The Lowell Line is a railroad line of the MBTA Commuter Rail system, running north from Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts. Originally built as the New Hampshire Main Line of 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.

Lowell Line
West Medford MBTA Station.jpg
An outbound Lowell Line train arriving at West Medford in 2012
OwnerMassachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
LocaleNortheastern Massachusetts
TypeCommuter rail
SystemMBTA Commuter Rail
Train number(s)300–342 (weekday)
1300-1317 (Saturday)
2300-2317 (Sunday)
Operator(s)Keolis North America
Daily ridership6,485 (October 2022)[1]
Opened1835 (Boston & Lowell Railroad)
Line length25.4 miles (40.9 km)[2]
CharacterElevated and surface-level
Track gauge4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm)
Route map

73.3 mi
118 km
Concord (closed 1981)
55.5 mi
89.3 km
Manchester (closed 1981)
46.1 mi
74.2 km
Merrimack (closed 1981)
39.0 mi
62.8 km
Nashua (closed 1981)
25.5 mi
41 km
21.8 mi
35.1 km
North Billerica
19.2 mi
30.9 km
East Billerica (closed 1965)
17.0 mi
27.4 km
Silver Lake (closed 1965)
15.2 mi
24.5 km
12.7 mi
20.4 km
Downeaster (train)
11.6 mi
18.7 km
10.9 mi
17.5 km
Lechmere Warehouse (closed 1996)
10.5 mi
16.9 km
Walnut Hill (closed 1965)
Woburn (closed 1981)
Cross Street (closed 1981)
9.0 mi
14.5 km
Winchester Highlands (closed 1978)
7.8 mi
12.6 km
Winchester Center
7.3 mi
11.7 km
5.5 mi
8.9 km
West Medford
4.0 mi
6.4 km
Tufts University (closed 1979)
0.8 mi
1.3 km
0 mi
0 km
North Station
Green Line (MBTA) Orange Line (MBTA) MBTA Commuter Rail Downeaster (train)
 D  to Riverside,  E  to Heath St.

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


Boston and Lowell RailroadEdit

Early-20th-century postcard of a train at Lowell Union Station

The Boston and 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 1940). 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, Plymouth, 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.

Massive cutbacks on May 18, 1958, included the end of Stoneham Branch service and the closure of Medford Hillside, Tufts College, and North Somerville stations.[7] Cuts on June 14, 1959, ended service north of Woburn on the Woburn Loop; trains for points north were rerouted via the mainline to the east. Boston–Lowell local service was halved to seven daily round trips; Tyngsboro, Bleachery, and South Wilmington stations were closed.[7][8] B&M passenger service to Boston on the line was shortened from Concord, New Hampshire to Lowell in 1967.[9]

MBTA eraEdit

A train at Tufts University station in 1977

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.[10]

Anderson Regional Transportation Center opened on April 28, 2001, replacing Mishawum as the Lowell Line's primary park-and-ride station for Route 128. Mishawum was reduced to limited reverse-peak service.[9] On December 15, 2001, the Amtrak Downeaster began operating over the line south of Wilmington.[9] In October 2006, the MBTA added four short turn round trips that terminated at Anderson RTC.[11] The line was 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.[12]

Substantially reduced schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic were in effect from March 16 to June 23, 2020, and from December 14, 2020, to April 5, 2021.[9] On January 23, 2021, reduced schedules went into place with no weekend service on seven lines, including the Lowell Line.[9] Weekend service on the seven lines resumed on July 3, 2021.[13] As of February 2022, the line has 21+12 round trips on weekdays and nine on weekends.[14] By October 2022, the line had 6,485 daily riders – 59% of pre-COVID ridership.[1] In June 2022, the MBTA indicated it was considering improvements to a siding in Woburn, which would allow 30-minute headways between Boston and Anderson/Woburn by 2024.[15]

The Medford Branch of the Green Line Extension, which opened on December 12, 2022, runs along the Lowell Line through Somerville and part of Medford. There are five Green Line stations on the branch, but no additional commuter rail stops were added.[9]

Proposed expansion to New HampshireEdit

An MBTA demonstration train at Concord, New Hampshire, in 1979

MBTA Commuter Rail service connecting Concord, Manchester and Nashua from the Lowell Line used to exist in New Hampshire until subsidies were ceased in 1967.[16] The service came back in 1980 for a quick 13 month return, but the program grant was cut by the Reagan administration in 1981, and commuter rail service has remained not available.[16] In October 2010, the New Hampshire Department of Transportation received a $2.24 million federal grant to study an extension of the Lowell Line to Concord.[17] 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.[18] The MBTA acquired trackage rights from Pan Am in May 2011 as part of a larger transaction.[19]

