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History of Greenbush Rail Line Compiled by Thomas J. Humphrey
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 deferred.

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 Duxbury.

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.

But, 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.

The late Rev. Robert Merry remembers the day New Haven service to Duxbury ended. Click HERE to listen...

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.

But 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.

And, as one rider remembers, not all of the passengers walked on two legs.
Click HERE to listen...
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 line.



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.

But 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 ended.
Retired State Senator Ned Kirby of Whitman remembers the end of the rail service to the South Shore. Click HERE to listen..

John Cushman of Kingston drove the last train to Scituate in 1959.
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 to War

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.

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