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A Chronology of Bedford's Railroad History

Researched and Presented by the Friends of Bedford Depot Park


August 25, 1846 - The Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad is opened between the Fitchburg Railroad's main line in West Cambridge and Lexington Center.

1867 - West Cambridge becomes part of Arlington this year; so, the name of the local railroad is changed to the Lexington & Arlington Railroad.

1870 - The Lexington & Arlington Railroad is acquired by the Boston & Lowell Railroad.

1872 - The Boston & Lowell Railroad creates a subsidiary corporation, the Middlesex Central Railroad, for the purpose of extending its Lexington Branch eight miles further west through Bedford to Concord Center. Work on the extension begins this year.

August 4, 1873 - The Middlesex Central Railroad opens its new extension to Bedford and Concord Center amid local celebrations.

August 31, 1877 - The Billerica & Bedford Railroad, the first two-foot common-carrier narrow gauge railway in America, begins shuttling passengers and freight between these two towns.

June 1, 1878 - Daily revenue exceeds operating expenses; however, undercapitalization brings financial hardship upon the B&B. The unique two-foot railway is forced to close and is sold at auction. A year later, it is transplanted to the Farmington, Maine, area and flourishes there for many decades on the Sandy River Railroad.

August 4, 1879 - The Middlesex Central Railroad opens another extension of its branch line.This one goes 2.5 miles further west to Reformatory Station (across from the Concord Prison).

May 31, 1885 - Using the right-of-way of the defunct Billerica & Bedford Railroad, the Boston & Lowell Railroad opens standard-gauge train service over the former narrow gauge corridor between Bedford and North Billerica. Bedford Depot is now at the junction of two rail lines: the Lexington Branch between Boston and North Billerica (via Bedford) and the Reformatory Branch (between Bedford and Reformatory Station in Concord).

1887 - The Boston & Lowell Railroad is absorbed by its chief competitor, the Boston & Maine Railroad. The Lexington and Reformatory branches become owned and operated by the B&M.

The Boston & Maine Railroad's Reformatory Branch was in operation until 1962 as a freight line between Bedford Depot and Concord Center. In this fall 1951 scene, "Mogul-type" locomotive #1438 has only a caboose in tow as it crosses Monument Street in Concord. The white flags denote that this train is running as an "extra."
(This photo was made by S. K. Bolton, Jr., and comes from the collection of George M. Dimond.)

April 24, 1926 - The Boston & Maine Railroad ends passenger service on the Reformatory Branch. (However, passenger service continues over all parts of the Lexington Branch.) A year later, on February 5, 1927, the B&M formally abandons the 2.5-mile section of the Reformatory Branch between Concord Station on Lowell Road and Reformatory Station on Elm Street. The remaining section of the Reformatory Branch between Bedford Depot and Concord Center is maintained for freight service.

December 31, 1931 - The B&M ends passenger service on the Lexington Branch between North Billerica and Bedford. This 8.63-mile section is kept open for freight, however.

1956 - The steam era comes to a close on the Boston & Maine. At first Diesel and then self propelled Budd Rail Diesel Cars (RDCs), take the place of steam-hauled passenger trains on the Lexington Branch.

1962 - The Boston & Maine Railroad abandons the remainder of the Reformatory Branch between Bedford and Concord Center and the section of the Lexington Branch between Bedford Depot and Concord Road in Billerica. The Town of Bedford buys the two right-of-ways (the portions within town limits) a year later.

January 1965 - The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority begins subsidizing Boston-area commuter rail service. At first, neither the Lexington or Central Massachusetts (Hudson) branches are included in the MBTA's new schedule. After local protest, however, the agency recants its original plans and preserves passenger service on both lines.

December 26, 1976 - The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority purchases the commuter rail assets (local rail corridors and rolling stock) from the Boston & Maine Railroad. In the sale agreement, the B&M maintains trackage rights (for freight) over its former lines. The MBTA awards a contract to the B&M to operate commuter rail service on its behalf. (This contract would be awarded to Amtrak in 1986.)

It was an ignominious ending. After over 100 years, passenger service on the Lexington Branch between Bedford and Boston came to an abrupt stop when a snowstorm stranded a Rail Diesel Car (with its helper, B&M switcher #1132) at Bedford Depot on January 10, 1977. The MBTA rescued its equipment soon thereafter; but by then the agency had decided to end commuter rail on the branch for good.  (Photo by H. Bentley Crouch)

January 10, 1977 - A snowstorm blocks the Lexington Branch and the 5:30 P.M. train from North Station to Bedford has difficulty reaching its destination over the unplowed route. After days of no Lexington Branch service, the MBTA announced that it is discontinuing communter rail service on the line.

1980 - The MBTA desires to build a parking garage at its new Alewife Red Line Station over part of the Lexington Branch right-of-way in West Cambridge. A Federal Court judge rules that the agency may temporarily remove track and other structures from the right-of-way to permit construction; however, the judge rules that the branch must be restored after the project.

January 31, 1981 - After one final freight train uses the Lexington Branch, the MBTA embargoes the line.

1981 - The Town of Arlington engages the MBTA in a "memorandum of understanding" to seek abandonment of the Lexington Branch, in exchange for Arlington's cooperation to allow the agency use of Town land as a Red Line construction staging area. In the agreement, Arlington asks the MBTA to support a proposal to convert the railroad corridor into a bikeway.

1991 - The Lexington Branch is formally "railbanked" (not abandoned) in order to permit construction of the Minuteman Bikeway.

1993 - The Minuteman Bikeway officially opens over the former Lexington Branch.

January 28, 1998 - The railroad returns to Bedford, in a manner of speaking, when former B&M Rail Disel Car #6211 is brought to town for static display at the future Bedford Depot Park.

Click here to read the unique history of the narrow-gauge Billerica & Bedford Railroad.