Lowell, Mass. - 9:15 a.m.
It's the M&Ms, Danishes and doughnuts filling bowls around the train that make clear Monday morning's ride from Lowell, Mass., to Nashua and
Manchester isn't a typical commuter trip.
A uniformed railroad police officer checks IDs so no actual commuter is confused.
"This is about people thinking about innovation," says Congressman Charles
Bass, the host of the trip, designed to build enthusiasm for a rail
connection that would allow southern New Hampshire residents to commute by
train to Boston.
Aboard the two-car train is Bass, Nashua Mayor Bernie Streeter, Manchester
Mayor Robert Baines, state Transportation Commissioner Carol Murray,
Guilford Transportation President David Fink, and representatives from the
Nashua and Manchester chambers of commerce.
Folks talk about how swell it would be to have a train connecting the New
Hampshire cities with Lowell and Boston.
The train heads north with a jolt. For most of the trip, it moves at a
leisurely 25 mph.
En route to Nashua -
Bass, Baines and Streeter, along with others, retire to the stateroom of the Guilford train car.
It has wood-paneled walls and leather seats. It is the kind of place where
captains of industry should smoke cigars and drink brandy. (Nothing like
that is observed on this day.)
Bass informs the group that his then-pregnant mother left her home in
Peterborough by train to deliver him in a Boston hospital.
The car was built in 1916. There is a queen-size bed in one compartment,
bunk beds in the second compartment, bathrooms, and stainless steel showers.
"Every man needs a play toy," Fink says.
Tyngsborough, Mass. - 10:07 a.m.
Fall foliage along the swollen Merrimack River is prettier than a highway
Bass and Streeter troop up to Engine No. 517 after the train stops. The two want to drive the train into Nashua.
The duo crack jokes as Bass tells Streeter to get the train moving.
"Easy does it on the clutch. We're off," Bass announces from the conductor's
It's Kevin Moore, 36, who actually powers the train. The Plaistow resident
is the engineer for the 2½-hour trip. He has worked in the railroad business
for about 15 years and is the train master at Guilford's facility in
East Spit Brook Road, Nashua -
Train riders press their faces against the windows. To the west is the
former Hampshire Chemical plant off Daniel Webster Highway. There is no
trace of the facility, which was demolished. It's just flat, raw land.
A group of train enthusiasts, city administrators and elected officials meets the travelers at the would-be station.
Nashua Community Development Director Kathy Hersh says the goal remains to
build a 1,000-space commuter parking lot as part of a package of housing,
retail development and office space.
Aldermen approved the idea of establishing a special tax district to raise
the local contribution of $14 million, but that figure has since risen by $2
million, according to Bass.
Connecting Nashua to Lowell is estimated to cost some $80 million, with most
of that coming from the federal government.
East Hollis Street, Nashua -
The train waits for traffic to clear at the East Hollis Street crossing.
The East Hollis Street Master Plan envisions a train station to serve the
Crown Hill neighborhood right here.
Fink, whose company owns the tracks from the state line to Manchester, shows
the railroad spur that leads to Wilton. The company's subsidiary Guilford
Rail System operates over a network of about 1,600 miles of track in New
Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and New York.
Fink talks about restarting a Wilton train service with the same seriousness
as the Nashua service. He says it would ease the bumper-to-bumper traffic on
The idea has some people on board scratching their heads.
En route to Manchester -
Guilford employees Norman Kenney of Waterville, Maine, and Carl Steinmeyer
of Shaftsbury, Vt., watch out for the riders and the equipment.
Kenney is a sheet metal worker by trade. He doubles as the cook today.
"Any kind of dinner they want, we can cook it," Kenney says, standing beside
a full-size oven and microwave.
The train is stored in Waterville. It is taken on the road to be used mostly
as a business meeting room.
The menu can run from prime rib to cookies. For now, Kenney fills another tray of sweet, sticky doughnuts.
Manchester Airport Director Kevin Dillon and Baines move to the locomotive.
The train is nearing Manchester, where a large group of airport workers
greet it at the end of Winston Street. There is a sign proclaiming the site
as the future home of a Manchester Airport train station. It is about two
miles from the popular airport.
Dillon says 4 million passengers fly out of the airport now, a number he
expects to double by 2020, with most coming from northern Massachusetts and
the Nashua-to-Concord corridor. A train station, he says, would keep the
airport's stress-free reputation intact.
The train reaches its destination at Canal Street, greeted by the biggest
crowd yet, about 50 people.
Bass says the trip's goal wasn't to figure out details, but to show decision-makers the possibilities.
It's about time we all get together and make this happen, he says.