Frequently Asked Questions
Trail Use Facilities
Trail Use Guidelines
Rail Trail Costs
Property Values and Economic Impact
Quality of Life on the Rail Trail
The Physical Properties of the Rail Trail
The Use of the Trail
The Rail Trail & the Environment
Rail Trail Construction
Rail Trail Facilities
Where is parking available?
Authorized parking for the trail is available at the following locations:
Crosspoint Towers, 900 Chelmsford St. (Weekends and holidays Only)
Stop & Shop lot, 299 Chelmsford St., Chelmsford
Chelmsford Center for the Arts, 1A North Rd. (Rt. 4), Chelmsford
Chelmsford Center Artwalk, Cushing Place, Chelmsford (public restrooms, seasonal)
Municipal lot behind Santander Bank, 5 Billerica Rd (Rt. 129), Chelmsford
Byam School (off school hours), 25 Maple Rd, Chelmsford
Town Land at Heart/Baptist Pond, 2 Pond St., Chelmsford (public restrooms, seasonal)
Acton Parking (4/2020 – COVID-19 UPDATE – NARA Park & Parking is closed)
Across from 1000 Main Street (Rte. 27), Acton
NARA Park off Rte. 27, Acton (public restrooms)
At Goulds’ Plaza (behind Donelan’s Supermarket) on Great Road (Rte. 2A), Acton (public restrooms, seasonal)
Patriot Square, 179 Great Road across from Pedal Power Bike and Ski, Acton (Weekends and holidays only) (public restroom at Pedal Power during business hours)
Ice House Pond, 120 Concord Road, Acton
Commonwealth Ave, near the rotary & Concord MCI, Concord
West Concord Center, trail parking near Nashoba Brook, Concord
One handicap parking space near Williams Road, Concord
Are there public restrooms along the trail? (4/2020 – COVID-19 UPDATE seasonal restrooms are closed)
- Chelmsford Center Artwalk, Cushing Place, Chelmsford (seasonal)
- Town Land (Heart Pond), 2 Pond St., Chelmsford (seasonal)
- Town Offices, 50 Billerica Rd., Chelmsford (M-F, except holidays)
- Adams Public Library, 25 Boston Rd., Chelmsford (M-Sa, except holidays)
- North Acton Parking lot (seasonal)
- NARA Park (seasonal)
- Near Donelan’s Parking (seasonal)
- Pedal Power (during business hours)
In addition, some businesses welcome use of their restroom facilities. Look for posted signs on the business.
Who do I contact in the case of a non-emergency public safety issue?
- Call the police dispatch number: 978-256-2521
- Use the “Report a Concern” feature on the Town of Chelmsford Home page at http://ma-chelmsford.civicplus.com/524/SeeClickFix and include a picture if possible.
- Westford Police business number: 978-692-2161
- Jim Duane, Director
Parks, Recreation & Cemetery Department
978 692 5532
- Highway Department: firstname.lastname@example.org
Who do I contact in the case of a maintenance issue?
Contact the Town and the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail email@example.com
- Use the “Report a Concern” feature on the Town of
Chelmsford Home page at http://ma-chelmsford.civicplus.com/524/SeeClickFix and include a picture if possible.
- Contact the Chelmsford Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) http://www.townofchelmsford.us/Bicycle.cfm
- Jim Duane, Director
Parks, Recreation & Cemetery Department
978 692 5532
- Highway Department: firstname.lastname@example.org
Where can I get my bicycle repaired?
Where can I get ice cream?
Are there places to get food and drink along the trail?
Yes. The trail goes close to a number of businesses in Chelmsford. A large variety of food and beverages can be obtained either right off the trail or a short walk from the trail.
Are there trash receptacles along the trail?
There are very few trash receptacles along the trail, none in most areas. Please bring out what you brought in. In addition, volunteer to pick up trash along a 1/4 mile section of trail.
What are the stenciled numbers on the pavement in Phase 1?
The pavement markings are intended to provide location information for emergency responders and issue reporting. The numbers indicate a quarter mile measured from the Lowell terminus of the old Framingham-Lowell railroad line. “CHD” indicates the marking is in Chelmsford. “WSD” indicates the marking is in Westford.