The project was estimated to cost $246 million in a 2014 NHDOT report.[20] Extending service to NH was projected to provide an expected 34 trains a day to Nashua and 16 a day to Manchester, connecting commuters from Nashua to Boston as low as 54 minutes and commuters from Manchester to Boston in as low as 1 hour and 25 minutes with 3,120 passengers a day.[21][22] Proponents of the extension see expanded rail services as a link to Boston’s growing economy while opponents consider the project to be extraneous and expensive.[23][24]

In December 2020, a $5.5 million contract was awarded to AECOM for preliminary engineering and design work, environmental and public engagement services, and final design, for the project to extend MBTA commuter rail service to southern New Hampshire.[25] The project called for the extension of the Lowell Line up through Nashua and Manchester along an existing rail alignment.[22][26][20] The proposed expansion would include four new stops: South Nashua, Crown Street in Nashua, Bedford, and Manchester.[22] In January of 2022, the Manchester Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the location for new facilities to house layover trains adjacent to the Manchester Transit Authority facilities.[27]

By autumn 2022, the study was being carried out by AECOM and the State of New Hampshire to design and make a financial plan for the project by 2023. In December 2022, the New Hampshire Executive Council voted to cease state funding for an extension of the AECOM study; the study reported an updated project cost of $782 million.[28][29][30] The MBTA rail extension project to Manchester is currently in the pre-decisional stage, and is awaiting approval by the NH government.[31]


A Downeaster train in Somerville

Track speedsEdit

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.[32]

Other servicesEdit

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 listingEdit

State Fare zone Location Miles (km)[2][33][34] Station Connections and notes
MA 1A Boston 0.0 (0.0)   North Station   Amtrak: Downeaster
  MBTA Commuter Rail: Fitchburg Line, Haverhill Line, and Newburyport/Rockport Line
  MBTA subway: Orange Line, Green Line (D and E branches)
  MBTA bus: 4
Somerville 0.8 (1.3) Commuter Rail Maintenance Facility Flag stop for MBTA employees only
Medford 4.0 (6.4) Tufts University Open September 1977 to October 1979
5.5 (8.9) West Medford   MBTA Commuter Rail: Haverhill Line (limited service)
  MBTA bus: 80, 94, 95, 326
1 Winchester 7.3 (11.7)   Wedgemere   MBTA Commuter Rail: Haverhill Line (limited service)
7.8 (12.6) Winchester Center   MBTA Commuter Rail: Haverhill Line (limited service)
  MBTA bus: 134
Former junction with Woburn Branch (closed 1981)
9.0 (14.5) Winchester Highlands Closed June 1978[9]
Woburn 10.5(16.9) Walnut Hill Closed January 18, 1965[9]
10.9 (17.5) Lechmere Warehouse Open 1979 to 1996[9]
2 11.6 (18.7) Mishawum Flag stop with limited reverse commute service
12.7 (20.4)   Anderson/Woburn   Amtrak: Downeaster
  MBTA Commuter Rail: Haverhill Line (limited service)
  Logan Express
3 Wilmington 15.2 (24.5)   Wilmington   LRTA: 12
Junction with the Wildcat Branch (used by the Downeaster and some Haverhill Line service)
17.0 (27.4) Silver Lake Closed January 18, 1965[9]
Billerica 19.2 (30.9) East Billerica Closed January 18, 1965[9]
5 21.8 (35.1)   North Billerica   LRTA: 3, 13
6 Lowell 25.5 (41.0)   Lowell   LRTA: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19
  MVRTA: 41
  Peter Pan Bus Lines, Sunshine Travel, OurBus
Chelmsford 28.7 (46.2) North Chelmsford Closed June 30, 1967
NH 7 Nashua 39.0 (62.8) Nashua Closed June 30, 1967; open from January 28, 1980 to March 1, 1981[9]
8 Merrimack 46.1 (74.2) Merrimack Open from April 1980 to March 1, 1981[9]
10 Manchester 55.5 (89.3) Manchester Closed June 30, 1967; open from January 28, 1980 to March 1, 1981[9]
13 Concord 73.3 (118.0) Concord Closed June 30, 1967; open from January 28, 1980 to March 1, 1981[9]
  Currently operating station

