South Mancherster rail-trail

/ Friday, September 2, 2011 /
The South Manchester Rail Trail
The New Hampshire rail-trails have been one of the most interesting reuses of space for me in recent years; the idea that the antiquated tracks of one form of transportation is being paved over for a seemingly timeless class of travel is intriguing. There's something romantic about traveling the same network of lines that millions had a 150 years ago on the crest of steam-powered locomotion. Images of coal covered engineers and young women in Victorian era dresses and fancy hats, swim up before your eyes as you sweat to the new Adele record on a road bike.

The rail-to-trail initiative has been around for over 25 years with over 1,600 stretches of rail road track converted into bike and pedestrian trails across the country. Manchester's recent contribution was the South Manchester Rail Trail, an attempt to connect the Millyard with the town of Londonderry using the old Boston and Maine rail line that was chartered in 1847 and officially abandoned in 2000. The idea that a company can abandon a piece of property that potentially spans entire states is baffling. What kind of paper work do you have to fill out for that? Do certain cities and counties charge fines for the pieces of track left in their lap?

Union Station at the corner of Granite St. and Rail Road Square, the last stop on B&M's Manchester to Lawrence line via Manchester Historic Association.
Time table for the Manchester & Lawrence division via Remnants of the Boston and Maine Railroad

The South Manchester rail trail is currently in development hell, with only the stretch between Beech St and Gold St paved (less than a mile). Unfortunately, a large portion of the line runs straight through the (MHT) Manchester Airport expansion and rail-trail groups are having trouble securing routes around the airport and into Londonderry. Bike trails have been notoriously underfunded in the past and are typically coupled with a start-stop construction schedule. After 20 years, the East Coast Greenway, a proposed bike path spanning the Eastern seaboard from Maine to Key West, is still less than 25% finished.

Despite what Google Maps says, the section of the South Manchester Rail-Trail connecting to the Millyard has not been built.
Despite the financial stumbling blocks and jerky production schedules, these are projects that should be lauded. Considering the country's rich history with railroads, it could be possible to connect enough rail-trails to create an expansive network of bike trails, allowing anyone with a bike and a map to travel anywhere in the nation for virtually free, with less fear of getting hit by cars. Who knows, maybe in the post-apocalypse, wise travelers will know to avoid the long stretches highways clogged with abandoned motor vehicles and opt for the old rail-trails. Fathers and sons hike across a quiet and desolate America, protecting the precious and rare trail maps that guide them. As a right of passage, the father asks the young boy to copy a piece of the map, with meticulous detail, each night next to a camp fire on the back of an old concert poster. One day it will be his own guide through the ancient, twisted necropolises of the American age.

If you want to help the rail-trail initiative in NH, visit

The fenced off railroad trestle that leads into the Manchester-Boston airport.


{ Guard Dog } on: February 12, 2016 at 4:55 PM said...

Sooooooo What happens when this thing becomes an active railroad line again?

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