The worst wreck to ever occur on the Northern Railroad occurred on September 15, 1907 in West Canaan when an error by a Concord telegraph operator sent a northbound freight train head-on into an express passenger train from Quebec, killing twenty-six and injuring forty. In 1908 a head-on collision in Haverhill (not on the Northern Railroad) between two trains caused by a mistake in train orders, led to the renaming of any stations in New Hampshire which used compound words as the names of stations. A number of stations on the Northern were renamed as a result. Andover Plains became Alpine; East Lebanon was changed to Mascoma; East Andover was renamed Halcyon; Grafton Centre became Cardigan; North Boscawen was changed to Gerrish; South Danbury was renamed Converse; West Andover was to be known as Gale and West Canaan was changed to Pattee.
In 1910, West Lebanon was changed to Westboro. As a result of the Canaan accident automatic block signaling was also installed between Concord and Westboro in 1910.41 The simple automatic block signal system, which utilized Union Switch and Signal Style “B” semaphore signals, offered trains some protection from collision but still required the use of elaborate timetable and train order rules.42 In response to a mandate from the Federal Government through the Interstate Commerce Commission, in 1913-14 the B & M embarked on an ambitious project to survey and plot all of the property owned, leased or controlled by company. Structural engineers and architects measured and described every bridge, building, and structure on the entire line, producing a set of valuation plans that are an invaluable resource for the study of all of the B & M lines, including the Northern. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the railroad was faced with almost continual repairing and replacing of wooden bridges, especially short span wood stringers. During the early 20 th century innovations in rolled steel I-beams became more economical and available and older wooden string bridges could be easily retrofitted using existing abutments.43
During the same period, covered wooden bridges also gave way to more modern and durable plate girder bridges. In one example in Penacook, the covered wooden bridge over the Contoocook at 80.06 was disassembled in Sept. 1919 with a new Thru Riveted Truss bridge in place by June 1920.44 The next bridge up the line (80.23) was similarly replaced with a deck plate girder at the same time. With the rise of the automobile in the early 20th century, railroad passenger revenues dropped significantly. With the hope of stemming the losses, in the late 1920s the B & M made various improvements in operating efficiency as well as physical improvements to the line including replacement of track, ties and ballast. The upgrades allowed an average 38 percent increase in train speed. The improvements to the Northern Railroad line to this period included the construction of several large plate girder bridges including the bridge over the Mascoma River in Lebanon at MP 137.03 (1924); the bridge over the Mascoma in Canaan at MP 128.63 (1926); and the bridge over the Blackwater River in Andover at MP 103.93 (1927).45
40. H.Bentley Crouch, “The Canaan Affairs”, B & M Bulletin, Vol. V, No. 1, Fall 1975, 23.
41. Brian Dame, “The Shortest-Lived Installation of its Type on the B & M – Notes on the Northern CTC”, B & M Bulletin, Vol. XX, no. 4, 1996, 28.
42. Richard Casella, New Hampshire Historic Bridge Documentation for Enfield Bridge 077/145 (NH State No. 542), 2005, 15.
43. The B & M Historical Society in Lowell has a series of photos documenting the construction of the new bridge.
44. Casella, 11.
46. McKay and Hengen, 4.