Looking for abandoned railroads?

Looking for abandoned railroads just got a lot easier

While doing research on the many railroad lines around New England, I have found that a whole bunch of them were abandoned around the 1930s. That means these right of ways been untouched for nearly 80 years. Some are easier to find because the rails and wooden ties are still in place, while others are harder to find if the railroad tracks are removed at some point, leaving just a narrow path in the woods.

Topographic Maps
As a kid growing up I got the topographic map book for Massachusetts. The topographic maps are super detailed, showing current and often times abandoned right of ways. There would be a map directory, for instance it would have a map of Massachusetts broken down by section and each section would have a page number. Then you would go to the corresponding page to see a super detailed map of that area.

Google and Bing Maps
The 21st century has brought us some new tools for searching for abandoned right of ways. Today we can explore areas without leaving our house. Both Google Maps and Bing Maps feature tools that allow you to see the area via a satellite image and you can use the street level feature to see everything as if you was driving down the road. Not only is this a great tool for searching for abandoned right of ways, this is also a great way to find spots to railfan along active right of ways.

Macungie, PA - Train Watching Park

Macungie Railfan Pavilion

Macungie, Pennsylvania is located in the Lehigh Valley region in the southeastern part of the state. The 37 mile Norfolk Southern Railway’s Reading Line cuts through Macungie running between Wyomissing Junction, PA and Bethlehem, PA. What once was the train station in Macungie is now a train watching park. It is estimated that anywhere from 30 to 35 trains travel on this line daily.

Back in May, my dad and I spent the weekend in Macungie railfanning. We were able to see almost a dozen trains traveling eastbound and westbound on this route. I would highly recommend railfanning in the Macungie train watching park. The park has a large parking lot with a flower garden and a covered viewing platform with chairs. The great thing about this location is that you can see both the eastbound and westbound signals from the viewing platform. The signal aspects will become illuminated when a train is a few minutes away. A scanner will be a great tool for this location as well. You can hear a defect detector just east of the viewing platform. Most of the route is double tracked (track 1 westbound and track 2 eastbound). I hope to revisit this location in the near future again.

Scanner Frequencies:
Norfolk Southern Railway Road 2 161.0700
Norfolk Southern Railway Road 1 160.8000

52 W Main St Macungie, PA 18062

Macungie, PA - Train Watching Park

Macungie, PA - Train Watching Park

Macungie, PA - Train Watching Park

Macungie, PA - Train Watching Park

Bay Colony Railroad

Bay Colony Railroad #1701

If you grew up as a rail-fan in Southeastern Massachusetts, you know the Bay Colony Railroad. This short line railroad serviced all of Cape Cod and almost any other line that wasn’t serviced by Conrail or CSX. Growing up in Middleboro, MA, for nearly 25 years I would normally see one of the Bay Colony Railroad locomotives parked on Longmeadow Rd in Taunton, MA. In 2008, the Massachusetts Coastal Railroad was awarded a contract and the Bay Colony Railroad was history. For a short time, Mass Coastal parked a locomotive on Longmeadow Rd, but that didn’t last long. I guess you could say Bay Colony holds a special place in my heart because it was one of the first railroads I rail-fanned. I couldn’t tell you how many times I stopped to see the locomotives parked there. I thought I would never see a Bay Colony locomotive again.

Scrolling through the photos on my Instagram feed, I saw a photo of the #1701 Bay Colony EMD GP8 Locomotive. This locomotive was built in 1953 and started its service on the Detroit & Toledo Shore Line and was later purchased by Bay Colony in 1987. The Bay Colony Locomotive was originally #1750 but then was later changed to #1701. I could be wrong on some of this because it was very hard to piece together the history of this locomotive.

The locomotive is now parked south of Medfield Junction near the Medfield Waste Water Plant on the Millis Branch. Last Sunday, we made a special trip out to Medfield to see the locomotive. Not only did the locomotive bring back memories for me it also brought them back for my dad as well. From what I read, every so often #1701 moves freight on the Millis Branch. We hope to see the locomotive in action sometime soon.

From what I was able to find out, they also service the Watuppa Branch in Dartmouth and Wesport, MA. I need to check out the other locomotive as it is parked in Dartmouth near Old Reed Road.

