To The Daily Sun,
I am writing to respond to Rick Green’s recent article about City of Laconia selecting a consultant to study options for building out the WOW Trail from Lakeport to Weirs Beach. While I feel the article perfectly articulated the intentions of the WOW Trail organizers, I also feel that the “railroad” part of the equation was largely overlooked. I hope I can help add some balance to the conversation. Whether the tracks in the corridor are utilized or underutilized certainly can be subject to many hours of debate. However, there are information about the rail corridor known as the “White Mountain Branch” that should be made known. I did some research to put this letter together.
A little current background on the rails that run through Laconia: they are part of the White Mountain Branch, a 73 mile maintained rail line that starts in Concord and ends in Lincoln. The rail line is in service and maintained on all sections of track, is connected to the national rail network in Concord on tracks owned by Pan Am Railways, a large regional New England based railroad. Three railroads operate on the line, the Winnipesaukee Scenic which would be the most impacted by any proposed track removal, runs scenic trains from Meredith Station to Weirs Beach, Lakeport and back. The suggested idea of removing the rails on the highly active portion of the Winnipesaukee Scenic’s tracks on the Weirs Beach to Lakeport segment, would cripple their operation enough to put them out of business. Jobs would be lost, and the revenue and added economic benefits of thousands of tourists the railroad attracts would be gone.
The Hobo Railroad, a sister to the Winnipesaukee Scenic, runs scenic train rides out of Lincoln, they also provide services for the separately owned Lafayette Dinner Train that operates nightly excursions out of Lincoln as well. The Hobo Railroad is also well known for in the railroad industry for performing restoration and rebuilding services on locomotives, cabooses, passenger cars, and other pieces of railroad equipment at their shops in Lincoln. A severed railroad line would easily put an end to that business, with more jobs lost.
The third railroad is a freight railroad, which has “Common Carrier Status” not only on their home rails from Concord to Lochmere, but they have the rights to move freight over the entire line from Concord to Lincoln. They are called New England Southern, and they have been in business in the area since 1982. You might have noticed them recently, as their shiny yellow painted locomotive came through Laconia twice very recently. They brought three rail cars full of railroad ties for use at both the Winnipesaukee Scenic and Hobo Railroads. Yes, all those railroad crossing signals in Laconia actually work. Over 2,500 replacement railroad ties were delivered to Meredith Yard to keep those tracks well maintained. The returning freight move from Meredith to Laconia also had a refurbished caboose that will be delivered to the MBTA in Boston.
The New England Southern Railroad is responsible for transporting any inbound or outbound freight and railroad equipment as they are the only connection to the national rail network for the Winnipesaukee Scenic, Hobo Railroad, and Lafayette Dinner Train. For example, when the Hobo Railroad received their two new locomotives a few years ago, New England Southern delivered them from Concord. It would cost way too much money to ship railroad equipment by truck due to a severed rail line.
The New England Southern crew has tried to maximize any freight opportunities over the line, as they regularly deliver clay slurry cars to 3M in Tilton. New England Southern also put together, for the second time, a very large successful freight move for the New Hampshire National Guard where 175 pieces of military equipment was shipped from Canterbury to Michigan over several railroads. If the Northern Pass project had come to fruition, New England Southern had plans in place to move big things by rail such as generators, construction mats, steel, and cable for delivery to various key places on the line including Tilton and Bridgewater.
The State of New Hampshire has owned the White Mountain Branch for over 45 years, and they continue to invest in the quality of the line with fees generated from both the tourism and freight traffic the line attracts. In regards to the WOW Trail, I do like what the WOW Trail represents and have enjoyed walking the sections particularly the segment from Roberts Beach to Osborn’s Agway. The sections I have seen with rail and trail existing side-by-side are put together quite nicely. With that said, there should no reason for any rails to be torn up to make way for a trail, especially when the rail line is 100 percent active, generating revenue, maintained, and serves the public.
My opinion, as a rail enthusiast, to whether a rail line stays or goes carries very little weight. The two very successful and longstanding passenger train operations, and the longstanding freight operator have shown to be great stewards of the rail line for the State of New Hampshire and have everything to lose should four to five miles of active tracks ever be removed from Lakeport to Weirs Beach.
This is my take why removing the tracks should be 100 percent off the table.