A History of the New Hampshire Central Railroad

New Hampshire’s North Country is rich in railroad history. Passenger train service was provided between Berlin, New Hampshire and Boston, Massachusetts, by the Boston & Maine Railroad and mixed train service was provided by the Maine Central Railroad to Colebrook, New Hampshire, and Beecher Falls, Vermont. Daily passenger service between Montreal and Portland, Maine’s largest city, was provided by the Canadian National.

The past three decades have brought many changes to New Hampshire’s North Country railroads due in part to the decline of rail-dependent industries in the area. Many paper mills and furniture manufacturers closed their doors greatly reducing the number of annual carloads required to make railroad revenue adequate. The 1980’s and the Staggers Act, which allowed the railroads to abandon or sell off branches to shortline operators, only hastened the decline in the railroads' market share of freight traffic. To help prevent lines from being lost, the State of New Hampshire purchased many right-of-ways for future use. Today the State owns more miles of railroad than New England’s largest railroad; Pan Am Railways. The State often enters into contracts with various companies and entrepreneurs to provide service on these lines. Some of these lines are operated as tourist railroads while others provide freight service.

In 1993 the New Hampshire Central started operating the long out-of-service former Maine Central Beecher Falls line between North Stratford and Colebrook, New Hampshire. Initially business consisted of hauling ballast being used by the St. Lawrence and Atlantic, operator of the former Canadian National line between Richmond, Quebec and Portland, Maine. In addition to the ballast, veneer logs and pipe for a gas line generated revenues for the railroad.

Recognizing the need to have additional sources of revenue to make the operation a success, the railroad built a two-track repair facility just north of North Stratford. The new facility allowed the New Hampshire Central to enter into an agreement with the St. Lawrence and Atlantic to perform repairs to their fleet of 70 ton boxcars used in paper loading service. The success of this agreement encouraged the St. Lawrence and Atlantic to expand the scope of work to include repairs to their locomotive fleet. Recent work included the installation of Auxiliary Power Units on 10 SL&A GP-40-3 locomotives. The APU’s allow the locomotives to be shut down during the colder months of the year when not being used, eliminating the potential for freeze damage while at the same time reducing fuel consumption, exhaust emissions, and the cost of operating the locomotives.

Customer service is a key element in the success of the New Hampshire Central. In 2000 a petroleum terminal was built adjacent to the North Stratford repair facility. Initially the railroad handled inbound loads of home heating oil, kerosene, and diesel fuel. The New Hampshire Central provided the operator with on-demand service so they were always able to have product available to their customers. Because of the personalized service, the terminal operator was able to expand and the railroad now handles inbound loads of LP-Gas and Bio-diesel fuels as well.

In 2001 the New Hampshire Central tripled in size when it took over the operations of the former Boston & Maine line between Groveton and Littleton and the Maine Central’s former Mountain Subdivision between Whitefield and Gilman Vermont. The New Hampshire Central along with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation provided funds to reopen the line between Groveton and Whitefield. This work consisted of rail replacement, tie replacement, cutting brush, and surfacing the line.

Today the Groveton Line has one customer located in Whitefield that receives plastic pellets used in the manufacturing of piping for residential and commercial waste water disposal systems. A new transload track built at Hazens, located near the customer’s plant and the Whitefield airport. This new track also serves as an interchange for the Conway Scenic Railway, giving them a connection for the movement of equipment in and out of North Conway.

The storage of railcars is a major source of revenue for the New Hampshire Central. With the recent downturn in the world’s economy, especially in the manufacturing section of the United States, many railway equipment leasing companies have worked with shortlines to store excess equipment until the economy improves. In addition to storage, each car is inspected and any safety-related work is performed before the car is released from storage.

Safety is of the utmost importance for any railroad. The New Hampshire Central has a comprehensive safety training program in place for its employees and the citizens of the communities in which it operates. As part of the safety program the New Hampshire Central entered into a joint partnership with Lockheed Martin to test a new switch point monitoring device at a switch in Shops Yard, where the repair facility is located. The device displays the position of the switch to the locomotive engineer using equipment installed on the 7324, a GP-9 locomotive, alerting the engineer if the switch if is improperly lined. This is an important technological advancement as the Railroad Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandates that railroads which handle poisonous or toxic inhalation hazard commodities have to employ some form of switch point monitoring in non-signaled territory. While testing is ongoing the results are very positive and the device is accurately providing the locomotive engineer with the switch status. When fully implemented, the system will allow monitoring of locomotive location, fuel level and other information accessed through the Web.

The innovative thinking of the management of the New Hampshire Central and their close working relationship with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation has allowed the railroad to be a success story during difficult times.

As it moves forward into the next decade, the New Hampshire Central intends to build upon its success and increase business with the addition of new on-line customers and services.

Download a pdf of the NHCR History here.