Woburn BranchEdit

Location Miles (km)[2][33][34] Station Connections and notes
Winchester 7.8 mi (12.6 km) Winchester Center Junction with mainline
Woburn 9.0 mi (14.5 km) Cross Street Closed February 1, 1981[35]
9.8 mi (15.8 km) Woburn Closed February 1, 1981[35]
  Currently operating station


  1. ^ a b Poftak, Steve (October 27, 2022). "GM Report" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. p. 6.
  2. ^ a b c "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. ^ a b Humphrey, Thomas J.; Clark, Norton D. (1985). Boston's Commuter Rail: The First 150 Years. Boston Street Railway Association. pp. 55–58. ISBN 9780685412947.
  8. ^ "Cities, Towns, Labor Officials Protest State O.K. of B&M Cutbacks". Boston Globe. May 13, 1959. p. 6 – via
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Belcher, Jonathan. "Changes to Transit Service in the MBTA district" (PDF). Boston Street Railway Association.
  10. ^ Skoropowski, Eugene K. (1 August 2008). "N.H> commuter rail: a success in 1980". New Hampshire Business Review. Retrieved 23 August 2011.
  11. ^ "Still plenty of parking at the Anderson lot in Woburn". Boston Globe. March 4, 2012. p. B3 – via  
  12. ^ "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. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 31, 2017. Retrieved March 30, 2017.
  13. ^ Coholan, Ryan (May 24, 2021). "Commuter Rail Performance Update" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. p. 7.
  14. ^ Belcher, Jonathan (January–February 2022). "MBTA Vehicle Inventory as of February 28, 2022". Rollsign. Vol. 59, no. 1–2. Boston Street Railway Association. p. 17.
  15. ^ Sawers, Alistar (June 23, 2022). "Regional Rail Transformation Update: Traction Power Planning for Regional and Urban Rail Services" (PDF). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. p. 17.
  16. ^ a b "N.H. commuter rail: a success in 1980". NH Business Review. 2008-08-01. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  17. ^ "Governor Patrick, Congressional Delegation Announce More than $160 Million In Federal Rail Grants" (Press release). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. October 25, 2010.
  18. ^ "New Hampshire Republicans plan to kill commuter line". Trains Magazine. 8 February 2011. Retrieved 9 February 2011.
  19. ^ "MassDOT Board Approves Agreement to Build New Lechmere Station, Crucial to Green Line Extension" (Press release). Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. May 3, 2011.
  20. ^ a b Cronin, Mike (2021-11-18). "Commuter rail to New Hampshire debate returns after infrastructure bill signing". WMUR. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  21. ^ NHDOT (Dec 2014). "State Project Numbers 16317 and 68067-A" (PDF).
  22. ^ a b c NHDOT (Apr 27, 2021). "Nashua-Manchester (Capitol Corridor) Project Development Phase" (PDF).
  23. ^ Leader, Josie Albertson-Grove New Hampshire Union. "Commuter rail moving ahead, but planning on track through at least 2023". Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  24. ^ "NH House to Debate Bill Protecting NH Taxpayers From Subsidizing New Rail Projects". NH Journal. 2022-01-13. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  25. ^ Kitch, Michael (December 22, 2020). "New Hampshire Executive Council OKs start of Capitol Corridor design". NH Business Review.
  26. ^ "Aldermen support downtown rail station concept | Manchester Ink Link". August 4, 2021.
  27. ^ "Aldermen approve layover site for commuter rail line | Manchester Ink Link". 2022-01-19. Retrieved 2022-02-22.
  28. ^ Wade, Christian. "New Hampshire panel axes funding for regional commuter rail". The Center Square. Retrieved 2023-01-16.
  29. ^ NHDOT (March 2023). "Capitol Corridor Commuter Rail Extension Project Winter 2023" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  30. ^ Landrigan, Kevin (February 26, 2023). "Boston to Manchester rail study: $782 million to build, $17 million a year to run".
  31. ^ Winters, Shelley (March 8, 2023). "Pre-Decisional Draft for Information Purposes: Environmental Assessment, Nashua-Manchester, 40818 (Capitol Corridor Commuter Rail Extension)" (PDF).
  32. ^ 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.
  33. ^ a b Karr, Ronald Dale (2017). The Rail Lines of Southern New England (2 ed.). Branch Line Press. pp. 282–288. ISBN 9780942147124.
  34. ^ a b Held, Patrick R. (2010). "Massachusetts Bay Colony Railroad Track Charts" (PDF). Johns Hopkins Association for Computing Machinery. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 8, 2013.
  35. ^ a b "T changes start today". Boston Globe. February 1, 1981. p. 24 – via 

External linksEdit

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