Steamed Commuters

Doesn't this massive steam locomotive look out of place on this delicate looking steel girder bridge? This is what is possibly the last passenger trail to Marblehead, Massachusetts. I've been able to nail down the date to 1956 as it was the last year they ran P2 locomotives. It's possible the photographer knew this was the end of the steam era and the last run on the line as the engine is perfectly shot and framed on the bridge.

The Marblehead branch was a very short line that diverted east just north of the Swampscott station for about 4 miles to Marblehead. It also rejoined the same line just south of Salem and formed a bit of a triangle. 

In the 50's ridership was low due to new highways into Boston. The B&M railroad also was in some financial difficulty and was looking to dump a few of their short branches. The Marblehead branch abandonment was due to the later.

steam, train, marblehead, swampscott, massachusetts

Today the Texaco gas station is gone, the trains are gone, and even the steel girder that once supported the immense weight of a steam engine is gone. There is a new town water tank on the hill in the background, a few new buildings and new and taller trees.

One thing I've noticed that is still there is a well worn pathway up the embankment on the right. This is just speculation but the old high school (now middle school) borders the right-of-way just a half mile toward Marblehead. Perhaps this is a shortcut for students making their way across town before and after school. Some things never change.

Update:
Robert WIlloughby Jones has provided me with some additional information about this branch line. The actual date of the final steam train was July 32, 1956 and the final passenger train, a Buddliner, was June 12, 1959. The short Marblehead branch had 5 stations! The branch was not abandoned due to low ridership but from some politicking involving the town Sewer Commissioners and the line was considered a nuisance by the locals. Thanks to Robert for all his knowledge of the B&M. 

On July 7, 2014 Mr, Jones walked the entire rail trail to spot evidence of 5 stations that once stood along the Marblehead branch line. Here is what he found:
It was fun this afternoon to walk on the Rail Trail to see places I hadn't been since the 1950's.

North from Swampscott (12.8 miles from Boston North Station), a train would encounter the following stations, all of them situated on the ocean side of the tracks.
1. Phillips Beach (14.3 miles), located at the confluence of Humphrey Street, Phillips Avenue, and the Tedesco Country Club. One can still see the granite edging of the station platform on the south side of the right-of-way. A home now occupies the lot.2. Beach Bluff (14.8 miles), located on Beach Bluff Avenue, in the lot just northeast of the avenue and the Rail Trail. The lot has been kept empty and now has a nice lawn. Beach Bluff was the only station on the branch constructed of stucco.3. Clifton (15.3 miles), located between Rockaway and Clifton Avenues. Although granite platform edging is still in place for the whole block, two homes now occupy land where the station sat. The station was roughly halfway between the two streets.4. Devereux (16.4 miles), located near the corner of Pleasant and Devereux Streets, about half-way between Devereux and Beach Streets.5. Marblehead (17.2 miles), located on Pleasant Street on the site of today's National Grand Bank. The brick station sat on an earthen embankment about seven feet higher than Pleasant Street, the embankment being faced with large granite blocks. Until the early 1950's, this embankment continued all the way to Spring Street, when the Boston and Maine Railroad sold about half of it. The earth fill was then removed to bring the lot down to street level. The lot remained vacant for a year or two, used at least once for a summer carnival before being acquired by the Miller Ford Dealership.Phillips Beach, Clifton, and Devereux stations were constructed of wood. It's fascinating to note on a map that there were no grade crossings on the long stretch between Smith Street (right by today's U.S. Post Office) and Clifton Avenue. And still, today, it's not possible to cross the Rail Trail by car between those two streets (though the Rail Trail does share ROW with Temple Emanu-El's rear parking lot).In the last few years of service, with the coming of the Budd Rail Diesel Cars to the Swampscott Branch, travel time between Marblehead and Boston was typically carded at 35 minutes, occasionally a minute or two more.
Wouldn't it be nice to get to Boston in 35 minutes and be able to read a book?
Photo: Doug Peabody
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