and the Nashua & Rochester in 1874 with the support of the Worcester & Nashua Railroad.

Debts of the Nashua & Rochester caused it to be consolidated into the Worcester & Nashua Railroad, creating the Worcester, Nashua & Rochester Railroad in 1883. Not long after, the Worcester, Nashua & Rochester Railroad was leased to the Boston & Maine Railroad (B&M) in 1886. The Portland & Rochester Railroad, which was controlled by the Eastern Railroad, came under the control of the Boston & Maine in 1883. After some years of independent operation, the P&R was eventually purchased by the B&M in 1900.

:: History of the Worcester Branch Railroad Co.
:: History of the Worcester & Nashua Railroad Co.
:: History of the The Nashua & Rochester Railroad Co.
:: History of the Worcester, Nashua & Rochester Railroad Co.
:: History of the Portland & Rochester Railroad

When the Worcester, Nashua & Rochester Railroad was leased by the Boston & Maine, it became the main line of the B&Mís Worcester, Nashua & Portland (WN&P) Division. The original division headquarters was in Worcester, Massachusetts until 1887 when it was moved to Nashua. The division grew as branchlines from the Boston & Lowell Railroad and the Concord & Montreal Railroad were added to the WN&P. The Worcester, Nashua & Rochester Railroad was formally acquired by the B&M in 1911. That same year, the Portland Terminal Railroad was created by both the Boston & Maine and Maine Central Railroads, which took close to 9 miles of the WN&P between Portland and the Gorham-Westbrook town line.

The one achievement that the WN&P claims to hold is that when it was at its busiest in the early 1900s, is that it handled the greatest volume of freight traffic of any single-track, non-signaled line in the country. With the combination of all those factors and a rail line with many curves and hills, the WN&P Division had its fair share of accidents. It eventually became quite the accomplishment for train crews to make it from point A to point B unscathed. Some improvements were made to the railroad because of this. Originally the main line was only double-track between Worcester and South Lancaster, Massachusetts, but the B&M extended it to Nashua. Also, a signal system was installed in 1913 for the entire length of the line.

The WN&P Division had another claim to fame, as it was utilized for the route of the Bar Harbor Express. Starting in 1902, the express train ran from New York City up to the resort areas of Down East Maine. It made only a few stops while on the Boston & Maine, but according to a 1904 timetable it took four and a half hours to travel between Worcester and Portland. This worked out to be an average of 30 mph, and later to 40 mph with the introduction of diesel locomotives and a signaled main line. Along with much of the freight traffic that was being rerouted off the WN&P to other routes to Maine in 1911, the Bar Harbor Express was rerouted after Ayer and renamed the State of Maine Express. Joining the State of Maine, on June 21, 1940 the East Wind started between New York City and Portland. Part of its route across the B&M was from Worcester to Ayer over the old WN&P. With more and more people taking to their automobiles, the East Wind stopped running on September 11, 1955, while the State of Maine continued for a few more years until 1960. With local passenger service ending in 1953, the end of the express trains marked the end of passenger service on line.

With 1911 marking the start of the downward trend in the amount of freight moved on the WN&P, the B&M undertook measures in 1924 to reduce redundant rail lines and eliminate passenger service where the buses of the B&M Transportation Co. could manage. Unfortunately, the WN&P was one of three main lines between Massachusetts to Maine. On September 1, 1925 the WN&P Division ceased to exist and the main line was divided between the Southern and Portland Divisions. Main line status remained only for between Worcester and Ayer. Other than U.S. Mail contracts on the line, there was little reason to keep passenger service. During a schedule revision in 1928, it no longer was possible to take a train from Worcester to Portland as a transfer in Rochester was impossible to do in a single day. This was made worse in 1932 when another transfer was added at Nashua Ė and again, it wasnít possible to do in one day. This ploy to kill passenger ridership worked as passenger service between Portland and Rochester ceased later that year, between Nashua and Rochester in March 1934, and between Worcester and Nashua in April 1934.

With dwindling through traffic and no longer considered a main line, the second track between Ayer and Nashua was removed in 1929. Also, the first abandonment occurred between Nashua and Rochester in various pieces to continue serving some of the remaining customers that were near junctions with other rail lines. On April 29, 1934, it was announced that between Hudson and Fremont and Epping and West Gonic were to be abandoned. A few years later, in 1941, a short stretch between Hollis and a point west of Nashua was abandoned. A year later the section between Nashua and Hudson was abandoned. With the development of the state highways, the roadbed between Hudson and West Windham was used for N.H. Route 111, Epping and Barrington for N.H. Route 125, and South Lebanon to East Lebanon, Maine for U.S Route 202.

Surprisingly the segment between Rochester and Portland was still hanging on despite the abandonments in New Hampshire. Sam Pinsley organized the Sanford & Eastern Railroad and purchased that segment from the B&M on July 1, 1949. He ultimately couldnít make the line profitable and abandoned the line in 1963.

The small sections left of the WN&P didnít last the test of time. The line from Ayer to Hollis and Rochester to West Gonic were abandoned in 1981. The segment within Nashua that headed in the direction of Hollis survived into the Guilford Rail System era, finally being abandoned in 1993. This left the only remaining portion of the WN&P main line between Worcester and Ayer. With the decline of traffic, the second track was removed and signaling removed. This section of the WN&P continues to serve as an important interchange, a gateway for the Boston & Maine Railroad, Guilford Rail System, and today Pan Am Railways for freight headed to northern New England.