USA-AMTRAK/

An Amtrak train is parked at the platform inside New York's Penn Station on July 7, 2017. 

The dream of train service from southern New Hampshire to Boston, long a goal for mass-transit advocates, gained a powerful new backer this week: the president.

As part of the $2 trillion infrastructure plan proposed this week by President Joseph R. Biden, Amtrak, the national passenger rail corporation, is hoping to bring passenger rail service to 160 new cities by 2035. Concord and Manchester could be on the list.

“With this federal investment, Amtrak will create jobs and improve equity across cities, regions, and the entire country – and we are ready to deliver,” said Amtrak CEO William Flynn in a statement. “America needs a rail network that offers frequent, reliable, sustainable and equitable train service.”

The Queen City had passenger rail service to Boston until the 1960s, and the Boston and Maine Railroad once had lines all over the state, with trains ferrying raw materials, finished products and workers in and out mills around the state — especially Manchester.

“Rail was the real aorta of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company’s machine,” said John Clayton, executive director of the Manchester Historic Association.

But rail traffic dropped off in the 1950s as highways were built, and it got easier to drive between cities.

In October 1962, Clayton said, the passenger rail in Manchester was dealt a fatal blow when the city’s grand train station was demolished. The station had been on Commercial Street, near where the WMUR-TV building stands today.

Passenger trains ran infrequently for just a few more years.

Advocacy to revive passenger rail to Boston began just a few years after service ended.

By 1990, an effort was underway to restore rail service from Boston to Portland, Maine via New Hampshire’s Seacoast — but efforts to link southern New Hampshire cities to Boston by train have stalled.

Nashua, Manchester and Concord have for decades explored the idea of passenger rail to Boston, either a direct train route to Boston’s North Station or South Station, or by linking to Boston’s commuter rail network.

Since the 1990s, feasibility study after feasibility study highlighted the eye-popping up-front cost of connecting southern New Hampshire cities to Boston, but have also suggested rail might have a good return on investment. New Hampshire’s congressional delegation have all voiced support for rail. Gov. Chris Sununu’s office did not respond to a query about the governor’s thoughts on the proposal.

The Biden administration is proposing to spend $80 billion on rail across the country, including extending the Maine line to Rockland, and adding train service to cities including Columbus, Ohio; Green Bay, Wis.; Louisville, Ky. and Nashville.

Thursday, April 22, 2021