Why is the first distance marking on the map “1.6”?
Why is the first distance marking on the pavement “1.75”?
The distance markings are measured from the Lowell terminus of the Framingham-Lowell railroad line that the trail is built along. The miles are aligned to the granite mile posts on the right side of the trail heading from Chelmsford to Westford. The two numbers on the post are the distances to the railroad terminii at Framingham (left) and Lowell (right). The distances between mile posts are broken up into quarter miles that may not be exact. The Rt. 3 terminus of the trail is at mile 1.6, approximately.
I thought the trail was 6.8 miles; why is the last distance marking on the map “8.4” and the last distance marking on the pavement “8.25”?
See answer above. The trail endpoints are not aligned with pavement markings. The Rt. 225 terminus of the trail is at mile 8.4, approximately. 8.4 – 1.6 = 6.8.
How do I get approval to make changes to the rail trail property?
Maintenance of the rail trail property is under the management of the Towns. Contact the Town Manager’s office for information on the required paperwork and procedures. Once the Town has approved the modifications, it may be necessary to request permission for the changes from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Which office at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is responsible for the rail trail property?
Massachusetts Department of Transportation Manager of Rail Properties 10 Park Plaza Boston, Massachusetts 02116
Rail Trail Guidelines
Which side of the trail are people supposed to walk on?
Unlike on the roads, all trail users should keep to the right-hand side of the trail.
Are there trail rules?
Trail rules are:
- Be courteous to other trail users
- Stop at ALL stop signs
- Bicyclists and skaters should wear safety helmets. State law requires children 16 and younger to wear a helmet while biking.
- Keep to the right; pass on the left
- Use an audible signal when passing
- Look before passing
- Bicyclists and skaters yield to pedestrians
- Travel at a safe speed
- Keep pets on a short leash, remove droppings
- When stopping do not block the trail
- Obey all traffic control signs and signals
- No littering — carry in, carry out
- Respect property adjacent to the trail
- No motorized vehicles on the trail
- In case of emergency, dial 911.
Are pets allowed on the trail?
Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be leashed. Leashes prevent the dogs from disturbing wildlife in wetland areas, disturbing abutters who have chosen to not have fencing installed, and alarming other trail users who may be uncomfortable around dogs. We also ask that you clean up after your pet so using the trail will be a pleasant experience for everyone.
Are horses allowed on the trail?
Horses are not prohibited on Phase 1 of the trail. However, Phase 1 of the trail is paved and has two-foot wide shoulders bounded by wood railings in many areas. Future sections of the trail are being designed to accommodate equestrians, where the terrain makes it possible. We ask that you clean up after your horse. Piles of horse manure are not appreciated by the other trail users. Please do not dump manure in the wetlands areas since it will damage the ecosystem.
Can I ride my dirt bike/ATV/snowmobile on the trail?
No. In general, motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trail. Emergency vehicles, Town maintenance vehicles, and assistive conveyances (e.g., motorized wheelchairs) are allowed on the trail. Other motorized vehicles are not allowed. If you see someone using an unauthorized motorized vehicle on the trail, please contact the appropriate police dispatch center (non-emergency number). Chelmsford: 978-256-2521
Can I ride my adaptive bicycle or motorized wheelchair on the trail?
Yes.Motorized assistive devices (e.g., wheelchairs, “scooters”, etc) specifically designed for use by handicapped/disabled persons are allowed on the trail. A safety flag attached to such a device is recommended for increased visibility. It should have a quiet electric motor to minimize disturbances to wildlife.
Are skateboards allowed on the trail?
How do I get approval for an organized activity on the trail?
If you expect fewer than 25 people for your event, you don’t need to do anything special. If you expect to have 25 people or more participating, please fill out the event registration form and submit it as instructed on the form. The form is used to ensure event organizers have adequately planned for the event, to reduce the chance that multiple large events will be held on the same section of trail on the same day, and to provide a consistent set of questions and guidance for all municipalities impacted by the event. When you have received approval for your large event, please send an informational email to: email@example.com
Who maintains the trail?
The Towns have primary responsibility for maintaining the rail trail. The Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail will assist the Towns with maintenance. For information about how you can help with maintenance, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
How many people use the trail?
