Most of the New England railroad network
was originally built during the Nineteenth Century by
hundreds of small independent companies that were gradually
consolidated into larger systems. Completion of railroads
from Boston to Worcester, Lowell, and Providence in 1835
spurred interest in other routes.
|Steam locomotives hauled commuter trains from
Boston through Quincy to Greenbush.
The Old Colony Railroad, which eventually
grew to over 600 route-miles, began with a route from
Boston to Plymouth on which service started in November
1845. The South Shore Railroad was chartered in March
1846 to build a line from the Old Colony in Braintree
through Weymouth, Hingham, Cohasset, Scituate, and Marshfield
to Duxbury. It opened as far as Cohasset on January 1,
1849, and was equipped and run by the Old Colony. Initially
there were three round trips a day, running through from
Cohasset to Boston. Plans to extend further south were
A five-year lease to the Old Colony expired
in 1854 and was not renewed. The South Shore then began
running its own trains between Cohasset and Braintree.
In 1867, the Duxbury & Cohasset Railroad was chartered,
with Old Colony backing, to revive plans to extend the
South Shore line beyond Cohasset. This line opened to
South Duxbury in stages over the summer of 1871, and was
extended to a connection with the Old Colony main line
at Kingston in 1874. From the start, it was run by the
South Shore Railroad. The Old Colony obtained a controlling
interest in the South Shore Railroad by 1868 and bought
the company out in 1877, followed by the Duxbury &
Cohasset the next year. The Old Colony began running some
through service to Plymouth via this line in addition
to trains terminating at Cohasset, Scituate, or South
The South Shore line gained another feeder
in 1881, with the completion of the Nantasket Beach Railroad
between Nantasket Junction in Hingham and Pemberton in
Hull. It was run independently until 1888, when it was
leased to the Old Colony. The entire route from Braintree
to Kingston originally had only a single track, with passing
sidings, but a second track from Braintree to Nantasket
Junction was built about 1890.
In March 1893, the entire Old Colony Railroad
system was leased to the New York, New Haven & Hartford
(New Haven) Railroad. The Old Colony was never again a
separate operating entity, though its former lines are
commonly referred to as the Old Colony Railroad even to
the present day. The New Haven was a pioneer in electrification
of steam railroad lines. Electric service on the Nantasket
Beach Branch, using overhead wires for power distribution,
began on June 30, 1895. Further experimentation resulted
in a center-of-track third-rail electrification of the
South Shore line from Nantasket Junction to East Weymouth
in 1896. Third rail was extended to Braintree in 1898,
and to Cohasset in 1899. The installation was a technical
success, but safety concerns led to its discontinuance
after the 1902 summer season.
|The line through Cohasset, Scituate
(Greenbush), Marshfield and Duxbury terminated
at the Kingston station shown here in 1901.
The Greenbush track is on the right.
The New Haven extended double track from Nantasket Junction
to Cohasset in 1907 and to Greenbush Station in Scituate
in 1911. Thereafter, Greenbush became a major turnback
point for commuter trains. Passenger service on the former
South Shore and Duxbury & Cohasset Railroads was then
at an all-time high. The June 1911 weekday schedule included
9 round trips to Boston from Cohasset, 5 from Scituate
(soon extended to Greenbush), and 8 to Plymouth in addition
to Plymouth service via the main line. Fifteen of these
trains each way made close connections at Nantasket Junction
with Nantasket Beach Branch electric trains.
As on most Boston-area rail lines, service
reductions were mandated during World War I to conserve
fuel, equipment, and labor for the war effort. Most of
the cuts were never restored. Increasing automobile competition
in the 1920s continued the downward spiral.
as the Rev. Robert Merry of Duxbury recalls, there
were still horses on the roads who didn't get along
very well with their iron counterparts on the rails.
Click HERE to listen...
Passenger service on the Nantasket Beach
Branch was run only in the summers after 1925, and ended
entirely in 1932. The New Haven Railroad declared bankruptcy
in 1935, and terminated the Old Colony lease in 1936,
forcing the latter into bankruptcy. The New Haven continued
operating the Old Colony system under court order, but
began making massive service cuts and station closings.
The line south of Greenbush, on which passenger service
had dwindled to a single daily South Duxbury round trip
by 1932, was abandoned entirely in May 1939.
In 1940, service on the remainder of the
line was reduced to 4 Greenbush round trips, 1 inbound
Nantasket Junction trip, and 5 round trips between Cohasset
and Braintree. Some additional Greenbush trips were reinstated
during the war years.
as Elizabeth Bradford of Marshfield recalls, the service
was comfortable and convenient. Click
HERE to listen..
