Lowell Line

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Lowell Line
MBTA 1643 at North Billerica station, May 2016.JPG
An outbound Lowell Line train at North Billerica station
TypeCommuter rail
SystemMBTA Commuter Rail
LocaleNortheastern Massachusetts
North Station
Daily ridership10,625 (2018)[1]
Opened1835 (Boston & Lowell Railroad)
OwnerMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Operator(s)Keolis North America
CharacterElevated and surface-level
Line length25.4 miles (40.9 km)[2]
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Route map

(closed 1981)
(closed 1981)
Manchester Airport Manchester–Boston Regional Airport
(closed 1981)
(closed 1981)
North Chelmsford
↑ proposed extension
Lowell │ Lowell Yard
North Billerica
East Billerica
(closed 1965)
Silver Lake
(closed 1965)
Downeaster (train)
Lechmere Warehouse
(closed 1996)
Walnut Hill
(closed 1965)
(closed 1981)
Cross Street
(closed 1981)
Winchester Highlands
(closed 1978)
Winchester Center
West Medford
Tufts University
(closed 1979)
Boston Engine Terminal
MBTA employees only
North Station
Orange Line (MBTA) Green Line (MBTA) MBTA.svg Downeaster (train)

The Lowell Line is a railroad line of the MBTA Commuter Rail system, running north from Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts. Originally built as the Boston & Lowell Railroad and later operated as part of the Boston & Maine Railroad's Southern Division, the line was one of the first railroads in North America and the first major one in Massachusetts.

All stations are accessible except for West Medford, Winchester Center, and Mishawum.


Junction of the former Woburn Branch in Winchester
Lowell is the current outer terminus

The Boston & Lowell Railroad started freight operations in 1835, with traffic from the Lowell mills to the Boston port. Demand for the express passenger service exceeded expectations, and in 1842 local service was added as well. The line north of Lowell was first owned by the Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad, which was chartered in 1844. Trackage was completed as far as Wells River, Vermont, in 1853. The Boston & Maine Railroad (B&M) acquired the railroad in 1895.[3][4] The line served as the route for Boston to Montreal service during the Golden Age of Rail (roughly 1880 to 1930). The Ambassador, the train from Boston's North Station to Montreal, ran through Concord, New Hampshire, along this line until 1966.[5] This line, along with the New Englander, via Concord, White River Junction, Montpelier, ran through the northwestern section of Vermont prior to entering Quebec, Canada. The Alouette and Red Wing trains travelled to Montreal via Concord, Wells River and Newport in northeastern Vermont prior to entering Quebec. (The route via Wells River, St. Johnsbury and Newport was the more direct route of the two itineraries.)[6] For this itinerary the Montreal route was marketed as an Air-line railroad.

B&M passenger service to Boston on the line was shortened from Concord, New Hampshire to Lowell in 1967.[7]

In 1973, the MBTA bought the Lowell line, along with the Haverhill and all other local Greater Boston passenger lines. Along with the sale, the B&M contracted to run the passenger service on the Lowell line for the MBTA. After bankruptcy, the B&M continued to run and fulfill its commuter rail contract under the protection of the United States Bankruptcy Court, in the hopes that a reorganization could make it profitable again. It emerged from the court's protection when newly formed Guilford Transportation Industries (GTI) purchased it in 1983.

For approximately thirteen months in 1980-81, daily passenger service was provided to Concord. Two round-trips were operated on each weekday and one on weekend days. Originally, there were intermediate stops in Manchester and Nashua. A stop in Merrimack was added later. Service was discontinued when federal funding was withdrawn.[8]

In 2001, the Amtrak Downeaster began operating over the line south of Wilmington.[9]

The line was eventually shut down on weekends in July through September 2017 for the installation of Positive Train Control equipment in order to meet a 2020 federal deadline.[10]


As of 2011, there is a current debate over whether or not to expand the Lowell line to Nashua, New Hampshire and include stations in North Chelmsford and Tyngsborough en route, for the sake of commuters in those towns.

In January 2011, a bill was introduced into the New Hampshire legislature to end the proposed extension and give up a potential $4.1 million grant into its planning.[11]

The MBTA is currently building the Green Line Extension through Somerville and part of Medford. One branch of the Extension will follow the right of way of the Lowell Line into Medford. Several stations once existed along that section of the line, but none are in operation any longer.


Track speeds[edit]

North of Wilmington, the line is authorized for a maximum of 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). South of Wilmington, the line has an unusual asymmetrical speed limit. The northbound track supports up to 70 miles per hour (110 km/h) where curvature allows, while the southbound track has a maximum of 60 miles per hour (97 km/h). Additional speed restrictions are in place at Wilmington, through the grade crossings in West Medford, and in the North Station terminal area.[12]

Other services[edit]

Amtrak's Downeaster service to Maine, along with some Haverhill Line express trains, run on the Lowell Line from North Station to Wilmington, then follow the Wildcat Branch to the Haverhill Line. This routing is used to avoid the inner Haverhill Line, which has a number of single-track sections.