A trail count on Saturday, September 19, 2009 recorded 1153 trail users at Maple Rd. in Chelmsford. Some percentage of the people were counted twice since recreational trail users often return to their starting point.
What is a trail count?
A trail count is an organized activity to quantify the users of the rail trail. The trail count is done on a specified date over a specified period of time. Trail users are tabulated by category and time period. The categories are things like walkers, runners, bicyclists, baby carriages. Time periods are generally 15 minute intervals. The specified period of time is something like 7AM-7PM on a Saturday. Volunteers are needed for 1-2 hour stretches to help with the tabulation.
How do I sign up to help with a trail count?
Join the Friends of the BFRT and watch for emails asking for volunteers. Follow the directions in the email.
Rail Trail Construction
What is a binder course?
The bituminous concrete, or hot mix asphalt, for the trail is applied in two layers. The first layer contains larger stones to help bind it to the underlying gravel base. That layer is called the state binder course. For Phase 1, the binder course is 40 mm (approx. 1.5 inches) thick.
What is a top course?
The bituminous concrete, or hot mix asphalt, for the trail is applied in two layers. The second layer contains smaller, finer stones; it provides a smooth surface except where texturing is applied. That layer is called the modified top course. For Phase 1, the top course is 40 mm (approximately 1.5 inches) thick, giving a total pavement thickness of 80 mm (approximately 3.0 inches).
How do the asphalt layers for the trail compare with layers in road construction projects?
For full depth road construction projects (e.g., new roads), three layers of asphalt are commonly used: base course, binder course, and top course. The stones in the base course are larger than those in the binder course, and can exceed 2 inches in diameter. Since the trail needs to support only light loads, it has only two layers: a binder course and a top course. The layers used for the trail may be thinner than those used for a road construction project. For example, the binder course is 1.5 inches thick for Phase 1. For a road construction project, the binder course is often 3 inches thick.
What is the construction schedule and why isn’t it posted?
The construction schedule is subject to weather and equipment availability. As with a house construction project, the contractor is working multiple jobs at one time and schedule changes can result for numerous reasons. Phase 1 construction is on schedule for completion by August 2009.
The trail seems narrow. What is the final paved width?
The travel surface of the trail in Phase 1 is 10 feet wide. Each of the two shoulders is 2 feet wide for a total width of 14 feet. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) publishes a Guide for the Design of Bicycle Facilities. That guide recommends a minimum width of 10 feet for multi-use paths.
Due to the fact that the trail goes through wetland areas and some densely populated areas, the trail in Phase 1 is the minimum width recommended by AASHTO. Optimal trail width is governed by the number and types of users. In New England, it is often difficult to provide wide travel surfaces because of technical considerations.
When will the trail be open?
Phase 1 of the trail opened in August 2009.
Who do I contact in the case of non-emergency issues?
- Call the police dispatch number: 978-256-2521
- Submit a Crime Stoppers request online at http://www.mygovhelp.org/CHELMSFORDMA/_cs/RequestSelect.aspx?sSessionID=
- Contact the Chelmsford Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) http://www.townofchelmsford.us/Bicycle.cfm
Who are all these people walking around in my backyard?
Prior to the start of active construction, utility lines are marked, wetlands are flagged, the limits of clearing are marked, and erosion control measures are installed. The Resident Engineer and Contractor will also walk the site to become acquainted with it.
Aren’t abutters supposed to receive notification about the start of construction?
Notification of the start of construction typically appears in the newspapers. There may be press releases announcing the award of a construction contract and media coverage of a groundbreaking ceremony. Abutters are typically not notified individually about the start of construction. As a courtesy, the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail is notifying individual abutters in Phase 1 by postcard.
I’m an abutter, where should I move my personal items of value so they will be out of the path of construction?
To be safe, your personal items of value should be moved onto your own property, beyond the railroad right-of-way. Although the rail trail will be only 14 feet wide (including shoulders), in some places erosion controls will be installed close to the edge of the railroad right-of-way. In other places, the rail trail will be constructed to one side of the railroad right-of-way. If you have questions about your specific property, please look at a copy of the design plans. If you still have questions or concerns, contact the MassHighway Resident Engineer.
