By Henry Lane, Attorney
Lane & Hamer, LLC
The year 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. In addition to the serious loss of life, the disaster had minor economic consequences for the Webster-Dudley area. The demise of the "unsinkable" steamship also resulted in the demise of the Southern New England Railroad.
The Southern New England Railroad was the dream of a Canadian railroad which was looking for a way to get access to a southern New England port to compete with New York Central and New Haven Railroads which dominated rail traffic in southern new England and to deal with the fact that the port of Montreal was frozen over during the winter months. The plan called for a new railroad to be built from Palmer where there was a connection to the Canadian controlled Central Vermont Railroad to the port of Providence.
The route ran through the towns of Dudley and Webster and was designed to exceptionally high standards with a layout width of 120 feet rather than the standards 82.5 feet (5 rods). In addition, the plan called for overpasses or bridges at all road crossings so there would be no interference with automobile traffic. Land for the railway was acquired and construction started in 1911.
Most of the grading was completed, roads relocated and bridge construction started when the Titanic went down. Among the passengers was Charles Mellville Hayes, President of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad, who unfortunately went down with the ship. Despite several attempts to finance completion of the work without its chief patron, the railroad went into bankruptcy before it ran a single train.
The trustee in bankruptcy sold off the land acquired for the railroad and much was eventually taken for non-payment of taxes from purchasers who were unable to find economic uses for the long narrow strips of rail bed. A casual review of the topographical maps of Dudley and Webster clearly reveals the trace of railroad because the completed grading left a long narrow strip of land that is uncharacteristically level for central Massachusetts.
Since the railroad failed many years ago, long before land banking and the rails-to-trails movement began, it does not appear that there was a real effort to preserve the corridor as a resource. In more recent years the unfortunately named Southern New England Trunkline Trail, formerly the New Haven Midland Division, which closely parallels the easterly part of Southern New England rail bed, was largely acquired by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts when it was abandoned.
More will be written about the legal implications of the presence of a significant number of abandoned railroads in Webster and Dudley in the coming months, but on the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the interesting thing is that after 100 years the dream of the Canadian railroad has been realized in a small way.
Much has changed since 1911. The construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway has alleviated much of the need for access to a southern port and the New York Central and New Haven are no more. However the demise of the New Haven Railroad and the reorganization of the Providence and Worcester Railroad (P &W) have given the Canadians alternative access to Providence. The route utilizes the old Central Vermont (now New England Central) line from Palmer to Willimantic, then east along the Willimantic branch of the P & W to the Norwich division of the P&W, then north to the P&W yard in Worcester and south along the original P&W lines to Providence.
Like the 1911 plan, the route goes through Palmer and ends in Providence and passes through Webster on the way, while avoiding the use of major competitors. One other thing that has changed is that one of the principal commodities that may be shipped on this connection is ethanol as a gasoline additive, a product that was probably not shipped to Providence in significant quantities in 1911.
- Wednesday, 29 February 2012
- Posted in Categories: : The Law and You