A Closer Look at the Bay Colony Rail Trail Proposal in Medfield
About 50 people attended a public information meeting with the Bay Colony Rail Trail Committee on Saturday and many expressed concerns with the proposed conversion of 1.5 miles of abandoned railroad tracks in Medfield.
Later this month, Medfield town meeting voters will be asked to jump on board with a plan to convert 1.5 miles of unused railroad tracks in town into a multi-use recreational path that would run from Medfield through Dover to Needham Junction.
The proposed seven-mile stretch of tracks no longer used by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, includes 1.5 miles in Medfield – between The Center at Medfield and the Dover town line – 3.5 miles in Dover from the Charles River to Hunt Drive, crossing over the scenic trestle bridge, passing under Center Street, then through two miles of Wylde Woods conservation land – and two miles in Needham – from the Charles River to the Needham Junction commuter rail station.
“The objective is to proactively look into all the issues that are associated with this project and come up with some recommendations to the Board of Selectmen,” said Christian Donner, a member of the Bay Colony Rail Trail Committee, noting the committee has spent the last six months completing about half of the work needed to get the project up and running.
Committee member Erik Holm said the volunteer group’s areas of concern include right of way, liability, inventory of other rail trails, community impact including meeting with abutters (including the Norfolk Hunt Club) and public safety officials, design, construction, maintenance, creation of trail rules, and how it would affect current horseback riders.
On April 30, residents at town meeting will be asked for their support to proceed with a non-binding application process that could secure a government subsidy to help pay for liability insurance that is required when leasing the property (likely for $1 for 99 years) from the MBTA. The cost of the insurance policy can be shared with Dover and Needham should those towns also approve the project, and there is no commitment to buy the insurance if the project does not go forward.
There are over 1,400 miles of rail trails in the United States. Massachusetts has 103 active rail projects, including dozens of completed rail trails.
“We [Massachusetts] have the greatest inventory of unused tracks,” said Tad Staley, a regional commissioner from Needham, who attended Saturday’s meeting, and referred to the rail trail as a ‘linear park.’ “My objective in all of this is to get people out of cars.”
When the trail is complete, Medfield residents could use it to commute to the Needham Junction MBTA train station.
Benefits of a Rail Trail
According to the committee website, benefits of a rail trail include increased exercise opportunities and associated health benefits, reduction of carbon footprint and preservation and enjoyment of open space. The trail would also be a source of civic pride.
“It provides these beautify vistas of the river in either direction,” said Greg Hills of Dover in a short film shown at the public informational meeting on Saturday. Hills is a member of the regional study committee.
“There are probably two miles where you probably don’t see a single house … I tell people, ‘If you actually walk the trail, it sells itself,’” said Hills in the film.
Rail trails offer a safe place for walking, jogging, cycling, cross country skiing, or horseback riding, depending on the surface, according to members of the BCRTC, who held a public information meeting on Saturday at The Center for Medfield.
Committee Findings to Date
According to handouts, some key findings to date include:
- Right of way is owned by MBTA
- Liability for environmental contamination requires insurance
- Fences for privacy and railings for safety as needed
- Soft surface for lower cost and compatibility reasons
- Routine maintenance by BCRTA and volunteers
- Paid for by salvaging the iron, and private fundraising by the BCRTA, a local non-profit organization founded for this purpose
- Estimated cost for seven miles is between $600,000 and $2.5 million, depending on options
- Study finalized in April 2013
- Town meeting in 2013 will kick off design and construction
- Trail could open in 2014
A current copy of the 45-page draft report can be found here.
Residents’ Areas of Concerns
About 50 people attended Saturday's meeting and expressed concerns ranging from parking, skateboarders, road bicyclists, all-terrain vehicles and enforcement by local authorities.
BCRTC members said these issues are in the process of being addressed.
Donner explained the committee is seeking approval from Medfield town meeting and Dover will seek approval from its town meeting as well. Needham is on board with the project and will apply Community Preservation Act money toward its costs.
In 2012, with the approval of town meeting, the committee will complete the insurance application and increase its fundraising efforts. In 2013, they hope to start accepting bids, select a contractor, start construction, appear again at the 2013 town meeting, secure liability insurance and a lease with the MBTA, all with the hope of opening the trail in 2014.
The committee thinks it is an aggressive goal but one that can be completed and, if it is, would be the fastest rail trail to get up and running in Massachusetts.