Where is the boundary between my property and the railroad right-of-way?
The railroad right-of-way extends 10 meters (about 33 feet) to either side of the centerline of the railroad track. The property line is shown on the design plans.
Where do I get a copy of the design plans?
The design plans for Phase 1 are available for public viewing at the Town Engineers’ offices in Westford and Chelmsford. The staff there will be able to help you find your property and help you with reading the plans.
What is the distinction between construction and active construction?
Active construction involves the use of heavy construction equipment. In Phase 1, active construction will begin with clearing and grubbing (trees and roots are removed from the area where the path will be constructed).
What is the construction schedule?
In Phase 1, construction is a two-year project expected to complete in August 2009.
Where will active construction start?
For Phase 1, active construction will start in the vicinity of Chelmsford and Lowell. Clearing and grubbing will be followed by removal of the rails and ties. Please see the construction information page for up-to-date information.
When will construction get to my neighborhood?
Please see the construction information page. We suggest that abutters remove any personal property of value from the right-of-way well in advance of construction work reaching their neighborhood. The contractor will remove and discard items that are in the path of construction on short notice.
Can I walk on the trail during construction?
We ask that you stay away from areas with active construction. Once the construction begins on the trail it is classified as a work zone. Incursions by the general public will be regarded as a safety hazard and you will be asked to leave. In addition, activity on the trail surface after it has been graded may require it to be re-graded, unnecessarily adding delay and cost to the project.
Can I ride my dirt bike/ATV/snowmobile on the trail?
No. In general, motorized vehicles are not permitted on the trail. Emergency vehicles, Town maintenance vehicles, and assistive conveyances (e.g., motorized wheelchairs) are allowed on the trail. Other motorized vehicles are not allowed.
If you see someone using an unauthorized motorized vehicle on the trail, please contact the appropriate police dispatch center (non-emergency number). Chelmsford: 978-256-2521
How do I find out what type of shrubbery or fencing will be
installed on my property?
Check the design plans (see information above about where to view the design plans).
Nobody asked me what I wanted.
The purpose of this project is to construct a multi-use trail within
an existing railroad right-of-way. It is not to landscape abutters’ backyards at state and federal expense. Recognizing that some abutters
may want some screening, individual abutters in Phase 1 were interviewed prior to completion of the preliminary (25%) design to find
out their concerns. The design team then made recommendations based on the concerns aired and the physical layout of the property. Shrubbery and fencing were then added to the design. Abutters had further opportunity to comment on the design during public hearings for the 25%
and 75% designs. In some cases, the property has changed hands since the original interviews and public hearings. If you have questions about what is planned for your property, please review the design plans.
What if I want something different?
Changes can incur additional cost and will be evaluated in that light. If a change is warranted, you will have a choice of either fencing or shrubbery, but not both. Also, please be aware that for Phase 1 the fencing will be vinyl coated chain link fencing. Stockade fencing is not offered as an option because it is too expensive. Also, note that trees will be removed to make room for installation of fencing and fencing can impede the movement of wildlife. If you still want to request a change, you should contact the Resident Engineer.
Can the shrubbery/fencing be installed as soon as the right-of-way
Shrubbery and fencing are installed after other construction work is complete. If the shrubbery and fencing are installed sooner, they may become damaged by the construction equipment. For Phase 1, construction is expected to take two years. Although permanent fencing will not be installed until the end of construction, temporary barriers, probably fencing, will be installed at road intersections during construction to restrict access by unauthorized vehicles.
Why are so many trees being cleared?
For Phase 1, the trail consists of a 10 foot wide paved surface with 2 foot wide shoulders on each side. The clearing width is wider than the width of the rail trail to accommodate construction equipment. Additional clearing is performed at road intersections to improve crossing safety. Finally, the large amount of clearing around bridges is required for widening the bridges and installing safety features such as railing and curbing. In addition to clearing for the trail itself, a 5 foot wide area is cleared where fencing will be installed. The Special Provisions for Phase 1 instruct the contractor to minimize impact on the surrounding areas.
