One of the most important forms of transportation in Fitchburg, the railroad has provided both freight and passenger transportation to, from, and through the city for well over a century. Once providing through service to New York state and Vermont, the line through Fitchburg has undergone numerous changes in services over the years, as well as numerous service providers.
North Union Station, Boston (ThePostcard)
Emerging from original routes in Charlestown and East Cambridge, the Fitchburg Railroad Company was chartered in 1842 to expand the line west. The Fitchburg Railroad was brought through Waltham, Lincoln, Concord, Acton, Littleton, Ayer, Shirley, Leominster, and ultimately Fitchburg by 1849, linking central Massachusetts to the trading port that was the Charlestown Navy Yard. As demand increased, the line was extended across the Charles River to Boston in 1848, to a new depot building at Causeway and Beverly Streets - the first predecessor building of what is today known as North Station. Several branches were soon built off of the Fitchburg main lines, including routes to Watertown and Lexington, however local ridership remained unsteady.
Hoosac Tunnel Guide (Wikipedia)
In 1875, a four-and-three-quarter mile tunnel was opened through the Berkshire mountains in western Massachusetts. The Hoosac Tunnel was soon obtained by the Fitchburg Railroad Company, and it offered a direct rail link from Boston to Troy, New York, via Fitchburg. Though the tunnel offered a glimpse of hope for successful long distance freight operations on the Fitchburg, such visions would never quite be fulfilled, largely due to a lack of connections and other competing routes.
MBTA Commuter Rail Trains at Fitchburg (© Kenneth Houghton, TrainNet)
In terms of commuter traffic from Fitchburg to Boston, the train, at times, offered decent service, but it wasn't until the 1980's and 1990's that service would achieve true commuter frequency and ridership levels. Until this time, various service cutbacks truncated service at Waltham, Concord, and South Acton, among other points, and schedules were often too infrequent to entice commuters to utilize the line on a regular basis. Upon the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's takeover of railroad management, service was extended from Fitchburg to Gardner, but this service would only last a few years, with a struggling era of service to follow through the 1970's and 1980's. By the 1990's, full service was restored to Fitchburg from Boston, and it would slowly be increased as ridership warranted, leading to the present-day, near full-time operation of trains to Fitchburg, with two express trains scheduled each day.
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Boston's Commuter Rail: The First 150 Years, Humphrey and Clark (BSRA)
Rail Lines of Southern New England, Karr (Branch Line Press)
MBTA Commuter Rail Timetables, 1970's-2007 (MBTA/B&M/MBCR)