Bay Colony Railroad
Myself and my dad Kenneth Higgins near Bay Colony Railroad #1701
South Coast Rail Project

South Coast Rail Project Update April 2017


On Thursday, April 13, 2017 I attended the latest meeting about the South Coast Rail Project in Dartmouth, MA. This meeting was about giving notice of a project change, and the Stoughton route was the primary route for the project. As of right now, it could be another 20 years before it will ever happen, and the state and some of the public are tired of waiting. During the last round of public meetings an idea was floating around about using the Middleboro/Lakeville line to make the connection to the South Coast. Since the meetings back in September 2016, that idea has grown some traction and even the governor’s support. This new option would get rail service to the area within 5 to 10 years.

The Project Change
Phase I
What SCR is proposing is doing the project in two phases. Phase I would use the Middleborough/Lakeville Line to connect New Bedford and Fall River to Boston. A good amount of the work is done on both the Fall River and New Bedford secondaries. This phase would involve the Middleboro Secondary, a seven mile stretch between Taunton (Cotley Junction), and Middleboro (Pilgrim Junction). This section of track is currently used by CSX freight service. Having to only upgrade the Middleboro Secondary and a few upgrades on the current Middleborough/Lakeville Commuter Rail line would fast track this project, as seen in the map below. (See full slide presentation here)

South Coast Rail Project

South Coast Rail Project

Below is a photo of Maverick Junction.  Heading straight on the line leans to New Bedford and the track going to the right is going to Fall River.

South Coast Rail Project

Phase II
Phase I would be the temporary route until Phase II is complete. Phase II would be building the proposed Stoughton leg of the route. There are a lot of obstacles with getting this done in a timely fashion. Basically, this route was abandoned years ago so the track is gone. Having only a path where the right of way was is like rebuilding the line all over again. This route will has many issues with abutters of the right way and environment concerns. The Hockomock Swamp seem to be a huge issue with building the line. The plan was to have this line be full electric like how Amtrak operates on the Northeast Corridor. This will be the first MBTA commuter rail route operating with electric rather than diesel locomotives.

The Meeting
Response from the Public and Government Representatives

Taunton Area
Many of the residents and government representatives of the city of Taunton express concern about Phase II never happening. Phase I would only service the city with a station in the outskirts of the city near the Silver City Galleria Mail. In the Stoughton option (Phase II), the city would have the downtown Taunton Depot Station and the Raynham Place Station (this would service residents in Northern part of city).

State and local representatives spoke: Estele Borges, Shaunna O’Connell, and Marc Pacheco all voiced concerns about Phase I and Taunton not getting the train service it needs to Boston.

Middleboro Area
State Representative Keiko Orrall said she supports Phase I but she doesn’t want to move the current Middleborough/Lakeville Station. There was a second person representing the town of Middleboro, and I didn’t catch his name but he didn’t support Phase I and he feels the town really hasn’t had any involvement in this project. Both had concerns about the Middleborough/Lakeville Station. With the new Phase I option, there are a few ideas about what to do with this station:

  • Middleborough/Lakeville Station riders would have two seat ride by detraining at Bridgewater to board another train.
  • Moving the Middleboro Station north of Pilgrim Junction.
  • Once New Bedford and Fall River trains get to Pilgrim Junction they would run express to Boston.
  • Leave Middleboro/Lakeville Service how it stands now.
  • Making New Bedford and Fall River Riders have a two seat ride.
  • Extending service to Buzzards Bay, keeping the current station.

There has been a lot of development around the current Middleborough/Lakeville Station. It would be a huge mistake if they abandon this station or reduce service to it. Even making this stop a two seat ride would be hurtful to the station.

Stoughton Area
Robert Cohn of the Stoughton Selectman spoke out about the project, saying the electrification of the line would be a total eye sore to the downtown area. He also voice concerns about freight trains traveling through all hours of the the night. Cohn said, however, that he will be willing to work with the cities and towns on the proposed Phase II route.

Bourne Area
One gentleman spoke representing the town of Bourne. He states Bourne wants commuter rail service year around, not just the CapeFlyer. He also referred to the 2015 ridership study, which shows there is a demand for daily commuter rail service to the area.