Landscape plantings will be installed at road intersections and in some other cleared areas. Vegetation will fill back in to the 14 foot trail and shoulder width elsewhere.
What happens to the trees that have been cleared?
The trees are shredded on-site. The shredded trees are transported to a processing plant where they are shredded one more time, dyed black or red, and resold as landscaping mulch.
What equipment is used for clearing?
An excavator with a grapple is used to remove most trees, a forwarder is used to move the trees to where they will be shredded, and a grinder is used for shredding the trees. To reduce impact on the surrounding areas, chainsaws may also be used in some areas for removing trees and branches.
What does bridge demolition entail?
The rails, ties, and beams or concrete deck are removed. When beams were used for the bridge instead of concrete, the top row of granite block is removed. The bridge abutments and wingwalls are preserved, as long as they are in good condition. Attempts will be made to shield the water from falling debris and quickly remove any debris that does fall into the water.
How many bridges are there in Phase 1 and where are they located?
There are four small bridges in Phase 1. All four bridges are located in Chelmsford. There is one bridge between Chelmsford Center and High Street, two bridges between High Street and Maple Road, and one bridge between Lakeside Avenue and Westview Avenue.
What happens to all of the rails and ties?
The rails and ties are removed. The rails are steel and can be sold. The ties are taken to a hazardous waste disposal facility.
Rail Trail Costs
Who currently owns the rail bed?
The former Framingham to Lowell Rail Line has two segments. The state of Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation EOT owns the rail bed north of the east-west crossing (the Mass. Central Rail Trail) just north of Route 20 in Sudbury to the CrossPoint Towers in Lowell (the former Wang Towers). The rail bed south of the crossing is owned by CSX, the railroad company.
What are the land acquisition costs for the railroad right of way?
Acquisition and construction for Phase 1 of the BFRT in Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford have been fully funded by the state and federal government. The right of way for Phase 2 is owned by the state Executive Office of Transportation and will be leased or sold to the towns at no cost or token cost (e.g. $1). The right of way for Phase 3 is owned by CSX and the acquisition cost is unknown. More information will be known as negotiations begin with CSX.
How much does the design and construction of a rail trail cost?
In 2007, the state budgeted $5.8 million, including management overhead, for constructing Phase 1, a 6.8 mile section. This works out to an average cost of about $853,000 per mile. Acton and Concord had engineering estimates performed that show that the average cost will run about $1,000,000 per mile, due to major bridge work and road crossings.
How will the costs of the BFRT rail trail compare with this figure?
The construction costs for Phases 2 and 3 may vary quite a bit from community to community. Rail trail costs can vary, based on the ease of construction or if there are special needs such as building bridges, highway crossings or other special structures. Concord will require two bridges – one across the Assabet River and one across Route 2. Acton will require six brook crossings and a crossing of Rt 2A/119. One of the goals of the town-funded engineering studies is to get an estimate of these costs.
How can we even conceive of spending money on a rail trail with the budget crunch?
The process of establishing a rail trail is a long one so the expenses will be spread over a long period of time. The near-term cost is the required engineering studies that will cost around $25,000 per town. Acton has already paid for and completed its study.
What is the status of the engineering studies in the towns?
Engineering studies have been completed for Acton and Concord. During summer 2006, a study is underway for the Town of Sudbury.
What fraction of the costs will be borne by each town?
If proper procedures are followed and the rail trail is constructed under the federal transportation enhancements program, each town will pay between 10% and 20% of the total of the costs of the engineering studies, land acquisition, design and construction. All of the upfront costs up to the “25% Design” level will be the responsibility of the towns. The state will pay up to 10% of the cost and the remaining 80% will be paid through federal transportation funds.
Where will dollars for the towns’ portion of the rail trail come?
The towns may choose to pay for their fraction of the costs directly through local taxes. For towns that have passed the Community Preservation Act, the town’s fraction may come from CPA funds without an impact on the tax rate. FBFRT fundraising also can contribute to the costs.
How can the Commonwealth of Massachusetts consider spending money on a rail trail when the state budget is in under pressure and the cost of the big dig needs to be paid off?
