Railroad keeps on chugging

  • A Northbound empty Milford-Bennington Railroad stone train moving over the girder bridge over the Souhegan River. —Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/15/2018 4:40:20 PM

The Milford-Bennington Railroad will be allowed to continue operating, after the Surface Transportation Board denied an application Thursday by the owners of the track to discontinue the railroad’s right to operate on the line.

“Obviously, I’m very pleased by the decision,” said Milford-Bennington Railroad owner Peter Leishman of Peterborough on Monday. 

The portion of the track that runs from Wilton to Milford is owned by Pan Am. In the past, Milford-Bennington Railroad held rights to the use of the track. That agreement has since expired, and the Milford-Bennington Railroad and Pan Am have yet to come to terms on a new agreement, but despite that, Milford-Bennington continues to use the tracks. 

The Milford-Bennington Railroad makes multiple trips daily to truck loads of gravel from Granite State Concrete to a facility in Milford. On its busiest days, the train can make as many as three trips, hauling ten cars, the equivalent of 180 round-trips by truck.

Although the tracks are owned by Pan Am, the federal government has the final authority on the regulation of railroad corridors, including which railroads can operate on them.

The Surface Transportation Board was unconvinced by Pan Am arguments that rail service could continue uninterrupted between Granite State and Milford by having the Milford-Bennington line transfer the loads to a Pan Am train at the Wilton exchange, where Pan Am’s portion of the line begins. 

Granite State protested the proposed plan, saying that the operation of its business was reliant upon the flow of product from one location to the other, and a delay of even a few hours could result in shutdowns at the processing facility. 

The Surface Transportation Board also didn’t find that Milford-Bennington Railroad had any issues with safety or service, another claim by Pan Am.

The board did recommend that Milford-Bennington and Pan Am come to an agreement on Milford-Bennington’s track rights, which has been a standing issue, and offered facilitation services. Leishman said he has already written to the board to express his willingness to take them up on the facilitation offer, if Pan Am is agreeable. 

Bringing backthe tourist train

Milford-Bennington has expressed interest in re-starting a tourist train that would bring passengers through a tour of Wilton, Bennington and Greenfield. 

Milford-Bennington ran a tourist train in the early 2000 during the weekends, but when Stewart Draper, who operated the passenger train, died, the service was discontinued.

Leishman has looked at purchasing equipment to re-instate a passenger train, and entered into a tentative agreement with the current owner of the equipment. Currently, he said, he is waiting on the state Department of Transportation to conclude a review of the tracks and the state’s Attorney General’s Office to decide whether the state should require proposals from Pan Am, Milford-Bennington and any other potential competitors to start a passenger line. 

“Everything is on hold until that review is completed,” Leishman said. 

The old tourist train route would not use the portion of track between Wilton and Milford currently owned by Pan Am, instead using the track in the opposite direction, which is currently owned by the state.

Wilton’s Economic Development Committee Chair Jennifer Beck said the town is eager to see the tourist train re-emerge, and hopes to see movement now that the litigation over track rights is over. 

Beck said that if the state’s process moves swiftly, the possibility is there to have a tourist train again as early as the spring.

“One thing the town of Wilton seems to be able to agree on is that we want the tourist train back,” Beck said. “We’ll do whatever we can to put a reasonable argument in front of the powers that be to see that we have a train running next year.”

Leishman has proposed that if Milford-Bennington ran the tourist train, it would run on the weekends, when Granite State doesn’t need freight hauled. Beck said the influx of tourists visiting the downtown could be an economic boon for Main Street, where the train would have a starting point, and could also attract other businesses that rely on tourism, such as a restaurant or tavern.

 “It brings off the foot traffic our businesses struggle to create on their own,” Beck said. 

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