Exploring the Project in Question
Stoughton Right of Way
This past weekend, I was able to explore the right of way, it was definitely not walkable through the Taunton and Raynham stretch. The wetlands are definitely an issue in one section, just south of the Taunton/Raynham Dog track it was like a stream running south.

South Coast Rail Project

South Coast Rail Project

South Coast Rail Project

Above are photos of the abandoned right of way through Taunton and Raynham, MA. Below is where the line currently stops in Taunton shortly after the Dean Street Station.

South Coast Rail Project

Cotley Junction – Taunton
The southern leg of the wye needs to be reconnected to the Middleboro Secondary. Currently this leg is used for freight storage with a bumper near where it would have rejoined the Middleboro Secondary. This should be easy to fix.

South Coast Rail Project

Above is a photo of the Southern wye that needs to reconnected.  Below is the northern wye the track heading to the left is going to Middleboro and the line heading straight is going to New Bedford and Fall River.
South Coast Rail Project

My Thoughts
I feel the Phase I “Middleboro/Lakeville” option would be the best option to getting the South Coast Rail project up and running sooner than later. In my opinion the New Bedford and Fall River trains should run express and not service the Middleboro/Lakeville line. This will be a huge time saver to people commuting from the south coast.

After sitting through two meeting about the South Coast Rail Project, one this month and one last September, Taunton wants commuter rail service in a huge way. Could the MBTA start a train from New Dean Street Station in Taunton? Or even a budd type car from to shuttle riders between Dean Street and the Cotley Junction stop?

I think running service year around out of Buzzard Bay would be a great idea. I would split the peak service trains, have half of them start/end there route in Middleboro and the other half in Buzzards Bay.

Although Phase I is a great idea to get the ball rolling, the Braintree choke point will be an issue with 5 commuter rail lines using a signal line track in the Braintree stretch. One delay in this area could cause catastrophic delays to all the lines servicing southeastern Massachusetts.

I feel work on Phase II should start once Phase I is complete. This will provide needed rail service to cities and towns along that route.

Currently South Coast Rail is waiting on public comment about this project change. I’m not sure what’s next, stay tuned.

Trainmaster's Inn

Trainmaster’s Inn – Palmer, MA

New England Central Railroad
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/

Trainmaster's InnTrainmaster’s Inn
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/

Trainmaster's Inn
Trainmaster’s Inn – Guest room 3
Trainmaster's Inn
Trainmaster’s Inn – Guest room 3 sitting area
Trainmaster's Inn - Second floor common area
Trainmaster’s Inn – Second floor common area

Palmer Hobbies
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.

Palmer Hobbies

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.

Scanner Frequencies
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

CSX in Palmer, MA
CSX Moving westbound
Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited heading westbound while New England Central heading east.
Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited heading westbound while New England Central heading east.
New England Central Railroad in the yard
New England Central Railroad Yard
Mass Central Railroad
Mass Central Railroad moving eastbound
Loram Maintenance of Way
Loram Maintenance of Way
New England Central Railroad with Mass Central Railroad
New England Central Railroad with Mass Central Railroad
Amtrak in Palmer MA
Amtrak Lake Shore Limited Heading westbound



Northeast Corridor Realignment in CT & RI

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.

From the FRA Study

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.

Northeast Corridor Realignment

Springfield, MA
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.

Northeast Corridor Realignment

Northeast Corridor Realignment

Northeast Corridor Realignment

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

Northeast Corridor
Past High Speed Rail Proposal Route

NEC Alingnment

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:

Plainville MA Roundhouse

Wrentham and Adamdale Branches

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.

Wrentham Branch
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.

Adamsdale Branch
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.

Adamdale Freight Depot

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.

North Attleboro Railroad Crossing

North Attleboro Railroad Crossing

Forgotten Pawtucket-Central Falls Station

Forgotten Pawtucket-Central Falls Station

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.

Forgotten Pawtucket-Central Falls Station Floor Plans

Forgotten Pawtucket-Central Falls Station

Forgotten Pawtucket-Central Falls Station

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.