A rail trail is part of the total transportation package. The Commonwealth is promoting alternative transportation methods to help ease traffic congestion and promote the health and welfare of it citizens. The rail trail process is a long one so there will be little draw on the state at this point. The only short-term cost to the state will be the assignment of staff to further the rail-trail approval and design process.
With all of the backlog of needed road and bridge repairs, how can the state consider spending state and federal transportation funds on a rail trail?
The Federal transportation act sets aside a certain fraction of the total transportation funds to be used only for transportation “enhancements” that do not involve motorized transportation. A large fraction of the funds for rail trails have come out of the enhancement set-asides. These funds cannot be used for roads and motorized-vehicle bridges
Who will pay for trail maintenance?
The local communities will pay the costs for maintenance. A typical lease agreement includes the assumption of maintenance costs by the local communities. These maintenances costs have proven to be minimal for most rail trails.
Who will pay for the costs of a future major trail improvement, especially resurfacing?
The state has often picked up the costs for such things. In some towns, utilities have leased the rail bed and installed things such as fiber optics. The leases have helped pay for major improvements.
Who will pay for policing of the rail trail?
The local communities will continue to be responsible for policing the rail bed as they have in the past. Typical lease agreements will obligate the town to take care of policing. The typical experience is that policing costs for a rail trail are quite small and are usually incorporated in the normal budgets for police departments with little overall change. Some towns have put policemen on bicycles as part of normal patrolling of streets and public areas. These bicycle officers patrol trails as part of their normal duties. Trail users will provide a high degree of self-policing of the trail. The rail bed has long sight lines so that anyone up to mischief on the trail will be very visible.
Will the communities be liable for accidents on the rail trail?
The communities will face the same liability as they currently have for accidents on the roads, sidewalks, recreation areas and conservation areas. These liability costs are usually minimal and are capped by statute.
Questions About Property Values and Other Economic Impacts
Do rail trails reduce property values?
On average, no. Studies have been done for other trails, showing slight increases in the average value of abutting and nearby properties. A long list of detailed studies of existing rail trails are available through our web site.
Will the towns lower evaluations and property taxes for homes abutting the rail trail?
The assessment process will be the same as always. It is unlikely that your assessment will go down because of the rail trail. The experience on most existing rail trails is that property values along a rail trail either hold steady or go up after the trail is constructed. If a significant decrease in property value can be documented, the homeowner can appeal to the Board of Assessors. Many Realtors promote house sales by noting the proximity to a rail trail.
What is the economic impact of the trail?
Retail businesses near the rail trail should benefit slightly because of increased traffic. Property values are anticipated to go up because of the existence of the trail.Note that according to a 2000 National Association of Home Builders Survey of what active adults and older seniors want in their communities, walking and jogging trails ranked #1. See http://www.nahb.org/generic.aspx?genericContentID=6145
Questions Concerning Quality of Life
Do rail trails violate the privacy of abutters?
This is a common fear before a trail is built, but after a trail is built most abutters are happy to live near it. A number of studies that have sought the reactions of trail neighbors. If desired by the abutter, a fence can be erected as part of the trail construction funds, at no cost to the abutter. The Lowell-Chelmsford-Westford section is using vinyl-coated chain link fencing for this. As an alternative to a fence, shrubbery can be planted to provide screening. With other trails, the experience has been that many abutters who have had fencing installed later remove the fencing because it is unnecessary and blocks their own access to the trail! Several large studies of rail trails have revealed that neighbors become the most frequent users of the trails. It is also worthwhile to note that trees may need to be removed to install fencing and that certain types of fencing can impede the movement of wildlife.
What will prevent trail users from parking on my street?
Most trail users will use designated parking areas. In some cases parking facilities are designed into the plans. In other cases nearby municipal facilities already exist or agreements can be negotiated with commercial property owners. Residents often want “No Parking” signs to prevent non-residents from parking in their neighborhood. However, the signs apply to the residents and their guests as well as to others. Consequently, signs should be posted only when it becomes clear that they are needed. Alert your Town officials if parking becomes a persistent issue on your street and request that your Town officials identify additional parking areas to help alleviate the problem. Contact the Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail for additional assistance with this issue.
Will trail users cut through my property?
