Palmer, MA is located 70 miles west of Boston in the central part of western Massachusetts off the Mass Pike I-90. The town of Palmer is rich in railroad history and is known as “The Town of Seven Railroads”
Today Palmer is still a busy railroad town with three freight railroads: CSX, Massachusetts Central Railroad, and New England Central Railroad. No passenger railroads service the community but Amtrak’s Lake Shore travel through Palmer twice daily.
Having so much railroad activity makes Palmer one of the top places in New England for railfans. Located in the heart of downtown Palmer is Union Station designed by architect H.H. Richardson. This is one of the nine railroads buildings he has designed. Today Union Station is now the home of the Steaming Tender Restaurant. Owners Blake and Robin Lamothe worked hard to restore this historic landmark to its original glory. Railfans including myself often make a stop here to photograph the trains passing right by the restaurant.
Steaming Tender Restaurant
My wife and I booked a room at the new Trainmaster’s Inn for Valentine’s Day. Before we settled into our room we had dinner at the Steaming Tender. We enjoyed a great meal from their special Valentine’s Menu. I also couldn’t pass up one of my favorite dessert items, their amazing Whiskey Bread Pudding. If you haven’t been to the Steaming Tender, I strongly recommend having lunch or dinner there. They have amazing Sunday brunch as well, and any time I’m in the area I always stop. On the weekends you may want to call and make a reservation because they can get quite busy.
The Steaming Tender Restaurant is located at 28 Depot Street Palmer, MA and its open
Sundays 9AM – 8PM
Closed Monday & Tuesday
Open Wednesday & Thursday 11AM – 8PM
Friday & Saturday from 11AM – 9PM
Call for reservations at 413-283-2744
Online – http://steamingtender.com/
Last year the Lamothes opened the Trainmaster Inn, located up the street from their restaurant. This railroad themed inn features 19th century charm with modern facilities. Each room has it own private bath and railroad memorabilia throughout. Guests step back in time yet have all the modern amenities like free wifi and cable television.
Once we had dinner we drove over to the Trainmaster Inn and were greeted by owner Robin Lamothe. She give us a brief tour and pointed out the two large paintings by Averil Cronwell. The sitting area outside of our room had a few railroad related games and all types of railroad books. We settled into room number 3 on the second floor. It was a beautiful room with a king size bed and private sitting area. I set up my scanner so I could listen to the area railroad activity, it was pretty busy for Tuesday night. If it wasn’t such a cold February night I would have tried to get some night shots of the action. I was quite content with listening to the activity from the comfort of our warm room. During the night I could hear train horns in the distance and a few trains rumbling past. We woke up the next morning to fresh juice, coffee, yogurt, and muffins downstairs in the common area.
We will definitely be staying at the inn again in the spring or summer when it’s warmer. I hope to get some photos/videos of trains traveling through Palmer at night.
To book your stay at the Trainmaster’s Inn, call 413-531-3281 and read more on their website – http://www.trainmastersinn.com/
While you’re in Palmer be sure to stop at Palmer Hobbies located at 1428 Main Street. This train shop has a full line of N and HO products. They are open Tuesday through Saturday 10am – 5pm (until 6:30pm on Friday nights) and closed on Sunday and Monday.
Tips for Railfanning in Palmer
I have found the best time to railfan in Palmer is during the week. There is a lot of activity near the Steaming Tender with the New England Central Railroad yard adjacent to the restaurant. This was the first time I was able to get photographs of every railroad that operates/travels through Palmer; CSX, New England Central Railroad, Massachusetts Central Railroad, and Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited.
When railfanning in Palmer or anywhere, please use common sense, stay off the railroad tracks; the tracks on both sides of the Steaming Tender are active. Train crews are quite used to railfans being like the paparazzi for trains here, but don’t get in their way and let them work.
Bring your scanner, you’re going to need it. Listed below are the frequencies I have programmed into my scanner. Be sure to listen closely to both New England Central and Massachusetts Central Railroads to stay ahead of yard moves and where they are traveling to next in and around Palmer.
