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Katie McQuaid's Scene in Manchester: Train service from Manchester not that long gone

January 20. 2018 1:54AM

This 1980 advertisement provides the train schedule for service between Concord, Manchester, Merrimack, Nashua and Boston. 

We are in the midst of some major renovations here at the New Hampshire Union Leader offices, which have required us to go through decades of old newspapers, promotional material, and other stuff we’ve been hoarding for more than a century.

Looking through old newspapers is fascinating. One of my favorite finds was a 1980 advertisement for passenger rail service between Concord, Manchester, Merrimack, Nashua and Boston. I had always thought commuter trains had left Manchester long before I was born.

According to the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission website, “The last time commuter/passenger rail serviced southern New Hampshire was from 1980 to 1981. This service was a federally funded passenger rail demonstration project from Concord, New Hampshire to Boston, Massachusetts. The service provided 55,000 passenger trips and reached a peak of 250 daily round trips in spite of a limited service level (two round trips per weekday which was later reduced to one round trip per weekday). Prior to 1980, no regularly scheduled commuter rail service had been functioning since 1967.”

Our publisher and my father, Joe McQuaid, remembers the 1980 rail experiment and called it “an expensive failure.” (For someone who wrote a whole book about the Mount Washington Cog Railway, he’s surprisingly anti-train. But I’ll insert this shameless plug for “Cog Days: A Boy’s Life and One Tragic Summer on Mt. Washington” so he won’t cut this next part from my column.)

I have to think the limited service of one or two trips a day had something to do with the service’s demise. According to the 1980 ad, you only had one chance to get to Boston and one chance to get back home. And, it was before the age of smartphones, when people didn’t mind wasting their time driving because there was nothing else to do.

I know a lot of commuters to Boston who would love to spend their commute working rather than wasting a couple of hours white-knuckling their steering wheel on I-93. And maybe more Boston people would make their way up here more often for recreation or work if we had a train. I hear the millennials don’t like driving.

Whether expanded passenger rail should be funded by tax dollars, I’m not sure, but I was glad to see that Gov. Chris Sununu now believes it’s a good idea to at least explore the option. Hopefully the service becomes a reality before we all have self-driving cars. But I expect watching this process will be like watching I-93 northbound traffic on Friday after work — brake lights as far as the eye can see.

Never caught

Another interesting part of New Hampshire history will be the subject of a speaking event hosted at Saint Anselm College on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Author and National Book Award finalist Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Ph.D. will tell the story of Ona Judge, a slave who fled George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate and lived the rest of her life as a fugitive in New Hampshire.

The keynote will be followed by a moderated panel discussion with Dr. Jennifer Thorn, Dr. Beth Salerno, and Dr. Loretta Brady of Saint Anselm College.

Dr. Dunbar’s latest book, “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit Of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge”, will be available for sale and signing after the free event, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Dana Center.

Do you have an interesting item for the Scene? Email Katie at

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