This is unlikely. The trail has frequent road crossings so that it is easy for trail users to get on and off the trail without going through private property. Trespassing on adjacent private property has not been a problem on the heavily used Minuteman Trail. If you have specific concerns, please contact us so we can help make sure that those concerns are included into planning and design phases of the project.
How do I request privacy and security screening?
Interviews with abutters are held early in the design process to solicit their concerns. Shrubbery and fencing are then added to the design requirements as needed to address those concerns. Abutters are often required to choose between fencing and shrubbery. They may be allowed to choose the type of shrubbery from a list provided by the designer. The final design reflects those requirements and specifications. Once the design is complete, changes can be made under certain conditions. However, such changes may introduce additional cost to the project and will be evaluated in that light. Please contact us if you have specific concerns or questions.
Will motorized vehicles, especially motorcycles and snowmobiles be allowed on the trail?
The only motorized vehicles allowed on the trail would be emergency vehicles, maintenance vehicles and motorized wheel chairs. Other motorized vehicles definitely will not be allowed. Anyone caught would be subject to a fine. The experience on other rail trails has been that trail users and trail neighbors have a keen interest in keeping motorized vehicles off the trails. The few incidents that have occurred have been immediately reported and dealt with. Bollards at the intersection of the trail with roads will also provide a physical deterrent to motorized vehicles on the trail.
How about noise from trail users?
About the only noise from the trail will be the voices of those using the trail. Screening shrubbery may help suppress this noise.
Will equestrians be allowed to use the trail?
Many rail trails have accommodated both equestrians and other users such as walkers and cyclists. Such mixed use is best accommodated where there is a separate unpaved path alongside the prepared (paved or stone dust) trail. This should be possible in a multi-mile section of Acton where the right-of-way is double wide because of dual track configuration. Unfortunately, much of the Bruce Freeman Trail is on a single width right-of-way on a raised rail bed through wetlands so there probably isn’t room for a second unpaved parallel path. Horses can cause considerable deterioration to a stone dust path so riding on such a path may be discouraged. Riding on a paved path is less desirable for equestrians, but may well be accommodated. Equestrians would likely want to avoid using the path when it is heavily used by walkers and cyclists.
Who is going to pick up the litter?
Not much litter is expected along the trail. The kinds of people who use the trail are generally people who appreciate the outdoors and respect it. Litter has not been a problem along the trails we are most familiar with in this area: e.g. the Minuteman and Battle Road. Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail will undoubtedly organize clean-ups.
Do rail trails attract crime?
No, the experience from other trails is that crime is less frequent on a rail trail than it was on the abandoned railway before the trail was built. The self-policing nature of a rail trail helps suppress crime. The most frequent crime along rail trails is an occasional bicycle theft.
How will the trail be policed?
The local police departments will be responsible, just as they are now for the unused railway.
The Physical Properties of the Trail
Is it feasible to construct a rail trail on the old rail bed?
A feasibility study of the Sudbury to Lowell rail trail (Phases 1 and 2) was done in 1987 by the Central Transportation Planning Staff (CTPS. CTPS is staff to the Metropolitan Planning Organization.) The conclusion was that a trail is feasible, but there are some logistical problems in Concord and Acton. Acton completed their own more comprehensive feasibility engineering study in January 2004 and concluded a rail trail was feasible. It noted the biggest concern as the crossing of Rte 2A (Great Road). In Concord, the significant problems are a crossing of Rt 2 and the replacement of a bridge over the Assabet River in West Concord. In January 2005, a feasibility study of Phase 3 is underway by the CTPS.
What kind of surface will be on the trail?
The standard width for a rail trail is 10 to 12 feet of firm surface with appropriate shoulders on each side. About half of existing rail trails have paved surfaces. Such a surface accommodates the widest range of users and is the lowest cost to maintain. However, other surfaces may be considered such as stone dust. These surfaces sometimes cost more than paving and may have higher maintenance costs. The portion of the Bruce Freeman Trail in Lowell, Chelmsford and Westford (Phase 1) will have a 10-foot-wide paved surface.
Will there be restroom facilities on the trail?
Maybe not; the towns’ sidewalks and foot trails do not need restrooms. If found to be desirable, portable facilities can be provided at some parking areas as in done along the Nashua River Rail Trail.