If you like to photograph the trains be sure you carry some extra batteries, tripod, and have a fresh SD card on hand. If you have a digital SLR camera you many want to pack a long range lens. I typical use my my 18-200 lens.
Massachusetts Central Railroad
160.4250 – Yard
160.4700 – Road
160.5750 – Operation
New England Central Railroad
161.4150 – Road and Switching
160.7700 – Road
160.9350 – Yard
160.2050 – Old Road
161.1750 – Yard (CT)
160.8000 – Road
160.5600 – NB Dispatcher
160.7100 – Maintenance of Way
160.0700 – Yard
In order for Amtrak to be competitive with airlines in the Northeast, they are looking to make huge improvements to the Northeast Corridor’s high-speed rail system. Amtrak, along with the Federal Railroad Administration, has a few proposals for improvements including relocating parts of the corridor. This upgrade will cost billions of dollars anyway you look at it. The current proposal is the most cost saving by keep the current route and improving track, adding additional tracks to congested locations and some route realignments. The plan also includes bringing more rail service to parts of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts outside of the Northeast Corridor project.
NEC Future Video
Federal Railroad Administration – November 6, 2014
An introduction to the NEC Future program.
The northern part of the NEC has planned right-of-way realignments in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. One of the project’s proposed realignments will be a 50 mile stretch between Old Saybrook, CT and Kenyon, RI. Residents are not happy about this proposal cutting through residential areas and farmland. This improvement alone would take 20 minutes off the current travel time. This realignment would be used by Amtrak High Speed Acela as a bypass to the current route. As for Amtrak regional trains they would use the current route. On Wednesday, January 25, 2017 at 4PM, residents of the Rhode Island communities against the project hosted a planned demonstration at the State House in Providence, RI. At the same time just northwest of Providence in Springfield, MA the FRA hosted an event about the upcoming passenger rail infrastructure changes planned for the Northeast, including the ones for the Northeast Corridor.
At the Springfield open house, people were able to view poster boards outlining the regional project. Springfield will be a hub to bring passenger rail service Connecticut and Western Massachusetts. The poster boards also outlined the upgrades to the Northeast Corridor. Visitors could ask any questions they may have about the project.
Providence, RI – “Cooler and Warmer”
Meanwhile in Providence, a bus load of people from the Westerly, RI and surrounding area affected by Amtrak refinement held a demonstration against the project. Residents from the area are concerned about everything from the environmental impact to the fact that they just don’t want it. These types of projects always have opposition of “I don’t want that in my backyard”. I wasn’t able to attend both events, but I was able to get the idea of how the demonstration went by the reports on television and radio.
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo was for the project but after the demonstration she is now against the realignment. It wasn’t surprising to see her pander to the voter base considering her current track record. Her administration is finally getting over a failed “Cooler and Warmer” tourism campaign and truck tolls among other things.
Rhode Island governor opposes Amtrak bypass route
WPRI-TV | Providence, RI – Jaunary 25, 2017
Past High Speed Rail Proposal Route
Project Push Back… Lost Opportunity?
The realignment may be a small price to pay compared to losing out on high speed rail servicing the Southwest corner of Connecticut and almost all of Rhode Island. Some alternative routes would bypass these areas completely, and Rhode Island is already having issues with keeping residences and businesses in the state as it is. The state could be in jeopardy of losing its high speed rail connection to major cities such as Boston, New York City, and Washington D.C. This is something I feel the state can’t afford to lose. I really hope the residents along the realignment and Amtrak/FRA can come to a compromise.
RI dodges a bullet: high-speed Amtrak won’t bypass Providence
WPRI-TV | Providence, RI – December 16, 2016
The FRA has unveiled a new proposal that eliminates a controversial plan that would have skirted Providence by running Boston-New York trains through Worcester and Connecticut instead.
Rail Travel is the Future!