The line is the designated freight clearance route into Boston from the north; all stations with high-level platforms must either have mini-high platforms or a freight passing track. Pan Am Railways runs freight on the line, including local freights based out of Lawrence Yard and DOBO (a Dover to Boston through freight).

Station listing[edit]

Operating stations are shaded in purple; stations closed during the MBTA era are also listed.

Milepost[2] City Station Connections and notes
0.0 Boston Handicapped/disabled access North Station Amtrak: Downeaster
MBTA Commuter Rail: Fitchburg Line, Haverhill/Reading Line, and Newburyport/Rockport Line
MBTA subway:Orange Line, Green Line
MBTA Bus: 4
Boston Engine Terminal Flag stop with a wooden platform for MBTA employees
Junctions with Fitchburg Line, Haverhill/Reading Line, and Newburyport/Rockport Line
4.0 Medford Tufts University Open from November 1976 to October 1979; replaced former Tufts College and College Hill stations that closed before the MBTA era.[9] College Avenue station will be located near the former site.
5.5 West Medford
7.3 Winchester Handicapped/disabled access Wedgemere
7.8 Winchester Center Split with Woburn Branch until 1981
9.0 Winchester Highlands Closed in June 1978[9]
10.5 Woburn Walnut Hill Closed on January 17, 1965[9]
10.9 Lechmere Warehouse Open 1979-1996 as a flag stop for reverse commuters[9]
11.6 Mishawum Opened on September 24, 1984; limited reverse commute flag stop in service after the opening of Anderson RTC.[9] Replaced former North Woburn station that closed before the MBTA era.
12.7 Handicapped/disabled access Anderson Regional Transportation Center Opened on April 28, 2001.[9]Amtrak Downeaster service to Maine
Replaced former South Wilmington station that closed before the MBTA era.
15.2 Wilmington Handicapped/disabled access Wilmington Split with Wildcat Branch
17.0 Silver Lake Closed 18 January 1965[9]
Billerica East Billerica Closed 18 January 1965[9]
21.8 Handicapped/disabled access North Billerica Junction with former Billerica and Bedford Branch
25.5 Lowell Handicapped/disabled access Lowell LRTA buses to Lowell and beyond
Junction with Lowell and Nashua Railroad (B&L)
39.0 Nashua, New Hampshire Nashua, N.H. Unsubsidised B&M service ended 30 June 1967.
Experimental MBTA service began 28 January 1980; closed 1 March 1981.[9]
Restoration of service currently proposed.
46.1 Merrimack, New Hampshire Merrimack, N.H. Opened in April 1980; closed 1 March 1981[9]
55.5 Manchester, New Hampshire Manchester, N.H. Unsubsidised B&M service ended 30 June 1967.
Experimental MBTA service began 28 January 1980; closed 1 March 1981.[9]
73.3 Concord, New Hampshire Concord, N.H. Unsubsidised B&M service ended 30 June 1967.
Experimental MBTA service began 28 January 1980; closed 1 March 1981.[9]


  1. ^ "Commuter Rail Ridership Counts" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. January 28, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Ridership and Service Statistics" (PDF) (14th ed.). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. 2014.
  3. ^ "Boston, Concord & Montreal Railroad waymark". Waymarking. 19 April 2007. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
  4. ^ See also Boston and Maine Corporation#Acquisitions
  5. ^ Mike Schafer, Classic American Trains, p. 31.
  6. ^ "Map of the Montreal and Boston Air Line, Passumpsic, and South Eastern Railroads, and connections". David Rumsey Map Collection. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
  7. ^ MBTA-MBCR contract of February 19, 2003. Exhibit 18, p. 5.
  8. ^ Skoropowski, Eugene K. (1 August 2008). "N.H> commuter rail: a success in 1980". New Hampshire Business Review. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Belcher, Jonathan (31 August 2012). "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). NETransit. Retrieved 2 November 2012.
  10. ^ "Commuter Rail Positive Train Control (PTC): Update and Communications Plan for Suspension of Weekend Service" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. March 27, 2017. p. 6.
  11. ^ "New Hampshire Republicans plan to kill commuter line". Trains Magazine. 8 February 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2011.
  12. ^ Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas (April 2003). "Boston to Montreal High-Speed Rail Planning and Feasibility Study Phase I: Final Report" (PDF). Vermont Agency of Transportation et al. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 February 2006. Retrieved 8 July 2015.

External links[edit]

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