The New Haven emerged from bankruptcy in
September 1947. The reorganization included a merger of
the Old Colony Railroad, with a provision that passenger
service on all former Old Colony lines could be dropped
if losses exceeded $850,000 over 12 months in the first
two years. The Cohasset-Braintree shuttles on the Greenbush
Line ended in 1948, and in 1949 Greenbush service was
reduced to four round trips, all in peak hours.
|In an effort to save money and boost ridership
during the mid 50's, the New Haven RR introduced
self propelled diesel cars to the Greenbush
Some off-peak service was restored under the pro-passenger
administration of Frederick C. Dumaine, Jr., bringing
the weekday total to 6 Greenbush round trips in 1952 and
8 in 1953. Dumaine was ousted in a proxy fight in 1954,
and in 1958 the new management announced that the provision
allowing discontinuance of Old Colony passenger service
would be exercised.
as Alba Thompson of Plymouth recalls, the Budd cars
couldn't compete with automobiles. Click
HERE to listen..
|An emergency one-year subsidy from the state
kept the trains running until June 30, 1959, while the Southeast
Expressway was being completed. Passenger service to Boston
from Greenbush, Plymouth, Middleborough, and Cape Cod then
State Senator Ned Kirby of Whitman remembers the end
of the rail service to the South Shore. Click
HERE to listen..
Freight service on the Greenbush line continued
as far as a lumber yard at Nantasket Junction, but the
track beyond that was abandoned in 1963. The New Haven
entered bankruptcy again in 1961. On December 31, 1968,
the assets of the New Haven were transferred to the Penn
Central Company, formed earlier that year through a merger
of the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads. Penn
Central called the remainder of the Greenbush line the
Nantasket Secondary Track.
Penn Central went bankrupt in June 1970.
To preserve essential freight service provided by Penn
Central and other bankrupt railroads in the Northeast,
Congress established the Consolidated Rail Corporation
(Conrail). Effective April 1, 1976, Conrail took over
ownership and operation of Penn Central lines identified
in a Final System Plan. The Nantasket Secondary Track
still had enough traffic to be included in Conrail. About
1979, service beyond West Hingham was suspended when the
Water Street bridge in Hingham was condemned. A re-examination
of Conrail branch lines in 1981 led to a decision to abandon
the Nantasket Secondary beyond East Braintree. In 1982,
it was sold to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation
& Construction (EOTC), which chose the Bay Colony
Railroad to operate it along with several other cast-off
Conrail lines. Bay Colony ran service to West Hingham
only until 1983, when the General Services Administration
(GSA) supply depot on a side track there switched to using
trucks. At around the same time, serious efforts to restore
passenger service on the former Old Colony Lines were
beginning, but that is another story.
SIDEBAR - The Greenbush Line Goes
During the 20th Century much of the freight
traffic on the Greenbush Line was related to national
defense. In 1903, the Fore River Ship and Engine Company
built a private railroad connecting its shipyard in Quincy
with the Greenbush line at East Braintree. This line became
a common carrier, the Fore River Railroad, in 1919 shortly
after it and the shipyard were sold to the Bethlehem Steel
Company. Today it serves the Massachusetts Water Resources
Authority as the Quincy Bay Terminal Railroad.
In 1906, the U.S. Navy began construction
of an ammunition depot for the North Atlantic Fleet, on
the east side of the Weymouth Back River in Hingham. A
new spur from the Greenbush line near West Hingham Station
connected to a vast network of tracks leading to underground
storage bunkers. (For security reasons, topographic maps
continued to show the reservation as vacant land as long
as it was in use.)
In 1941, with insufficient room for expansion
of the Hingham Ammunition Depot, the Navy began construction
of an annex on the border of Hingham, Cohasset and Norwell,
in the present location of Wompatuck State Park. A spur
to serve it was built from the Greenbush line at a point
east of Nantasket Junction designated Whitney. Within
the Annex was a yard with capacity for 225 freight cars,
but "invisible" to map-makers. Freight traffic
between the two Naval installations became so heavy that
in 1943 the second track between West Hingham and Whitney
was reinstalled for exclusive use of munitions trains.
Bethlehem Steel was also running out of
room in Quincy. By 1942, the Bethlehem Hingham Shipyard
was building battleships on a site north of the original
Ammunition Depot. Another spur track from the Greenbush
line at West Hingham was installed to serve it. At its
peak, this shipyard employed over 24,000 workers. In 1943
and 1944, the New Haven ran a daily reverse-commuting
train non-stop from South Station in Boston to the shipyard,
arriving at 7:10 AM and departing at 3:50 PM.
In later years, part of the Ammunition Depot
Annex was used as an Army Reserve post. When the Greenbush
line was abandoned east of Nantasket Junction in 1963,
the spur to the Annex remained in place, but disconnected.
In 1967, the Navy again wanted rail service to the Annex
and replaced the track between Nantasket Junction and
Whitney. New Haven crews operated over it using a small
Navy switch engine. The purpose and duration of this operation
are not well documented. (Perhaps a reader can provide
more information.) By 1972 the spur was again heavily
overgrown with brush. The last freight customer beyond
East Braintree in 1983, the GSA warehouse, was at the
end of the spur in the former Bethlehem Hingham Shipyard.
By then, the tracks in the Ammunition Depot were gone
and the site was being re-developed.
Thomas J. Humphrey is a historian for the Massachusetts
Bay Railroad Enthusiasts and co-author of several books
on commuter railroads in Massachusetts.