I’ve said it in past blog posts: traveling by rail is the future. We need to embrace it. It will not only connect the country but it will help lessen our environmental impact by getting more cars off the roads and cutting down on pollution as well as saving some of our planet’s resources. A rail infrastructure will connect more cities and towns than any airline in the country. I understand sometimes these things come with a cost, but in some cases, like this one, the positives outweigh the negatives.
Learn more about the project:
A few years back I stumbled across this hidden railroad structure in the town of Plainville, MA.
If you look closely, you can see concrete from the turntable, which was filled in. There is a small green sign on West Bacon Street which states “Old Roundhouse”. “The roundhouse was used to store locomotives from February 1892 to July 1938.” This sign is very easy to miss and the building sits pretty far back from the road. The roundhouse seems to be in great shape and is now used as a garage for a business.
Many people wouldn’t know it today, but the “Wrentham Branch” cut right through Wrentham, Plainville, and North Attleboro, running parallel to Route 1A. This 12.8 mile route from Walpole Junction to North Attleboro, MA opened in December of 1890. This line was a part of the Old Colony Railroad that provided passenger services until 1938. Like many railroads during the time, the Great Depression hit the Old Colony Railroad hard, ending passenger service along this route and severing those connections to big cities such as Boston and Providence. Freight service continued to served this line for nearly 30 years afterwards.
Shortly after the Wrentham Branch was built, the line was extended 9.6 miles to Rhode lsland in 1903. This provided passengers a link to both Boston and Providence. This branch also has a railroad structure that was quite hidden. The Adamsdale Frighthouse is located in the southwest corner of North Attleboro. The structure was moved away from the right of way and used as a storage building by one of the residents of Depot Street.
In 1965, the Adamsdale Branch became history when the tracks were removed. The railroad also removed a good portion of the Wrentham Branch between the North Attleboro and Plainville gravel pit. In 1976, the rest of the line was abandoned from Plainville to Walpole. Today, most of the right of way is still visible while the tracks and the roadbed are totally gone. In North Attleboro, most of the right of way is elevated so the bridge abutments are still in place where it crosses streets.
New Pawtucket Commuter Rail Station
In the spring of 2016, the MBTA and RIDOT announced plans to construct a new MBTA Commuter Rail station in Pawtucket, RI. This project will be funded by the state of Rhode Island and a federal grant, and the projected cost of the project will be $40 million. This will be an added stop on the Providence Commuter Rail line between South Attleboro and Providence. Studies show this station will attracted 1,500 to 1,900 riders daily by the year 2030.
1916 Pawtucket-Central Falls Station
Just north of the newly planned station you will find the abandoned Pawtucket-Central Falls Station built in 1916 by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad. This over 30,000 square foot brick and granite structure sits above what is known today as Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor. The station has two levels; the upper level housed the 96’ by 64’ waiting room along with a barber shop, restaurant, ticket office, and baggage areas. The lower level is the outdoor track level with two island platforms providing access to all four tracks. After serving communities for over 40 years (1959) the station was closed due to disrepair. Passengers only had access to the platforms until 1981 when the MBTA stopped servicing this station all together. Four years later, the building almost had a second chance and was considered as a National Register of Historic Places, but the building was in too much disrepair. Nearly 60 years later, this station is still vacant and unused.
Can it be saved?
This building sits above one of the busiest rail passenger corridors in the Northeast, and is falling apart with no hope of repair. I didn’t follow the whole development of building a new station, but I wonder if this historical building was even considered an option. $40 million just seems like a lot of money to build a parking lot, two platforms, and an overhead bridge. The Worcester, MA Union Station was in a very similar situation, having been abandoned in 1974 due to disrepair. In 2000, the station reopened after a $32 million renovation. The Worcester Station is nearly double the size of the Pawtucket-Central Falls Station. This makes me wonder if this building could be saved from its ruined state. I was able to find some photos of the station interior online, and it seems to be untouched by vandals. This station is truly forgotten yet it’s in the wide open and passed under by thousands of commuters every day, not to mention that it’s sitting in a busy Pawtucket neighborhood. I really hope this station can be restored and can be used in some way to preserve its history.
