Over the past year and a half, New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association members Tom Greenman and Ron Wood have been researching and conducting a survey of the State of NH owned portion of the Hillsborough branchline from Wilton, NH to Bennington, NH. During the course of this survey, over twenty (20) companies through out the souhegan valley area were contacted in regards to their view on rail. Specifically, whether they would use rail service or support the restoration of rail service either freight or tourist passenger on the Hillsborough line. While most were supportive of our efforts, no immediate customers were found. The news is not all bad though as several companies did express interest in using rail if the price was reasonable and the service consistent.
First off, we can give a brief tour of our findings starting at the end of the name of the branch- Hillsborough, NH. It should be noted that the trackage ends at the Monadnock Paper Mill in Bennington, NH but the right-of-way is intact into Hillsborough. Tom Greenman and Ron Wood met with members of Hillsborough's Main Street program to talk about rail. Hillsborough's main interest in the line is to acquire and preserve the right-of-way for future trail and recreational use. They would be interested in the portion from the Antrim town line into Hillsborough. Although they didn't see any potential for rail service at the present time, they are interested in expanding their industrial base and an intact rail line would be a good selling point. An idea that came up was the removal of the region's trash by rail. This is something that has had much success on Cape Cod as well as in Boston and in other areas as well.
Monadnock Paper Mill, Bennington, NH
Although several attempts to meet with representatives at the mill have failed, we believe that this remains a potential customer of the railroad either at the plant in Bennington or more ideally at its warehouse located off route 31 in Greenfield, NH. The reason that the warehouse location is more desirable is due to the fact that a trestle bridge just before the paper mill complex in Bennington will need substantial upgrading to handle the heavy railcars operating to the mill. At this point it is conceivable to have finished paper product shipped out by rail as well as have raw materials such as recycled paper pulp and chemicals (latex, clay slurry) brought in by rail as well. One point to mention is that a rail siding will need to be built to access this warehouse. Perhaps the cost of the siding construction should be weighed against the cost of the trestle reconstruction to determine which option is best.
Town of Greenfield, NH
Tom Greenman and Ron Wood met with the top selectman in town. The town is in the process of redoing its master plan with more emphasis on industry than in the past. There is much land in town that is zoned as industrial. They also expressed environmental concerns such as heavy truck traffic through town on small town roads. The town fathers would be supportive of rail in this instance since it would help eliminate the truck trips through town. This is a mostly gravel and wood product with some over dimension steel. There are large sand deposits in the Greenfield area that could be a potential for future rail traffic.
American Steel, Greenfield, NH
While current plans don't call for rail service, officials at American Steel are supportive of our efforts. They particularly suggested a tourist passenger type of train would be a good way to increase tourism in the region.
Rhymes Oil Co.
In a discussion with Jim Rhymes, it was learned that they had planned on opening a propane distribution facility in Greenfield a few years ago but instead settled on a location in Claremont, NH. He indicated that if the pricing was competitive and the tracks were upgraded, that he would consider opening a rail transload facility in Greenfield, NH. It is important to mention that the facility in Claremont now handles over 600 carloads of propane annually and if a facility were to be located in Greenfield, would provide a significant amount of traffic for the line!
Quinn Brothers Quarry, Wilton, NH
In talking with one of the Quinn brothers, it became apparent that there is a lot of potential here. Quinn Brothers who operated granite quarry and crushing operation provides stone for the construction industry. They supplied the ballast for the rehabilitation of Guilford's Plaistow, NH to Portland, Maine line for the introduction of Amtrak's Downeaster service. Quinn would be interested in utilizing their facilities especially during the winter months when the construction season slows. Some of the ideas they came up with include bulk commodities such as highway salt, propane, and even cement. The fact that there is a double ended siding already in place and the trackage to Wilton is already upgraded, makes this the best location for a transload type of operation not to mention the close proximity to route 31.
Proposed Tourist/Dinner train, Wilton, NH
Various individuals in town are interested in the idea of a tourist train for the local area as a way to encourage visitors to the area. The construction of a siding on a town owned lot near downtown would be an ideal location for such an operation.
Souhegan Wood Products, Wilton, NH
Randy Dunn was contacted about utilizing rail and is interested. He said most of his clients have rail sidings at their plants.
In conclusion, we feel that the Hillsborough branch should be kept in place with brush cutting and weed spraying done to control growth on the tracks. Consideration should also be given to continued rehabilitation of the line to the Greenfield station. The most potential is on the east end of the line from Wilton to Greenfield. We will continue to work on raising public awareness of the potential of the line and work on finding companies looking to use rail in the area. We will also continue to encourage Guilford to beef up the stretch from Nashua to Wilton. We will issue updates to this survey as needed.
Tom Greenman & Ron Wood