The largest of New England's railroads, the Boston & Maine is synonymous with the territory and for over 180 years has served it well. Today's B&M is much different than the one of mid-century; what's left of its historic network is operated by Pan Am Railways, previously known as Guilford Rail System. During the company's height it maintained more than 2,000 miles, snaking northward and westward away from its home city of Boston. In addition, the road connected with all of the important regional systems including the New Haven, Maine Central, Boston & Albany (New York Central), Central Vermont, and Rutland. The B&M's decline began like most of its neighbors, during the immediate post-World War II period as a shrinking traffic base and saturation of rail lines meant only the strongest would survive. The company managed to weather these turbulent times although new ownership under Guilford saw nearly half its network abandoned after the 1980s. Today, a little over 1,000 miles of the original B&M property continues to carry on under the Pan Am banner.
The Boston & Maine's immediate corporate history began on June 27, 1835 with its formal chartering in New Hampshire with intentions of linking its namesake city with Portland, Maine. Perhaps most interesting is that the original company was quite small and much of its future expansion was the result of acquisition, which sometimes resulted in duplicate routes serving the same regions. The B&M opened its first segment in 1840. Nearly two years later it merged with the Maine, New Hampshire & Massachusetts and Boston & Portland on January 1, 1842 while retaining the Boston & Maine name. On February 23, 1843 it had opened service between Exeter, New Hampshire and South Berwick, Maine where a connection was established with the Portland, Saco & Portsmouth. This system offered rail service from North Berwick into Portland, a city the B&M was attempting to serve. The New England of this era was riddled with railroads either under construction or in the planning stages. A B&M rival, the Eastern Railroad, was also working on a route into Portland.
In a rare case of cooperation the two jointly agreed to lease the PS&P. The original B&M line became its "Inside Gateway" to Boston operating via Dover, Haverhill, and Lawrence while the Eastern skirted the Atlantic coastline via Portsmouth, Newburyport, and Salem. The Eastern was originally chartered on April 14, 1836 and began construction over a year later in August of 1837. It worked its way northward out of Boston and reached the New Hampshire state line on November 9, 1840. The Eastern remained a rival of the B&M throughout its existence until the latter formally leased the former on December 23, 1883. It would eventually purchase the system outright in the spring of 1890. By then, the Boston & Maine was fast becoming the dominant railroad in the region. As Mike Schafer notes in his book, "Classic American Railroads," until the late 19th century the B&M had remained a relatively small, obscure operation with a network of only around 200 miles. Its substantial growth occurred after the Civil War following the manufacturing base which sprang up across New England. This explosion of new industry fueled the construction of numerous railroads, several of which the B&M would later control.
Its notable additions at this time included the Boston & Lowell (Originally chartered in 1830 it connected its namesake cities and stretched as far west as Keene, New Hampshire. It went on to form part of the B&M's Southern Division); Worcester, Nashua & Portland (Created in 1883 through the merger of two predecessors, the line linked Worcester, Massachusetts with Portland, Maine. It provided the B&M with a third main line to Portland and became superfluous, slowly abandoned after 1932.); Northern Railroad (Running from Concord to White River Junction, Vermont it opened for service in 1847 and was acquired by the B&L in 1884.); Concord & Montreal (It began construction in 1846 as the Boston, Concord & Montreal eventually linking Concord with Wells River, Vermont. It came under B&L control and then B&M until being spun-off forming the Concord & Montreal. The B&M reacquired the road in 1895.); and Fitchburg Railroad (This system was leased by the B&M on July 1, 1900 providing it access across Massachusetts and the important Hoosac Tunnel which finally tackled the previously impenetrable Green Mountains. It also offered western connections at Albany, New York and Rotterdam Junction.)
Through these mergers the B&M grew into a system of over 2,300 miles which reached the markets of northeastern Vermont and northern New Hampshire, most of Massachusetts and western New York. According to the Boston & Maine Historical Society its peak workforce included roughly 28,000 individuals. The railroad operated major yards in Boston, East Deerfield, Rigby, and Mechanicville while its primary maintenance facilities were located at North Billerica, Massachusetts and Concord, New Hampshire. Its main line to eastern New York was its most important freight route since it provided interchanges with the Delaware & Hudson and Erie/Erie Lackawanna. It also worked with other carriers in the region such as the Rutland, Maine Central, and Central Vermont, to provide efficient service across New England. During the B&M's peak years, before the Great Depression, it moved a substantial variety of freight from dedicated milk trains and furniture to coal and textiles. It also enjoyed a healthy less-than-carload (LCL) business.
Since the railroad's network was concentrated within only a few states it offered limited long-distance passenger services to accompanying its expansive commuter operations. Its most known trains included the Ambassador (Boston - Montreal), Alouette (Boston - Montreal), Green Mountain Flyer (Boston to Montreal via Canadian National and Rutland), the seasonal East Wind (Washington - Bangor), and the lightweight streamliner Flying Yankee, operated in conjunction with the Maine Central, a nearly identical sister to the famous Burlington's Zephyr 9900. As you can see, many of these services were operated in tandem with other carriers. Aside from the East Wind, the Gull covered the greatest territory; a passenger taking this train its entire length boarded at Boston and de-trained at Halifax, Nova Scotia. It was handled by the B&M, Maine Central, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific surviving until 1960. After the depression it rebounded during the hectic World War II period but then again declined after this time.
The postwar period proved especially problematic for the B&M. Its traffic base continued to erode as manufacturing, and business in general, either closed its doors or switched to trucks. The region's short-haul freight business meant that area railroads were especially susceptible to highways. The B&M's issues were magnified by poor management under Patrick McGinnis during this time, who also headed the New Haven. He was a poor railroader and both companies suffered as a result. The B&M took on a stance of deferred maintenance and its infrastructure fell apart during the 1960s; coupled with declining traffic the railroad entered receivership on February 1, 1970. Miraculously, it was able to avoid inclusion into the Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail), which began operations on April 1, 1976. Under the direction of new president Alan G. Dustin the railroad was rescued from the brink through aggressive management, marketing, and sound railroading. By the early 1980s the B&M had erased its deficits, an incredible feat considering the state of the industry in this region at the time. Now a successful operation it caught the eye of those with money.
The B&M was purchased by Timothy Mellon, founder of Guilford Transportation Industries, on June 30, 1983 for a price of $24 million. Mellon’s new railroad system included a black livery with bright orange trim and while sub-lettering was applied to the owning railroad's equipment (a practice that continues today under Pan Am). In addition to the B&M, Mellon, acquired the Maine Central, Springfield Terminal (an MEC subsidiary), and Delaware Hudson although the latter system was later sold. His leadership has also been questioned by historians as hundreds of miles of the B&M's network was abandoned during the 1980s and 1990s, many of which were still considered viable routes. In 2006, new-parent Pan Am Systems renamed Guilford as Pan Am Railways. It currently operates four principal B&M routes; Boston - Portland, Boston - Concord, Boston - Rotterdam Junction and Springfield - White River Junction. Today the Boston and Maine Railroad is still officially on the books although it survives now mostly in name only.