I was able to find these Interior Photographs online.
While doing research for various blog entries, I stumble across photos of Canaan Station all the time. The station is located in the northwest corner of Connecticut. I kept telling myself that I needed to check out this station in person, and last weekend I was able to travel to western Massachusetts so I was able to go. The station is located right in downtown Canaan, CT.
When you pass the station on the main drag you are able to see the back end of the station. The station structure is shaped like a right angle because it serviced both the Housatonic and the Connecticut Western Railroad lines. Each line had it own platform. Today, only a small part of the Connecticut Western line tracks are still in place and most of it is abandon and gone. The original road bed passing the station east to west was completely removed. The line originally crossed the Housatonic line directly in front of the station’s iconic three-story tower.
The Connecticut Western Railroad line runs east to west between Hartford, CT and Poughkeepsie, NY. Most of the CWR line was abandoned back in the mid to late 1930’s. As for the Housatonic Railroad, that line is still active with freight service running north to south between Pittsfield, MA to Brookfield Junction, CT. The last time the Housatonic railroad saw passenger service on this line was in the early 1970’s. In 1971, the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 30 years later, the building was almost destroyed by arsonists. The three story center tower was completely destroyed along with the east platform covering.
In the summer of 2006, the station was purchased by the Connecticut Railroad Historical Association. The association has made huge progress in bring the station back to it original state, restoring the center tower and east platform covering. Plans are underway to make this historical landmark available for retail space and a museum.
After grabbing a few photos of the station for this blog entry, I made one more stop in Canaan at the Housatonic Railroad Yard, Where I was able to photograph a few of the locomotives including the x-Bangor and Aroostook Railroad #22 (GP7U) which is now owned by Housatonic Railroad.
A few weekends ago, my dad and I made our way out to Western Massachusetts to see the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stonebridge. My dad was trying to get us there by memory and we ended up taking a wrong turn. This was a great wrong turn, because we stumbled across the Housatonic Freight House. So we pulled off and parked so I could get some photos of this railroad building. The freight house has naturally weathered wood panels on the outside with large sliding doors.
Looking down the tracks, I saw another building that piqued my interest. Along with finding the freight depot, I found the Housatonic Passenger Depot. When doing some research online I discovered that the 1,240 square foot building is currently on the market. This multipurpose property has living space on site with a full bathroom. The last occupant used the property as a print and music studio, and this 166 year old train depot can be yours for only $425,000.
Both buildings were constructed about 166 years ago in 1850. I wasn’t able to find any information about when the freight house was last used for the railroad, but the depot serviced its last passengers on April 30, 1971. The two structures sit on the still active “Housatonic Line” running north to south between Pittsfield, MA and Brookfield Junction, CT.
The line is service by The Housatonic Railroad Company, providing freight services to the whole line. The HRRC would like to bring back passenger services back to this historical rail line after a 45 year hiatus. Trains would operated between Pittsfield, MA and Grand Central Terminal, NY. A one way trip would be 3 hours and 55 minutes. This is very similar to campaigns to bring back commuter rail service to other Western Massachusetts communities such as Springfield and Palmer.
Great Barrington Station
Located Just south of Housatonic Depot and Freight house is the Great Barrington Station built in 1901. Currently, this station is home to an art gallery that is open seasonally.
The Boston Engine Terminal is located just north of Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge in Somerville, Massachusetts. This 36-acre state of the art maintenance facilities is one of the largest in the state of Massachusetts. There is about 7 miles of track on the property and the building’s roof spans nearly nine acres. On Saturday, November 12, 2016 I was able to visit this facility thanks to the Mystic Valley Railway Society.
The Mystic Valley Railway Society is a non-profit providing railroad related group trips to members and others throughout New England. Every so often MVRS host a member only excursion and this trip was one of them. I’ve been a member for over 25 years. I’ve been on many trips with the group including a trip on Amtrak’s Cape Codder, Maine, and a few others. Sadly I haven’t been on any excursion in years due to being so busy. When I saw this trip in the group Waybill, their quarterly newspaper, I couldn’t pass it up.
