Missisquoi Valley Rail-Trail

Vermont

At a Glance

Name: Missisquoi Valley Rail-Trail
Length: 26.1 Miles
Trail activities: Mountain Biking, Snowmobiling, Walking, Cross Country Skiing
Counties: Franklin
Surfaces: Crushed Stone
State: Vermont

A Brief History

The Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail spans the entire length of a branch line formerly owned by the Central Vermont Railway (CV). The CV was a rather small but classic New England railroad that ran from its home state through southern Connecticut. For most of the 20th century, it was a subsidiary of the transcontinental Canadian National, a large Class I system still in service today. During its early years, the CV competed fiercely against another notable Vermont carrier, the Rutland. At that time it operated an extensive network, largely through leases, before bankruptcies resulted in the loss of many of these holdings. What became known as its Richford Branch remained in use until the 1980s when the route was abandoned and the tracks removed, making up today’s trail. A few years later, the remaining CV property was sold off and it is currently operated by a short-line carrier.

The history of the Central Vermont Railway dates back to the 1830 during a meeting at the state capital in Montpelier where a discussion took place about constructing a new rail line from Ogdensburg, New York, to Boston, serving the heart of New England. At the time only a few miles of track were in service across the entire country. But the idea that railroads were an efficient means of transportation was quickly catching on, thanks to Baltimore & Ohio and other early systems, which had demonstrated their effectiveness. The hopes for a long-distance route to Boston via a singular system faded because of the expense involved; instead, several interconnected systems would be built. One such system was the Vermont Central Rail Road, chartered in late October 1843 and headed by Charles Paine. His plan called for a corridor extending from Windsor, near the New Hampshire border, running north along the Connecticut River and following the White River to Bethel before reaching Northfield via the eastern edge of the Green Mountains. The route would then head northwest, ending at Burlington.

The VC was constructed in stages, with work beginning in December 1846. The entire route was completed by the end of 1849. From the beginning, Paine’s railroad competed fiercely against the nearby Rutland & Burlington (later the Rutland Railroad), originally founded by Timothy Follett. The latter attempted to either put the VC out of business or take over the company. Unfortunately, Paine lost control of the VC in 1852, and the property was acquired by John Smith. Smith passed away in 1858, but his heirs assumed ownership and continued expanding the railroad. On December 30, 1870, the VC leased its longtime rival on December 30, 1870.

By 1872, the railroad operated a staggering network in New England with other subsidiaries, including the Vermont & Canada; Ogdensburg & Lake Champlain; Montreal & Vermont Junction; Stanstead, Shefford & Chambly; Missisquoi Railroad; Sullivan County Railroad; Vermont Valley Railroad; Montreal & Plattsburgh; Whitehall & Plattsburgh, Addison Railroad; New London Northern; and the Ware River Railroad. These systems offered a network stretching from southern Quebec, throughout Vermont, down central Massachusetts, and ending at New London, Connecticut, while extensions into New York reached Chatham, Ticonderoga, and Ogdensburg. In total, its property spanned more than 900 miles. What today is the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail was built by the Missisquoi Railroad, chartered on November 14, 1867, and extending from St. Albans to Richford. The branch was 27.3 miles long and followed the Missisquoi River much of the way. It was completed in December 1872. The line primarily handled agriculture traffic and dairy products, and a connection at Richford was made with the Canadian Pacific.

The financial Panic of 1873 caused the VC to enter receivership, emerging as the Central Vermont Railroad, although the new company was able to keep its network largely intact at that time. Unfortunately, more financial troubles lay ahead. The CV again entered receivership in March 1896 and this time its leased properties were not retained. The Rutland was let go as were many of the other lines. The CV was then acquired by the Grand Trunk Railway and renamed the Central Vermont Railway on November 15, 1898. The new system was much smaller, with a predominately linear run from St. Johns, Quebec, to New London, Connecticut, via trackage rights over the Boston & Maine between Windsor, Vermont, and Northfield, Massachusetts. It also retained the line to Richford, reached Montpelier and nearby Barre, served Burlington, and operated to Rouses Point, New York, just across the Vermont border.

The Grand Trunk itself came under control of Canada’s Crown Corporation in 1923 and was subsequently folded into the then-nationalized Canadian National (CN). From then on, the CV remained a subsidiary of CN for more than 70 years. In 1995, the company spun off the CV property to RailTex Corporation, which renamed it the New England Central Railroad. Today, it still operates by this name but is currently owned by Genesee & Wyoming. The former Missisquoi Railroad became known as CV’s Richford Branch and remained in service until a derailment on the bridge during June 1984 over the Missisquoi River near Sheldon, Vermont. The mishap severely damaged one of the spans and ended through-service, although the line continued to see local service for a few years before operations ceased permanently.

Railroad attractions in Vermont include the Green Mountain Railroad and the New England Institute & Transportation Museum in White River Junction and the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne.

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