Will the trail be plowed in the winter?
Probably not. An unplowed trail would be available for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
What will be done to assure safe road crossings where the trail intersects a road?
Standard trail designs usually use bollards along with such things as striping and signs to warn trail users of an upcoming intersection. The road crossing itself is usually striped much like a standard pedestrian crossing. There will be signs on the road to warn drivers. For particularly dangerous and heavily used intersections, a button-activated crossing light may be considered.
The Use of the Trail
Won’t the rail bed become a bicycling super highway?
Cyclists will certainly be one of the largest groups of users. However, a rail trail is meant as a community path that accommodates all kinds of users. In many communities, walkers are the largest users of rail trails. In the winter, cross-country skiers use the trails. Well-trained cyclists who log lots of miles at high speeds are unlikely to use the rail trail. Such cyclists generally prefer to use the roads. The cycling users of the rail trails are more likely to be families with children, recreational users and commuters.
Will the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail become heavily used like the Minuteman Bikeway in Cambridge, Arlington, Lexington and Bedford?
The Minuteman Bikeway has become a very popular and heavily used rail trail. It runs through a heavily populated area and provides a direct route in and out of Alewife Station, a terminus of the Red Line. The usage of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail likely will be a lot less because the towns through which it runs are more rural and farther separated from dense urban areas. The trail likely will have some use as a commuting route, but the destinations along the trail are many fewer than for the Minuteman Trail. We do anticipate that the Bruce Freeman Trail will provide a wonderful route to bicycle or walk from many homes to the shopping and recreational areas. The BFRT will provide an attractive means for getting to the railroad commuter station in West Concord.
Will many users come from out of town and create overuse problems?
We don’t know how many people will drive to the trail from out of town, but because of its length, it is expected that many people would start from points other than the trail ends points. The parking areas are accessed by major roads, so that the additional traffic impact should be slight. Appropriate parking areas and access points will be part of the planning process.
Where will users park?
Parking will be addressed by the engineering studies and again in the design phases. It may be possible to work out agreements for parking with shopping centers and other facilities close to the rail trail who would welcome the extra commercial traffic generated by the rail trail.
The Rail Trail & The Environment
What happens if contamination is found on the old rail bed?
The general procedures for identifying and mitigating contamination along rail trails have been worked out. As part of the negotiated lease or purchase agreements between the towns and the current owners of the rail bed, contamination liabilities will be addressed.
The rail bed goes through wetlands. How will environmental damage be avoided?
Like any construction project, the construction of the rail trail will have to pass the approval of the town boards, especially the Conservation Commissions and State and Federal Agencies. Construction techniques and mitigation will be done with the boards’ guidance and approval. In most cases, filling of wetlands can be avoided. Where the flat surface on the top of a rail bed through wetlands needs to be widened for a rail trail, soil can be removed to obtain adequate width.
What will happen to the old rails and ties?
The rails have a salvage value. CSX has removed the rails and ties in their section of the BFRT. Because ties were treated with creosote, they will have to be disposed of through special arrangements. Any residual contamination of the rail bed due to the creosote will be dealt with as part of the approval, design and construction process.
Where can I find more information on what has been experienced on existing rail trails?
There are a number of reports available from various city and state agencies summarizing the impact of rail trails on property values, crime, privacy, quality of life, etc. Some of these are on the web and we can give you the web addresses. We can send you copies of other studies that are available only in hard copy form. Arrangements are being made to place the majority of these studies on the web.
What is the Friends of Bruce Freeman Rail Trail?
It’s a volunteer group of residents who support the rail trail and want to make the trail the best it can be both for users and for those who live near it. Anyone is welcome to join.
Will I have the opportunity to provide input to the approval and design of the trail?
Yes. One way is by joining the efforts of the local Friends of the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Some of the communities have established official committees to address rail trail issues. These committees solicit community input and their meetings are open to the public. Leasing or sale of the rail bed, funding of the preliminary design and funding of the construction will all have to go through town boards and town meeting. During the various design phases, there will be hearings to review and iterate designs. We encourage you to participate in the FBRFT of on your own.