About 25 members including my dad and myself boarded the bus from three pickup locations around metro Boston on that Saturday morning. Our first stop was Charles Ro Supply Company located in Malden, MA. This is America’s largest model train store. Charles Ro has one of the largest selection of O gauge equipment I’ve ever seen. The store also has HO, N, G, S scale trains as well. On the second floor they have an operating train layout with G and O gauge trains.
After exploring Charles Ro, the group made it’s way over to Mount Vernon Restaurant for a buffet lunch. Then we made tracks over the Boston Engine Terminal.
This facility is massive and the largest of the three MBTA maintenance facilities. We started the tour with a meet and greet with our MBTA and Keolis hosts. They gave us an overview of the day to day operations at the facility and we had the opportunity to ask questions. During the tour we were able to see MBTA equipment up close. Please check out photos below of the facility:
I would like to thank MVRS, MBTA, Keolis, and our tour guide and MVRS President Theresa Rylko for this great opportunity.
The South Coast Rail Project has been in the news a lot lately. This project has been in the works for over 20 years, believe it or not they had their groundbreaking ceremony in October of 1998. The current plan is to connect the South Coast to Boston by extending the Stoughton Branch. The right of way continues south of the Stoughton MBTA Station. This line was abandoned many years ago in stages. The railroad track is gone and it’s just a path in the woods now. This option is one of the most direct routes to connect Boston to New Bedford and Fall River. This past June, the MBTA announced that the project would cost $3.42 billion and would not be completed until 2029. (Note: Some of the images below are from the slide show from the September 2016 public meeting)
Getting There From Here
Back in 2008 five alternate routes were looked at including using routes via the Middleboro/Lakeville Commuter Rail Line. This alternative has been the topic of discussion because the current Stoughton route is running into environmental concerns and projected to be costly to complete. This hasn’t stopped the work on the New Bedford and Fall River branches with track, railroad crossings, and bridge upgrades.
The Stoughton Route would provide new rail service to the city of Boston for the following communities: Easton, Raynham, and Taunton.
Middleboro/Lakeville Line Alternative
By using the Middleboro/Lakeville Commuter Rail Line, the South Coast trains would use the western leg of the wye, heading down the Middleboro Secondary to Cotley Junction (Mozzone Blvd, Taunton, MA). At Cotley Junction, trains would need to head south on the New Bedford Branch continuing to Myricks Junction (Near Grove and Myricks Street, Berkley, MA). At Myricks, trains staying on the line would go right into New Bedford and trains taking the southwestern switch would head directly into Fall River. This option wouldn’t be as costly and would eliminate building stations in North Eastern, Eastern, and Raynham. The right-of-way and tracks are currently used by local freight, so track upgrades would be needed for the Middleboro Secondary and Cotley Junction.
Braintree Choke Point
The Middleboro/Lakeville alternative was taken off the table in the past due to only having one track available between South Station and Braintree. Currently, Middleboro/Lakeville, Greenbush, Plymouth, and Kingston trains share this section of right-of-way. There is already too much rail traffic already, never mind adding New Bedford and Fall River trains. This option could work but it would reduce down the amount of originally planned round trips to the South Coast. Right now, there is talk of expanding the Southeast Expressway and building a 4,000 foot tunnel for the commuter rail tracks. The tunnel would allow space for an extra commuter rail track.
Early in the month of September, the Middleboro/Lakeville route became the hot topic of discussion again. I was able to attend the Taunton meeting inside the Silver City Galleria Mall’s Bristol Community College Campus. I was sitting in a packed room of local residents and politicians. Most of the the people in the room were very vocal about how bad the “Middleboro/Lakeville” option for the city of Taunton and all the communities north of the city up to Stoughton. – Click here to see full sideshow – South Coast Rail Update – September 2016
The Middleboro/Lakeville option would require moving the already planned Taunton Cotley Station south of the junction. Taunton would have two stations on the Stoughton option. The Dean Street station would connect downtown Taunton to the city of Boston. Residents and politicians both agreed Taunton needs the train to go through it city. It would draw people to the area and create jobs. On the other hand past New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang spoke at the meeting and he was very vocal about the Middleboro/Lakeville option as a good option to get the city of New Bedford and Fall River connected to Boston within two years, not ten years.
Below is a video of Lang talking about the Middleboro/Lakeville Option from 2015:
I think the Middleboro/Lakeville alternative would be one of the best “temporary” options to get this project on track (no pun intended) and to reduce some of the cost. But could it work with the one track between South Station and Braintree for now? I’m not sure. Once the New Bedford and Fall River Trains are through the “Braintree Choke Point”, they could run express down the rest of the Middleboro/Lakeville Line, topping speeds of 70 mph. During the sideshow there was talk about moving the Middleboro/Lakeville station or making reverse move to the station. I didn’t understand the thinking behind doing that. I think the trains should run express up the line, not stopping at stations that are already serviced by Middleboro trains.
Downside to Middleboro Connection
But knowing the MBTA the Middleboro option wouldn’t be a temporary one. This would become a permanent route for the line and the Stoughton options would be put off longer or abandoned. I understand New Bedford and Fall River just wants a connection to the city of Boston somehow some way. But the Stoughton option also allows downtown Taunton, Raynham, and Easton to get this much needed connection to Massachusetts’s capital city.
One other option that was on the table back in 2008 was a train running down the Northeast Corridor and then using the Middleboro Secondary from Attleboro. I think this option would make the trip longer. This route would run right through Cotley Junction into Myricks Junction. Both the Middleboro/Lakeville and Northeast Corridor alternatives would require upgrading about 9 miles of track on the Middleboro Secondary. I think the Northeast Corridor route would be more costly to upgrade the Middleboro Secondary with all of the railroad crossings going through the city of Taunton. There are fewer crossings heading down the Middleboro/Lakeville route.
As this project starts to heat up again I will be posting more updates here, stay tuned!
The new trainsets will be entering revenue service 2021 and the current Acela fleet with be retired by the end of 2022.
Holyoke, Massachusetts is located just north of Springfield, MA. In its day, the city was one of the largest suppliers of office products in the world and got the nickname “The Paper City”. In August 2015, passenger railroad service returned to the city after Amtrak re-routed its “Vermonter” service on the Conn River Line. The re-route would shorten the ride by 25 minutes and eliminate the Amherst Station on the old route.
Connecticut River Railroad Station
A little over 1,000 feet up the track from the new Holyoke Depot Square Railroad Station you can see the Connecticut River Railroad Station. The station was built in 1885 and was designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. Richardson designed 9 New England railroad stations, including Palmer’s Union Station. In 2014, Connecticut River Railroad Station was cited as one of Massachusetts’s top ten most endangered historic sites. Currently, the station is owned by the Holyoke Gas and Electric Company. Right now there aren’t any plans to restore the station. – See photos below of the Station
Holyoke Express Office
Next door to the Connecticut River Railroad Station is the Holyoke Express Office. This office used to handle packages coming on and off the trains.The building was built in the early 1900s. – See photo below
Re-routing the Vermonter line would have been a great opportunity to restore this historical landmark and bring new life into this railroad station; the property even has the space to accommodate parking. Looking at the 2011 Holyoke Station Feasibility Study, restoring this station was one of the options on the table. Looking over the report, it would have cost a little over $3 million to restore the station and up to $1 million for the platform. A full station renovation including the platform would have cost anywhere between $5 to $6 million dollars, and with only two passenger trains traveling daily through Holyoke, it didn’t quite seem worth it.
The MBTA wants to expand train service to western Massachusetts, and it would be nice to revisit the idea of using the historical landmark, but it is highly unlikely because they already invested $3.2 million on the new Depot Square Railroad Station. If only the timing was better, with Amtrak and MBTA Commuter Rail service coming to Holyoke, it would have been nice to see this historical landmark restored and used as a railroad station again.